At Water and Carrall streets, a statue of Gastown’s founder stands over a cobblestoned square that harks back to the days of Vancouver’s founding. From there, Water, a thoroughfare popular with tourists, runs west, with old-fashioned street lamps and trees adorned with white lights on both sides.
“Imagine those places car-free,” Brent Toderian said in a phone interview.
The City of Vancouver’s former chief planner offered his thoughts on an idea floated in a redevelopment plan going for public consultation later this month. Building on Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 framework, one of the city’s objectives is to “explore Vancouver’s first car-light or pedestrian priority area”.
According to that document, that could see parts or even all of Water Street and Cordova Street, plus each one-block stretch connecting them in Gastown—Cambie, Abbott, Carrall, and Columbia—declared free of traffic.
“It’s the best intersection in the city,” Toderian said about Water and Carrall. “And it could be the best public place. But does it have to be that way all the time? That’s an interesting question.”
Going car-free doesn’t have to mean banning vehicles 24 hours a day or seven days a week, he explained. Maybe these streets are pedestrian-only on weekends. Perhaps the intersection of Water and Carrall can transform into a patio filled with tables and chairs in the summer and then let cars drive through during rainier months.
“And then there are other parts of Gastown where you could take a different approach,” Toderian continued. “I think the answer can vary around Gastown.”
There are a few very small sections of Vancouver where similar ideas have taken shape.
Granville Island, for example, classifies as what city planners call “pedestrian priority,” where cars are allowed but where streets also function as walkways. During the summer, a short section of the Granville Entertainment District is closed to traffic on weekend evenings. Just last month, the 800 block of Robson Street on the south side of the Vancouver Art Gallery was permanently transformed into a pedestrian-only area that will sometimes include seating and public art. Before that, a small section of Bute Street just south of Davie was redeveloped as Jim Deva Plaza and adorned with picnic tables and benches. But the Gastown plan puts a significantly larger area up for discussion.
Leanore Sali, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Association Society, said the group doesn’t yet have a position on the idea.
“There’s the potential to come up with some real interesting opportunities,” she told the Straight.