The city’s head engineer has told Vancouver council that a one-block section of Water Street in Gastown and the area surrounding Maple Tree Square will be closed to vehicles for two months in the summer of 2024.
Lon LaClaire, general manager of engineering services, said in a Nov. 6 memo that the sloping stretch of Water Street between Richards and Cambie streets will be car-free in July and August.
The is the area that includes the Gastown Steam Clock.
Further east at Maple Tree Square, sections of Water Street at Carrall Street will also be closed, with a “car-light” passage between Cambie and Carrall, according to the memo, which includes a map of the city’s plan.
“For events or on weekends, there would be an opportunity to make Water Street car-free,” LaClaire said in the memo, which is now posted to the city's website.
“Key traffic signal changes would support re-routing of vehicle traffic. However, due to the significant signal and intersection changes required to make Cordova Street two-way, Cordova Street would remain one-way for the summer 2024 pilot.”
Prior to the launch of the street changes, city crews will spend approximately 10 to 12 weeks beginning in April to repair pavers in the area around Maple Tree Square. The work and pilot are expected to cause disruptions for local businesses.
LaClaire said discussions continue with businesses, property owners, tour bus operators and the Gastown Business Improvement Society about loading, delivery and access “in order to refine the proposed street design concept and help support a successful pilot.”
Those discussions include meetings with event organizers on how to program and activate both the car-free and car-light blocks of Water Street and Maple Tree Square.
Consultation work on development of a street layout — with seating, tables, planters and “other engaging features” — and talking with buskers and vendors on best ways to use the streets and sidewalks is also underway.
Staff expect the total cost of the pilot to be in the range of $750,000 to $900,000, funded from the current Gastown capital budget. This includes signal and traffic management improvements, furniture and planters, “an enhanced stewardship and management approach” and monitoring and data collection.
'Decades of underinvestment'
The pilot is part of the Gastown “public spaces plan,” which is a response to a push from Mayor Ken Sim and his ABC Vancouver colleagues to provide “a bold new vision” for the historic community.
Sim and Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung emphasized at a news conference in May at Maple Tree Square that they want to “pedestrianize” Gastown, with the pilot this summer a test of what can and cannot be done in the neighbourhood.
“As much as we treasure Gastown and the role it's played in the story of our city, we know that there remains incredibly untapped potential,” the mayor said at the time.
“Decades of underinvestment have led to the deterioration of many of the streets in the neighbourhood. Improperly maintained infrastructure and the lack of a clear, cohesive plan for this neighbourhood has had an impact on residents, businesses and visitors alike.”
Walley Wargolet, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Society, spoke at the news conference and told reporters he welcomed the direction from Kirby-Yung, the mayor and ABC councillors, most of whom were in attendance.
“We have spent many times in many meetings, talking about piecemeal projects in this neighbourhood, and finally, we're going to get a comprehensive, innovative public realm plan for this neighbourhood,” Wargolet said.