Businesses in Gastown are concerned that the city’s plan to close Water Street next month in preparation for a pedestrian-only summer experiment could backfire.
On Wednesday, the council approved the plan to begin road improvements along Water Street from Maple Tree Square to Cambie Street. Maple Tree Square is where Water, Carrall, Alexander and Powell streets meet.
Work is expected to begin in March, after which that section of Water Street will be largely closed to traffic until the end of August as a pilot project.
“Our main concern is the impact on business,” said Gastown Business Improvement Association Executive Director Walley Wargolet.
“(The city is) using our businesses as a test bed. “I’m worried about that.”
According to Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, the pilot project is part of the city’s efforts to make Gastown “a more vibrant, clean, safe and friendly destination for everyone.”
Preparation work will include resurfacing a large section of Water Street with brick.
During the pedestrian zone pilot, sections of Water Street will be closed to vehicles to allow for public seating, community activations, expanded patios, merchandise displays, art installations, special events and cycling.
“Transforming Water Street into a pedestrian-activated zone this summer presents an exciting opportunity to showcase the vibrant businesses and attractions Gastown has to offer,” Sim said.
The city has set aside $35 million to improve Gastown, and $10 million of that cash has already been spent.
Wargolet said street disorder problems along Water Street have improved 100 percent as a result of the improvements made so far.
“The last year has been a real change,” he said. “The vibrancy on the street has been fantastic.”
However, Wargolet said previous experiments with closing business districts to traffic in Montreal and San Diego failed, and retail businesses suffered.
“The only question we can’t get an answer to is: what are you trying to solve here?” he said.
“What are you trying to fix? We started this path needing infrastructure and neighborhood maintenance and then this idea (pedestrian only) came up. Creating a really nice space where people want to hang out could be great. But if it has a negative impact on business, then it will be a failed experiment and only time will tell.”
According to the city, the long-term plan to pedestrianize Water Street will be based on feedback from affected groups. The outcome of the pilot will be reported to council in fall 2024.
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