Residents, visitors, businesses would like to see Kelowna's Bernard Ave closed to vehicle traffic again | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Residents, visitors, businesses would like to see Kelowna's Bernard Ave closed to vehicle traffic again

Ric and Ruth-Anne Gilbertson, from Calgary, enjoy a bike ride along Bernard Avenue in Kelowna`s downtown.
July 27, 2020 - 8:00 AM

Residents and visitors are enjoying that Bernard Avenue has been closed to foot traffic, and some businesses would like to see its return again next year, pending a few changes.

At Bean Scene Coffee House, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, said assistant manager Kristina Fedorov.

“The first couple of weeks were fantastic.... With the ability to have the patios extended were are able to have seating for more people,” she said, adding that with recent COVID-19 cases in the Kelowna, businesses have slumped, but she’d love for Bernard Avenue to continue being closed to vehicles in the summers.

“I spent most of my growing up years in Europe and it reminds me so much of that. You can walk down the street and instead of going into a store you can see what they have to offer just by the people who are sitting outside and it’s so much more inviting into each specific side,” she said.

While Delight Cowen, manager of the Downtown Shoe Store, would like to see the return of the street’s closure again, she said there needs to be more events going on near the businesses that don’t have restaurants in order to attract customers.

“I’m for it,” she said, but added a lot of customers are older, and have to walk a longer distance now the street is closed, so that's been a challenge. She would like to see entertainment or something along the empty street to attract customers.

Calgary residents Ric and Ruth-Anne Gilbertson enjoyed a morning cycle in the middle of the road, something they wouldn’t normally be able to do if the street was open to vehicle traffic. The former Kelowna residents said they liked using the path in the morning as there are less people around.

“I think it’s great, we walked down the middle of the street because with so many people on the sidewalk, there’s not enough room for social distancing, so I think it’s great,” said Kelowna resident Linda Wolfe.

“Not just because of COVID, I think it’s a great idea period,” she said.

Kelowna resident Mike Borteous said he liked the concept of the street's closure adding that he’d like to see the street’s closure to vehicles return again.

Mark Burley, executive director of the Downtown Kelowna Association, said while there’s been a hit in foot traffic with recent Kelowna COVID-19 exposure announcements, the foot traffic overall is significantly higher than last year by roughly 5,000 pedestrians per day.

He said businesses appear to be overall happy with the street’s opening to just foot traffic.

“We do have people who aren’t happy with it and that’s natural but we do have to remember that this is a different year, and we have to remember that,” he said.

Bernard Avenue allows people to physically distance as well, he said.

It’s too soon to see if Bernard Avenue closure to foot traffic will return next year, as there will still data that needs to be tallied at the end of the summer, he said.

“As to what the future holds, given what 2020 is like, who knows?”

Downtown foot traffic on Bernard Avenue has increased by roughly 89 per cent since last year, said Matt Worona, active transportation co-ordinator with the City of Kelowna. Last week, he reported the numbers had increased by 100 per cent year over year, so there's been a decline since. 

READ MORE: Bernard Avenue sees decline in foot traffic after Kelowna COVID-19 outbreak

It’s hard to predict what the next month will look like, but June and July are typically the busiest months, he said. The 89 per cent increase can only be attributed to the Bernard Avenue’s vehicle traffic closure, he said, adding that the increase was primarily seen after its closure to vehicle traffic.

“Even with the rain and a variety of things, we haven’t really had a day lower than the 2019 (numbers) expected with the exception of Canada Day,” he said.

Image Credit: City of Kelowna

“When we’re thinking about Bernard, we’re thinking about not a street that moves a ton of cars through, but a street that drives economic activity and usually the way to measure that is to measure the number of people sitting and the number of people walking through and to see those numbers jump considerably is promising,” Worona said.

Mayor Colin Basran said the city is working with Festivals Kelowna to bring some form of entertainment to the 400 block of Bernard Avenue but added that foot traffic will always gravitate towards the water.

“I certainly think that’s great news and it also speaks contrary to some of the business we’ve heard down there that traffic is down,” he said. “It clearly points to the fact that it’s not and the closure is doing exactly what we hoped it would.” 

The stats show the closure of Bernard to vehicles has been a success, so businesses need to remember that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, he said.

With the latest numbers, he’s hopeful that Bernard Avenue will be closed to vehicle traffic in the future, and said the city is working on implementing entertainment in that area this summer.

 


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