Maple Ridge council is considering a plan to close a section of 224th Street on weekends, while also allowing businesses to expand their patios into parking spots.
The proposal will allow pedestrian and bike traffic – but exclude vehicles – on Saturdays and Sundays.
Kevin Fulton, owner of Silver Valley Brewing, said city hall quickly processed his application for a temporary patio in one parking spot, and now it is awaiting provincial approval. He expects to have it within a week.
He is “totally in support” of the weekend street closures, to bring more pedestrians downtown, rather than bumper-to-bumper traffic. He noted there would be about eight restaurants that could benefit, and “a bunch of great shops.”
“All of those businesses would stand to benefit for sure,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea.”
Fulton asserts the public would also benefit by the area being safer for pedestrians.
The issue was before council Tuesday night, and Coun. Kiersten Duncan voiced concerns about social distancing. Council should not encourage the public to go downtown shopping and mingle during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
“Try as we might to implement social distancing, this is going to be bringing people together unnecessarily, and people could get sick,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea for the future, and when we’re in a better situation, we’ve got a vaccine, things are starting to normalize again, great, I will be supportive of this…”
Fulton said there is an argument to be made that business patrons are safer from the virus when they are outdoors. Also, they are better able to maintain social distancing.
“I think it’s exactly what you need in a pandemic,” he said.
It may not get city approval this summer, because council sent the matter back to staff to consult with the chamber of commerce and Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association (DMRBIA).
Ineke Boekhorst, executive director of the DMRBIA, also serves on the city’s transportation advisory committee (TAC), which put the plan before council. It would close the street between Dewdney Trunk Road and 119th Avenue. Traffic from the south could still access the parking lot to the Walmart, and Selkirk Avenue.
“It has been done in other communities to increase pedestrian traffic, bicycles, kids on tricycles and pleasant access to downtown,” Boekhorst said. “It may be very positive.”
Downtown businesses have “of course” been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown. They need all the help they can get, she said.
“Three months with very little revenue is not easy for a small business,” Boekhorst noted.
A plan to close the street to vehicles permanently, which came to council almost a decade ago, was not viewed favourably. It was considered in June 2011, as a Healthier Communities initiative.
The street has been closed to traffic numerous times for special events, but generally only for a day or an evening.
Council heard the proposed weekend road closure would cost an estimated $24,000 to $36,000 to have concrete road barricades set up and removed over a 16 week period. Coun. Ryan Svendsen wanted staff to look at more affordable options, such as using city vehicles to block lanes.
The Chameleon Restaurant already has a patio licence, Taco Fan and Silver Valley Brewing have applications in process, and Cremino Gelato and Caffe has inquired, noted city staff.
All businesses in the area will be consulted, council insisted.