Victoria council open to discussing Government Street closures

Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman said no decisions will be made on making Government Street a pedestrian mall until all options are considered.

Victoria council will be considering the effects of closing Government Street off from vehicles for trial periods this summer.

John Vickers, organizer of Victoria’s international busker and chalk festivals, brought the idea to council last week.

“A pedestrian mall is not simply barricading a street, it’s a reinvention of the street . . . to become more of a community destination, because that’s really what’s missing from Government Street,” said Vickers.

Vickers had five minutes to present his thoughts to council, but there was no question period following the presentation.

“There isn’t a proposal on the table, so we haven’t had any discussion about it,” said Coun. Chris Coleman. “There will be lots of early discussion I suppose just in trying to wrap our minds around what it actually looks like.”

Coleman said he recognizes there are people on both sides, and he wants to make sure both perspectives are evaluated carefully before any decisions are made.

“I’m open to having a discussion, but I’m not going to commit myself without seeing what the actual details are,” he said.

With no plans in place yet, Coleman said it is too early to speculate if any Government Street closures could occur this summer or not.

“It’s not something that we will jump into with great rapidity.”

Bruce Carter, CEO of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said having events that close down Government Street can actually reduce sales.

“Canada Day [is] a good example of one, where sales are down by up to 75 per cent,” said Carter. “And that’s because there are a lot of people downtown, but they didn’t necessarily come downtown to shop; sometimes because it’s just too busy.”

Planning special events in the offseason months such as April and October may be more beneficial than in July and August, said Carter, because it gives the city an opportunity to extend the tourist season.

“If July and August are already really busy, do we run the risk of reducing sales because we’re creating too much activity?”

In order to create an environment conducive to businesses and the community on Government Street, Vickers said there needs to be programming and events.

“The frustration for us, is that people [say], ‘closed street, that means bad business,’ and they’ve never tried a pedestrian mall,” said Vickers. “When the street is closed, you do need some consistent vitality on the street.”

Coleman said the divide occurs because some businesses have had positive experiences with street closures, while others have not.

“You’re trying to improve the vibrancy of downtown for everybody without having a negative impact on some others,” he said.