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The Gastown area in downtown Vancouver – especially the 3 blocks of Water Street – will need major street rehabilitation soon. The City is not sure what they’ll find underneath the street so it could take a year or it could take longer. Gastown’s 150th Birthday is in 2017 so it’s too late to start now to be ready in time.

Nothing is confirmed yet. The vision I like the best would be to open Water Street to people, closing it to vehicles – except delivery vehicles at scheduled times. This would leave more room for café style areas, big gatherings around the Steam Clock, space for active transportation, and pop-up markets and festivals.

If that happens, part of the vision would be Cordova Street becoming a 2-way street that vehicles – including taxis, transit and tour buses – would move to. As it stands now, if you do drive west on Dundas then Powell Streets, by Carrall Street if you haven’t turned left (at the 5 corners), you find yourself on an unpleasant, slow drive through wandering tourists and zig zag bicyclists for the 3 blocks of Water Street. It’s clear most of the vehicle traffic is passing through, frustrated. Not stopping to buy anything.

What Would Janette Do? Janette Sadik-Khan says people find it hard to visualize things from boards and drawings. She says to try things to help people visualize and to see what works since the streets are already not perfect. What if before the street rehabilitation started, for late 2016 and 2017, we made Cordova a 2-way street and opened the 3 blocks of Water as a car-free space? Café tables & chairs with wine and pastries, programmed events including the 150th birthday celebrations, and no tour buses blowing dark exhaust in our faces…

Wouldn’t it be better to know what worked and what didn’t before we dig it up then rebuild it? It seems to me the consultation process after we’ve had a trial period would have more consensus about what was delightful and what wasn’t and be more valuable than varying speculations over unknown results. According to best practices in other cities, the businesses in Gastown would thrive from this. A 2-way street is better than a 1-way for business (Cordova) and no vehicles is even better (Water). If the City did intercept surveys before and after we’d have even more data.

What I know for sure is: it isn’t working well now for any mode. Making Cordova a 2-way street for 11 blocks (including re-signalling) and changing transit routes would probably take the most time. One possibility is to keep transit routes the same, allowing the #50 bus to be the only vehicle permitted on Water if necessary (besides delivery vehicles at low volume times of day) as Phase I.

The above photos are of Cardiff, Wales, UK. The middle photo with the tables and chairs could be a model for Gaoler’s Mews in Gastown.