Nfld. & Labrador

Water Street pedestrian mall gets green light for 7 days a week starting in July

Parking still available on Duckworth Street, Harbour Drive and adjacent roads

Posted: June 17, 2020
Last Updated: June 17, 2020

In the summer of 1969, a section of Water Street in St. John's was turned into a pedestrian-friendly space. (Remember the Old St. John's/Facebook)

Starting July 3, restaurants and businesses along Water Street can sprawl out into the streets as cars will be banned and pedestrians have free range.

The City of St. John's announced Wednesday morning that its pedestrian mall proposal will be going ahead across four blocks on Water Street.

Traffic will be pedestrian-only between noon and 10 p.m., seven days a week, from Bishop's Cove to Job's Cove.

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It will continue until Sept. 7.

"We are very excited to offer residents and downtown business owners this new experience for July and August," said Coun. Debbie Hanlon in a press release. "We certainly hope that residents make the most of this experience and visit the new pedestrian mall often this summer."

The city will add picnic tables to the street for places to sit and eat.

St. John's Coun. Debbie Hanlon hopes the pedestrian mall on Water Street will help businesses out after a hard year. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

The idea was meant to promote foot traffic downtown, where businesses have had a disastrous year. Starting with an infrastructure project that saw the street torn up last spring, problems continued into the winter when the city was hit with a historic snowstorm that made navigating downtown a nightmare.

The pandemic threw an even bigger wrench into the plans of many businesses, which are only now starting to open after being ordered closed in March.

Hanlon said the pedestrian areas will give businesses operating at reduced capacity extra room to expand onto the street.

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"COVID-19 made us sit up and realize that if we want to operate our business, we all have to operate differently," she said.

"We're hoping that this is a starting point, and with anything, it's baby steps.… I see it as a point to grow from."

Wallace Ryan has lived downtown for most of his adult life and says cars have 'taken over' in recent years. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

The city did a similar thing in the summer of 1969, when it closed the street to vehicle traffic and allowed pedestrians full control of Water Street.

Wallace Ryan, who says he's lived in the downtown for most of his adult life and can remember the 1969 setup, started a petition to close the road to traffic once again.

"The past few years, it's like cars and traffic had taken over Water Street and really done a number on local business," he said.

Ryan said he's seen pedestrian streets in other cities and other countries and businesses and the streets have always been filled with people and the businesses have done well, so he thought it would be a good idea for St. John's during the pandemic.

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"This is sort of like the least we can do to thank all the people down here on Water Street for what they had to put up with over the last few months, and support some of our own," he said.

Ryan said he's happy with the decision to move forward with the pedestrian area and hopes it can grow to include Duckworth Street in the future as well, a space he called "tailor-made" for pedestrians.

Merchant Tavern co-owner Jeremy Bonia says being able to add extra seating on Water Street will help his restaurant through the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

The idea has been championed by several business owners who spoke with CBC News since the city began considering proposals. One proposal would have seen the area closed to traffic only on weekends, while another suggested closing traffic on Water and Duckworth streets.

Jeremy Bonia, co-owner of the Merchant Tavern on Water Street, says the pedestrian mall is a great idea, one that will help many downtown businesses during the pandemic.

"It's increasing our capacity, for sure. We're only allowed 50 per cent right now. To pick up some of that extra seating out in the street would be amazing," he said.

Bonia also hopes the pedestrian area will become a permanent fixture.

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"Downtown always has a lot of things going on in the summertime, between festivals and events. Why not have that space available [during] those things as well?"

Water Street from Bishop’s Cove to Job’s Cove will be open to pedestrian traffic only from noon to 10 p.m. daily this summer. (City of St. John's/Facebook)

As for parking, the city said spaces will still be available on Duckworth Street and Harbour Drive, as well as on the many side roads adjacent to Water Street.

There will also be accessible parking spaces allotted on Water Street, off Clift's-Baird's Cove, Ayre's Cove and Bishop's Cove.

The streets will be open before noon for business to accept deliveries. Between noon and 10 p.m., there will be designated places for deliveries in between Water Street and Harbour Drive.

Other traffic changes

Starting next week, the city will also be undertaking work to widen streets so pedestrians can have more space between them.

Three streets will see pylons put alongside the road, cordoning off the edge of the road for pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair users to safely pass each other.

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The work will be done on:

Harbour Drive was also supposed to be included in the project, but has been reconsidered because of the pedestrian mall on Water Street.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Meg Roberts