At the the council meeting on June 8, city staff deliberated closing Second Avenue off to vehicular traffic to allow for in street patio and retail space expansion. The new plan would provide greater flexibility for businesses to adapt and recover throughout the pandemic by expanding patronage and business opportunities.
After recommendations from city staff, council first rescinded the previously held Historic Downtown Patio Policy, replacing it with the new Expansion of Local Business onto Municipal Lands and Highways Policy, so patios and other commercial uses may expand into the street.
The previously instated Historic Downtown Patio Policy was adopted in June 2012, allowing for the construction of restaurant street patios to add vibrancy to Fernie’s downtown core. The old policy let both businesses and citizens experiment with the concept of in street patios. Seeing the success of the previous policy, the new policy expands the program to new areas, while lowering the requirements for permanent and temporary in street retail and patio use. The adoption of the new policy aids businesses seeking to expand their spaces during the pandemic.
“Providing more space for businesses and patrons to space out along Second Avenue will help us all adhere to the Provincial requirements and may help encourage visitors to our community to linger in the downtown area and patronize the businesses in the area,” said Pareick Sorfleet, manager of planning for the City of Fernie, in the request for decision.
The meeting continued as city staff recommended that council direct administration to temporarily close off specific sections of Second Avenue to vehicular traffic. They suggested the closures take place every weekend throughout the upcoming summer, from midday Friday until Sunday evening.
Specifically, the proposal would see that 4th Street, 5th Street, 6th Street, and 7th Street remain accessible by vehicles to allow for parking as well as the connection between 3rd Avenue and 1st Avenue. Administration would also increase accessible stalls by allocating them spaces on the corner of side streets. The relocation of such stalls allows for wheelchair access to sidewalks and proximity to drop cuts.
Using movable barriers to limit traffic, this option accommodates businesses with customers or deliveries requiring vehicle access throughout the week. Challenges with this option include an increased need for labour and greater associated costs, as well as issues with vehicles left on the street after closure.
Two alternative options were also offered to council. The first option would use concrete barriers to close off Second Avenue to vehicular traffic all summer. The number of accessible stalls would not be affected in this plan, as they would be moved to to streets, and deliveries would be carried out through alleys or carted in from side streets. Administration sees no issues pertaining to vehicle movement with this option, and claims that it would make it easier for businesses operating on the street to set up permanent areas, tents, and other fixtures. Possible challenges with this option include parking issues in terms of deliveries to businesses and accessibility for residents.
Opinions from downtown businesses, medical clinics and optometry clinics were split on the matter. Some business owners support changes as long as accessible parking spots remain within reasonable distance, while others were opposed to closing off Second Avenue due to issues with deliveries or accessibility.
The final option offered to council was to maintain the status quo, while further exploring possibilities. Ultimately, council chose this option for the time being. City staff are henceforth tasked to communicate with the downtown business community, assessing alternatives such as maintaining one way traffic and implementing angle parking down Second Avenue.