City council votes to temporarily close portion of Government Street in Victoria to vehicles

WatchOne of Victoria's most historic downtown streets may soon be a walk-only experience. City council voted Thursday to make Government Street pedestrian priority.

For years, the City of Victoria has been toying with the idea of turning Government Street into a pedestrian priority street, and today, that idea became closer to reality.

City council approved the temporary changes at a committee of the whole meeting Thursday. It’s part of a number of measures to accelerate economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Victoria staff recommended creating a pedestrian priority street on Government Street from Humboldt Street to Yates Street

The project will eliminate through-traffic, while still providing access for delivery trucks to provide goods to businesses. Any remaining traffic within Government Street will be required to slow down and drive at reduce speeds and yield to pedestrians.

The city also recommended “road dieting” by reducing travel lanes from two to one, and to implement chicanes, curved roads, to increase patio space for businesses.

“I think it’s a great idea. It would give us ample opportunity to grow out patios into the street and more people would feel safer going out,” said Bard & Banker General Manager Demian Merino.

“People are a bit afraid to go into those close-knit spaces..”

Performers and artists will be able to take advantage of the widened sidewalks and space and use numerous areas along the corridor for shows.

While the city is looking to create the pedestrian street from Humboldt to Yates, they are also proposing the closure of Government Street, between Fort Street and View Street.

The changes on the historic street will also mean changes for traffic circulation in the area, and some of the vehicles and transit services normally driving through Government Street will have to utilize neighbouring parts of downtown.

But many of the businesses have previously been against the move.

“I had an opportunity to sit down with most of the merchants on Government Street and I’ll say 95 per cent of them were opposed to closing Government,” said Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

The Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) was also previously against the move but now says things have changed.

“In the past, we have not supported it,” said DVBA executive director Jeff Bray.

‘”And businesses on the street did generally not support, but given we are not going to have tourists this year, we think there is an opportunity to create a real draw for the region down here on Government Street.”

The street’s trial period lasts until October.

The possible catalyst for city council to make this decision is their previous approval of allowing businesses and restaurants to use public space, like sidewalks and parking spaces, to expand retail and service areas.

The city says expanding patio spaces into sidewalks allows businesses to increase capacity while also increasing physical distancing between patrons and staff.

A diagram drawing of what the street will look like if the motion is approved by Victoria City Council

Part of proposed plans to change Government Street into a pedestrian priority street

Part of proposed plans to change Government Street into a pedestrian priority street

Updates to follow

Rebecca LawrenceRebecca Lawrence

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