It’s people first for Government Street

People are to take priority over cars on Government Street — Victoria’s main tourist strip — by 2022.

Victoria councilors have unanimously endorsed proposals brought forward by Mayor Lisa Helps and city staff to begin planning Government Street’s transformation into a “people priority” street that, once completed, would not ban motor vehicles but would severely restrict their access.

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“This isn’t meant to cut cars off. It’s meant to build on Government Street’s strengths [and] limit vehicle traffic significantly, so it feels like you’re just wandering through a space that is made for people,” Helps said.

“I think if we keep having this conversation about closing Government Street to cars or opening Government Street to cars, we’re never actually going to do anything on Government Street.”

In a decision that still has to be ratified next week, councillors endorsed transforming Government Street into a pedestrian-priority street between Humboldt and Yates, with an eye to completion by the end of 2022.

It called on staff to research other cities with people first, multi-use streets.

Construction of short-term improvements is to be co-ordinated with other major infrastructure work and done as much as possible in off-seasons for tourism and holidays.

The 2020 budget is to include an analysis of options to transform the street, with improvements to be constructed in the following two years.

Helps said the staff analysis would include things such as implications for merchants, traffic patterns, buses, pedestrians and cyclists.

Downtown Victoria Business Association executive director Jeff Bray said council seems to be listening to his members who don’t want to see the street entirely closed to vehicle traffic.

“I would say that the businesses on Government Street, for the most part, were heard through this process,” Bray said.

“I think that the motion that was passed was much more about creating an area for collaboration, where the businesses can be more involved in how to create a more pedestrian-focused street and enhance the streetscape for both tourists and the locals alike.”

Bray said the conversation has changed from people versus cars to “how to improve the placemaking of a main downtown street like Government Street.”

He said it’s important that council is looking to make any substantial improvements in conjunction with other planned service improvements and in the off-season.

Bray was also pleased that council acknowledged that in addition to Government Street between Humboldt and Yates streets, staff should be looking to extend the pedestrian experience north to Chinatown.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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