It is an entire 10-block area from Richards to Main Street, including Water Street, Powell and Cordova, that is being studied to see to what extent making it at least a “car-light” area can be achieved.
In the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan the neighbourhood of Gastown officially runs from Richards to just a half block west of Main at Powell and Cordova. The area to the immediate east of that is known as the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District, and it has special low-income status that disallows the development of any more condos – only rental buildings are allowed, with at least 60 percent of units needing to be social housing.
Public consultation is set to begin early October. In addition to banning cars outright in part of the area, other options are described as “pedestrian priority” and “car-light.” This means disallowing cars on certain days and at particular times, and other part measures of that nature.Former chief city planner Brent Toderian told reporters: “Gastown’s already a great place. It’s a historic place, it’s a beautiful place, it has a lot of character. Can it be an even better place for people?” He noted the Gastown core is already unique for how slowly cars move due to the narrow streets and high pedestrian traffic, particularly around the Gassy Jack statue and famed steam clock. “It’s why you don’t necessarily have to ban the car. There are other options that could be considered,” he said.
“I think Water Street and Gastown is probably the best opportunity in our downtown to try some things that not just rebalance the relationship between cars and people, but also represent a powerful placemaking opportunity.”
The idea is not new, as it is contained in Vancouver’s Transportation 2040framework. 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 is reported saying 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. The city says the reason it’s exploring possibilities is due to the major rehabilitation work needed for the cobblestone streets themselves.
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 Georgia Straight.