Parking stalls could soon be replaced with patios and pedestrian walkways in some areas of Sidney’s downtown to allow people to keep physically distanced while out eating and shopping.
Town councillors Monday night unanimously supported a recommendation from staff that restaurants and cafés be allowed to extend their seating into on-street and off-street parking areas as COVID-19 restrictions ease and more people visit downtown Sidney.
A report by Alison Verhagen, senior manager of current planning, says businesses on the south side of Beacon Avenue near Second Street — including the Beacon Café, Sidney Bakery, Style Coast clothing store, Canada Post, and Quince Café — could extend into two or more on-street parking stalls. That would allow more space for customer lineups, outdoor seating and pedestrians.
Councillors Barbara Fallot, Scott Garnett, Chad Rintoul and Terri O’Keeffe all spoke in support of the idea but raised similar concerns about ensuring people with mobility issues are still able to park downtown and safely navigate the streets.
“I am concerned about people in our community with mobility issues who live outside the downtown and have to bring their vehicles in,” Garnett said. “Is it going to make it more challenging for them to go an extra block or two which might mean nothing to the average person but makes a big difference to them.”
Toya Charboneau, manager of the Beacon Café, was thrilled by the thought of more patio space.
“I think it would be great for the summer,” Charboneau said. The café currently has four tables on its patio but Charboneau said if the space was extended beyond the sidewalk onto the street, there could be room for 10.
B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation branch is expediting temporary approvals for extra patio spaces for bars, restaurants and wineries to help businesses bring in more revenue as they reopen.
Charboneau has already noticed an increase in patrons and shoppers since May 19, when restaurants were able to resume dining in as part of phase 2 of B.C.’s restart plan.
Verhagen said the area was identified because of its narrow sidewalk, which doesn’t allow for much physical distancing. The expanded commercial spaces would be cordoned off using concrete flower planters and signs.
“At this point in the pandemic recovery, staff suggest that repurposing on-street parking spaces only be done for safety reasons where pedestrian pinch-points are seen to occur repeatedly, that being where customer lineups outside stores leave little room for pedestrians to pass safely,” she wrote.
Councillors also supported the recommendation that businesses be allowed to expand into off-street private parking lots to alleviate demand for public space. Verhagen said the expanded patio areas would return to normal once physical-distancing requirements are lifted.
Her report said pedestrian space can be extended even further if a section of Beacon Avenue is shut down altogether, but she noted that would require more consultation with businesses and the wider community.
Ron Balske, owner of Style Coast clothing, said he would love to see more space for pedestrians in front of his shop but not if it results in a traffic bottle neck.
“It would be nice, but it has to work for everybody,” he said.
He said Beacon Avenue approaching the roundabout can become congested with traffic and that parking is at a premium during the summer months.
Balske also said people could be unhappy if the parking stall in front of the post office is removed because people like to park and quickly duck in for their errand.
Potentially more polarizing is the option of closing a portion of Beacon Avenue to motor traffic, a move Verhagen said could be done either at certain hours of the day, certain days of the week, or on a limited trial basis.
Emergency vehicles would still be able to access the area.
Both Charboneau and Balske said closing Beacon Avenue would be a tough sell.
“Probably a full-on closure would meet resistance because it’s the main artery for hotels” at the end of the street, Balske said.
The City of Victoria is also looking at how it can repurpose public space and vehicle lanes for businesses and pedestrians, particularly along Government Street. It has already restricted on-street parking in parts of James Bay to create more space for pedestrians, a move also adopted along Oak Bay Avenue.