Pedestrian numbers skyrocket on car free Bernard Avenue

A man and a young boy stopped on their bikes at the intersection of Bernard Avenue and Water Street on Monday, June 29. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)A man and a young boy stopped on their bikes at the intersection of Bernard Avenue and Water Street on Monday, June 29. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna’s main drag, Bernard Avenue, closed to vehicle traffic on June 29, 2020, allowing businesses — and pedestrians — to expand into the street. The closure will last two months. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)Kelowna’s main drag, Bernard Avenue, closed to vehicle traffic on June 29, 2020, allowing businesses — and pedestrians — to expand into the street. The closure will last two months. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
(Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)(Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)

People are flocking to Bernard Avenue in record numbers amid the City of Kelowna’s patio expansion program, which sees the street closed to vehicle traffic, allowing pedestrians and businesses to expand into the road.

According to preliminary data from the City of Kelowna, people counters have recorded a 67.5 per cent increase in pedestrian traffic over 2019 numbers since the thoroughfare was closed to vehicle traffic on June 29, 2020. People counters are used by the city to understand trends and movement on its pedestrian and bicycle network.

The week of July 1 to July 7 in 2019 saw 58,809 pedestrians counted on the sidewalk at Bernard Avenue and Mill Street. Over the same period this year, that number more-than-doubled to 116,564.5.

Comparing the Saturdays of each year — both July 6, 2019, and July 4, 2020 — shows a 119 per cent increase in the count, from 11,809 for 2019 to 25,855.5 for this year — breaking the previous record of around 15,000 recorded on Canada Day 2019.

Juxtaposed with the city’s anticipated pedestrian numbers for 2019, which averaged data from previous years over the same dates, this year’s numbers are nearly 100 per cent higher through the duration of the closure so far.

A graph showing the difference between 2020 pedestrian numbers and anticipated 2019 pedestrian numbers on Bernard Avenue.(City of Kelowna photo)

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“This is pretty unexpected,” said Matt Worona, the city’s new-mobility specialist. “This is a significant increase; so much so, that I thought the numbers were wrong initially.”

While the numbers are accurate, Worona said, they do contain a few caveats.

In the past the city has counted pedestrian traffic only on sidewalks, meaning that bicycle traffic wasn’t represented.

Now, the city is recording the middle of the street which is shared between bikes and pedestrians. However, cyclists are only anticipated to be around 10 per cent of the people coming through the area, meaning the brunt of the increase in numbers is likely pedestrians.

Though numbers seem high and may prompt concern among some about social distancing along the street, Worona said the highest hour recorded around 550 people, which averages out to under 10 people per minute crossing the counter.

“It’s not that significant when it comes to social distancing,” he said. “Especially when people have a lot of options in terms of where else they can go.

“If we didn’t open the road and we saw these kinds of numbers, I think it would be worrying.”

As far as the rest of the summer goes, Worona said the numbers could go up, down or anywhere in-between.

“It’s uncharted territory,” he claimed. However, Worona said believes people are attracted to the open area and what it brings to the downtown core.

“They can see other people, they can interact safely and have a comfortable environment … If we build the right kind of space here, we should expect these numbers to stay where they are.”

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: michael.rodriguez@kelownacapnews.com


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