A report is going to Kelowna city council next week that could change the way the downtown core looks in the summer on a yearly basis.
After what city staff called a successful pilot project through summer 2020, the city is looking to make the Bernard Avenue road closure an annual event — allowing businesses and pedestrians to again take over Kelowna’s most popular downtown drag.
This past summer, businesses were allowed to expand their patios and operations into the street, allowing for additional seating at a time when indoor seating is restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
City staff noted, in a report set to go to council on Monday, Nov. 12, despite the short notice given to businesses for the first go-around between July and September, the overall feedback from the 23 businesses which participated in the patio extension was positive.
“Staff received comment that during the road closure period, the downtown was relatively vibrant, energized and had a positive atmosphere.”
Despite the pandemic, a survey circulated to those businesses showed 88 per cent of them saw financial results that were the same or higher than in 2019. The same percentage indicated a willingness to participate in the program again in future years.
Pedestrians also seemed to love the extra space.
The report noted pedestrian volumes went up 88 per cent compared to 2019’s expected counts at the intersection of Bernard Avenue and Mill Street. And, around 10 per cent of that activity was comprised of bikes, skateboards and rollerblades.
Several city staff members engaged in a study through July and August, observing the goings-on to see how the public was using the open space.
Among their findings was the “park-like atmosphere” that encompassed the street, greater utilization of street furniture and the creation of a seamless transition between Bernard Avenue and nearby parks.
According to a Downtown Kelowna Association (DKA) survey put out to its members, businesses on and off Bernard Avenue showed overwhelming support for the closure to happen again.
However, in a letter of support, DKA executive director Mark Burley noted that businesses — particularly in the 400 and 500 blocks of Bernard — felt the city did not do enough consultation prior to the closure.
“This resulted in what is felt was a lack of traffic in these two blocks.”
Consultation with those businesses is necessary prior to committing to close the blocks again in the coming years, the DKA stated.
To remedy this, staff have proposed turning the 400 and 500 blocks of Bernard into a demonstration “Green Street” — a space which would see businesses reap the same expanded-patio benefits as they did this year while adding some additional flair to draw people to the area. That space would consist of parklets, murals, public art, pianos, bike racks and busking stops, and the city’s events team would work to host COVID-compliant programming in the area. The 200 and 300 blocks would remain the same as they did this year.
“Throughout the world, cities and towns are taking their parks to the streets, as a result of greater constraints in urban environments. COVID-19 has accelerated and emphasized the need for streetscapes and laneways to function beyond the requirements of the automobile.”
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