Ruth and Dean restaurant in Estevan Village expanded onto the sidewalk as of June 17, taking advantage of Oak Bay’s temporary laws. In this case, the sidewalk was large enough to accommodate tables, though that’s not the case in all of Victoria, notes Walk On, Victoria, advocacy group. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Pedestrian advocate says pandemic has paved way for more walkable communities

Walk On, Victoria encouraged by traffic closures and expanded patios

Oak Bay Avenue, Government Street, North Park Village and James Bay have all seen significant changes with expanded sidewalks, and now the use of road space to accommodate patios is taking shape.

Oak Bay joined Victoria in expanding sidewalks for social distancing, and is now experimenting with the reprioritizing of vehicle parking stalls for open-air dining. The results are unknown.

For advocacy groups such as Walk On, Victoria, it’s a jolt forward towards safer streets.

“It’s unfortunate it took a pandemic to see some of these changes. Some changes are necessary for social distancing, but we’re also seeing an opportunity,” said Amanda MacDonald of Walk On, Victoria.

“But actually, COVID-19 has opened people’s eyes on how poor our amenities are, and how social distancing on sidewalks is difficult. We’re learning there isn’t room for two wheelchairs to pass each other on a sidewalk.”

READ MORE: Government Street to get transformed into people priority zone

Shutting some lanes or roads to traffic is one thing but unless you do something with the space, you really have to take advantage of it, MacDonald added. Because walking is a thing you do when you have somewhere you want to go, she noted.

In Oak Bay this summer, patios are expected to temporarily take over The Avenue and in Estevan Village (Ruth and Dean opened their open-air patio on June 17).

In Victoria, the Yates Street Tap House is among the first to install a parking patio while the city also closed Government to most vehicle traffic, jumping ahead on its 2019 vote to make it a people-priority street by 2022.

READ ALSO: Pub seeks 55-seat patio on Oak Bay Avenue

Since it started in 2014, Walk On, Victoria has worked towards a mission to ‘improve the walkability of Greater Victoria’s neighbourhoods and promote walking as a healthy, sustainable form of transportation and recreation.’

“We noticed a lot of planning decisions being made without enough pedestrian representation,” MacDonald said. “Pedestrians have a voice, even if you don’t think you fall in that category, we all walk. Even when you drive somewhere and park, you become a pedestrian getting in and out of each place you go.”

Essentially, the healthy aspects of walking are well-documented but are constantly overlooked, and walkable communities need to be prioritized whenever community spaces are redesigned, she said.

“We need places to go, and cars zipping by when you’re on a patio is not enjoyable.”

Now, it’s the time for other municipalities to step up, MacDonald said.

“Look at Saanich, where they are doing the [Shelbourne Valley Action Plan] that will add bike lanes and better sidewalks to Shelbourne. That work for Shelbourne could be started now since there is unlikely to be any classes at Camosun College or the [University of Victoria] in the fall.”

In fact, the City of Victoria recently posted to social media that it is taking advantage of lower traffic levels to rip up a section of Shelbourne (where it turns into Begbie Street) to expedite sub-ground infrastructure upgrades.

“We’re going to look at how some of these changes can be implemented going forward beyond COVID-19,” MacDonald said.

“We’re trying to gather what people are experiencing, what can we make permanent, how can we advocate for that. But it takes locals going out to support those businesses.”

READ ALSO: Oak Bay restaurant struggles to swap parking for patio space

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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