Crowds approach Government Street pedestrian-only pilot project with caution

Whether it was habit, the Canadian way or a lack of awareness, people used Government Street crosswalks and sidewalks Sunday even though the popular street was closed to automobile traffic.

Carefully crossing at the lights and sticking to sidewalks even where there was construction, very few people over the noon hour Sunday ventured out onto the picturesque store-lined Government Street which runs into Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

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A section of Government Street from Fort to Yates streets was barricaded and closed to automobile traffic as part of a new pilot project in the downtown core.

Rob Reid, founder and owner of Frontrunners Footwear, says trying a pedestrian mall near the market on Bastion Square — which runs parallel to those streets between Government Street and Wharf Street — was a natural location for the pilot.

“I see tourists often blindly walking into traffic just to take pictures of Bastion Square,” said Reid, out on the road with his dog Buster. Reid was one of those who instigated the idea of a pilot along with other downtown businesses and with the co-operation of the City of Victoria.

In the context of creating walkable, livable cities, a pedestrian walkway is just “one little ingredient to get more people downtown.”

Government Street from Fort to Yates streets will be closed to vehicle traffic from noon to 5 p.m. every Sunday until mid-September.

“It’s the first time for this pilot of a pedestrian walkway,” said Reid. “It’s just two blocks so it’s fairly simple.”

The City Of Victoria recently announced it would test the idea of a pedestrian mall on Government.

Tourists Bryan Smolinski and wife Kim, of Sequim, Washington, had no problem adapting to the road closure and were enjoying a stroll down the middle lane: “They do this in New Orleans, it reminds us a bit of that.”

Cooler temperatures and cloud cover meant that Government Street was not as busy as it would usually be on a warm summer weekend day.

For Al Miller, 71, having the open road to wheel down was a pleasure.

Miller, who has multiple sclerosis and was using his wheelchair on Sunday, lives only blocks from the proposed pedestrian mall on Government Street and would benefit from it.

Miller supports an automobile-free street, with the exception of emergency an delivery vehicles, and taxis shuttling those unable to walk.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Miller. “In European cities they have done this.”


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