Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pedestrian Zones in Downtown Victoria

There is an interesting discussion at Vibrant Victoria about a potential pedestrian only zone on Government Street.

The debate has heated up because of this article in the paper.

I would love to see some form of a public gathering place in the centre of the city, the concept of the agora. There was a move in the late 1960s and 70s to create pedestrian malls in many North American cities. I remember the creation of Granville Mall in Vancouver in 1974. I also remeber that by the early 1980s it had gone down market enough that I did not feel safe walking there. It was a failure as were many of them in North America.

I have seen examples that have worked well.

The Zeil in Frankfurt am Main is one that I know well and that looks like it works. It was created a pedestrian zone in 1972. The street was the core shopping street of Frankfurt for generations before World War 2. In the war almost all the building were destroyed and the rebuilt street is some of the most bland 1950s and 60s architecture there is. It pains me to say that because one of my uncles was one of the architects that designed these buildings.

Why does the Zeil work? Because it is a functioning mall. It is a serious and significant shopping area for the whole region. What was the road is now a street market. The restaurants spill out into the open.

In Whistler there is a functioning pedestrian zone in the upper village near to the Wizard Express chair. It was build that way and works well, but then this is a resort community and a lot of people are wandering around look for things to do.

I am not sure that closing Government Street would make a good pedestrian zone. There is no natural reason for local people to gather there, offices are not close and there is no shopping for Victorians. It is also oriented in such as way that for large parts of the day the buildings along the street shadow Government.

A Government Street pedestrian mall between Humboldt and Fort would serve the needs of the tourism trade, but is that enough to make it work?

We have two pedestrian zones in Victoria already. On is Market Square and the other is Bastion Square.

I love Market Square but I have almost no reason to every go there. The inner court yard would be a cool place to have an office, but is empty. A beautiful creation that simply does not have the vibrancy I wish it had.

Bastion Square on the other hand does attract people and seems to work for locals and tourists. Maybe what needs to be done is an expansion of the area. Step one could be a closure, some of the time, of Langley. Expand the market onto Langley and also allow restaurants to have outdoor seating.

In thinking about this I realize how much of a dead space the ground floor of the the Yates Street parkade. The city should consider some manner reconstruction along Yates and Langley to allow for retail spaces in the area.

The backside of the old courthouse (Maritime Museum) and the stairs up to the parkade is a problem area and needs more retail in the area to bring life to the back corner.

So you build up the pedestrian area in Bastion Square and can then look at closing Government between Fort and View. This would connect the Bay Centre Mall with Bastion Square.

Any thought of pedestrian zone needs to be welled thought before being embarked on.
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