At the most recent special meeting of Fernie’s city council on July 9, council continued discussions about proposed changes to Second Avenue. The project’s objective was to devise a creative way to support business recovery by allowing businesses to increase patronage while adhering to social distancing protocols.
After a number of meetings, discussions, and a public engagement survey, council voted to maintain the status quo traffic pattern for Second Avenue.
At the council meeting on June 8, council directed administration to research and present options to make sections of Second Avenue one-way. At the committee of the whole meeting on June 15, a design proposal of the aforementioned concept was presented, then finally at the meeting on July 9, options for the repurposing of Second Avenue were summarized, reviewed, and voted upon.
In her presentation to council on July 9, Zabrina Pendon, director of operational services, reviewed the proposition to have one-way vehicular and bicycle traffic flowing north down Second Avenue from Fourth Street to Seventh Street. Given this option, the street’s east side would have reverse angle parking, allowing businesses on the west side to expand onto the road. This option was also offered in reverse, with traffic moving south.
In addition to using planter boxes at either end of each block to delineate where the new zone starts and ends, two options for barriers were offered. The first option was to use metal crowd control fencing, an inexpensive, easy to install, and reusable option. The second, slightly more expensive option, was to use bike racks.
At the meeting on July 9, Pendon also presented council with the results from the public survey put out by the city from June 19 until July 2. The survey received a remarkable 1,054 responses from the public, 85 per cent from residents and 16 per cent from businesses.
Survey results indicated that roughly half of all respondents were in support of changes to Second Avenue. Additionally, approximately one quarter of respondents did not support the changes, and another quarter were neutral.
According to Pendon, when assessing responses from only the business community, results trended toward neutrality, or not favouring changes, with half of Second Avenue business respondents raising concerns about accessibility. As a result, only a quarter of businesses located on Second Avenue mentioned they would benefit from the changes.
Benefits of repurposing Second Avenue that were identified in the survey include supporting businesses, increased ability to social distance while shopping, and adding to Fernie’s vibrancy. Concerns revolved around issues such as accessible parking, deliveries for businesses, unruly cyclists, increased confusion, a need for more parking, and the inability to social distance.
“The intent of the proposed redesign in 2020 was to help businesses adapt to and thrive during the pandemic,” Pendon and manager of planning, Patrick Sorfleet wrote in their request for decision. “The majority of business respondents and more particularly Second Ave business respondents are either ambivalent about the changes or see them as negative. Therefore, administration has no data at present that indicates the changes will result in better business recovery and as such believes that implementing these changes during the 2020 summer season is not warranted.”
In addition, only 30 per cent of downtown businesses expressed they would participate in the changes. As such, council followed Pendon’s recommendation, and approved the maintenance of the status quo. This said, both administration and council see revising the use of Second Avenue as a matter to revisit in the future.