Victoria’s patio culture to return for another summer

Victoria’s program of outdoor patios, food trucks and full or partial street closures will be back again this summer as the city redoubles its efforts to help businesses survive the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Build Back Victoria launched last June as a way for bars, restaurants and stores to cope with new physical distancing requirements by allowing them to expand their patios and retail space onto sidewalks, streets and boulevards.

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The program proved such a success that city staff plan to build on it this year — particularly along Government Street, where the pedestrian-priority zone will return in June, but with a few modifications to accommodate businesses.

Instead of last year’s “hard closure” to vehicle traffic from Fort Street to View Street, city staff are planning a timed closure from Humboldt Street to View Street between noon and 10 p.m., a city report shows.

The change will allow for taxis to pick up people leaving bars and restaurants in the evenings and for trucks to make deliveries to retail outlets in the mornings. As well, there will be new measures to “beautify” the street, including wood-slab picnic tables and benches, planters and new seating platforms that will double as small stages for performances.

Once the provincial health officer says it’s safe to do so, the city hopes to introduce entertainment and street activities in the area.

“This report got me so excited about downtown Victoria this summer, and imagining what these public spaces will look like filled with people enjoying downtown, particularly after restrictions are lifted and we’re safely allowed to gather again,” Coun. Jeremy Loveday said.

“I think this has been an enormously successful program, and a lot of that is due to the great work of staff, as well as the ability for our small businesses to adapt and shift quickly to, frankly, stay alive during this very challenging time.”

The program was delivered of necessity, but Mayor Lisa Helps believes it has changed the city for the better, noting that staff received more than 780 completed online surveys with more than 8,700 comments about Build Back Victoria. Just over 80 per cent were satisfied with the program and most wanted to see it continue.

“One of the things that really surprised me in the survey … is just the outpouring of love that people have for their city and for their downtown,” she said. “The comment section felt like a love letter to Victoria. People saying that they had never experienced their city in the way they did last summer and I think that’s really powerful.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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