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Douglas Street plan in downtown Victoria leaves cars for last

Cars will take a back seat on Douglas Street if a vision being championed by the Downtown Victoria Business Association ever comes to fruition.
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An artist's conception of Douglas Street as a pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly downtown artery, which is the key to a 20-year Downtown Victoria Business Association proposal.

Cars will take a back seat on Douglas Street if a vision being championed by the Downtown Victoria Business Association ever comes to fruition.

The plan envisions Douglas Street between Hillside and Belleville avenues being transformed into a place where pedestrians, cyclists and public transit take priority over cars.

If adopted, the 20-year plan would integrate key elements such as lighting, pedestrian activity, traffic and cycling to change what is now a street dominated by single-occupant vehicles into a “central corridor into the heart of Victoria.”

“The objective was to recapture some of the best elements of Douglas in its historical role as the main street of Victoria — a role that’s been kind of diluted over time as the city has grown and traffic has really taken priority in the right of way and changed the nature and character of the street,” Greg Damant of Cascadia Architects said in a presentation to Victoria councillors.

To turn Douglas into a more vibrant and less auto-centric street, the plan suggests introducing elements such as dedicated centre-median transit and separated bike lanes, wider sidewalks and boulevards, canopy lighting at key intersections — such as a giant circle above the Hillside-Douglas intersection — paving of Centennial Square green space to give it a stronger presence and provide seating and space for vendors, and scramble intersections where pedestrians can cross the street diagonally.

Car traffic would be reduced to one lane in either direction.

City of Victoria staff, B.C. Transit and DVBA members, guided by a team from Cascadia Architects developed the plan.

It acknowledges that many changes would take time and be expensive, but in the short term it suggests minor improvements that require relatively little planning or cost, such as colourful paint marking a crosswalk.

“The idea is to start with small steps and maintain momentum until the larger infrastructure-scale projects can be implemented,” Damant said.

Initially, it would be most realistic to try event-based changes such as the Douglas Street car-free day on June 21 and other non-permanent projects, he said.

“In the medium term, in two to five years — that kind of a range — we’d be looking at more permanent interventions,” he said.

Fran Hobbis, DVBA chairwoman, said her organization has ranked Douglas Street as a high priority.

“We have been suffering from collective inertia when it comes to actually making change and maybe the big reason for that is it needs a lot of work and [the question is]: How and where do we even begin?” she said. “I believe we needed to begin with a vision. Sometimes we just need a picture of what could be.”

The city has allocated $60,000 for Douglas Street improvements, which is being matched by $60,000 from the DVBA and a further $60,000 from the Downtown Victoria 20/20 society. Mayor Lisa Helps plans to bring forward a motion next month directing staff to work with those two organizations to provide direction for Douglas Street improvements.

bcleverly@timescolonist.com