Car-free Sundays proposed for some Vancouver streets

A few busy Vancouver streets could be car-free every Sunday this summer if a new Vancouver councillor gets her way.
Newly elected Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer wants to see some streets closed to cars every summer Sunday. ((CBC))

A few busy Vancouver streets could be car-free every Sunday this summer if a new Vancouver councillor gets her way.

In recent years, community groups have closed some main shopping streets such as Commercial Drive to all vehicles except buses for one day a year, and staged ad hoc street festivals, often featuring live music and street hockey games.

But next summer, newly elected councillor and environmental advocate Andrea Reimer wants the city to organize car-free days every Sunday for three months. The proposal was part of the Vision Vancouver platform during the recent civic election campaign.

"There's a lot of demand for it, and it's a chance for us to turn streets into parks essentially every Sunday over the summer months," said Reimer.

To stop the tires rolling, Reimer plans to put forward a motion at council on Dec. 16 asking staff to explore the proposal, including which neighbourhoods might be part of the trial.

The West End, Commercial Drive and Punjabi Market on Main Street are all possibilities, but Reimer said the city should consider any district that is interested.

"It's asphalt, but there's lots of activities, musicians, cultural events that we can have on the streets and come together as a community and have fun."

Foot traffic good for business

In Vancouver, past car-free events have drawn crowds, but also some resistance from businesses worried customers will stay away.

Car-free day has become a summer tradition on East Vancouver's Commercial Drive. ((CBC))
But Commercial Drive shops saw more business during past events that arrived by foot, according to Reimer.

"The idea of not having cars is much worse than the reality of not having cars, and we have some evidence now to prove that," she said.

Annual car-free days have become common in cities around the world, but making every summer Sunday car-free is still a new idea for most places. New York City ran a similar experiment in Manhattan last summer and Bogota, Colombia, has had car-free Sundays for decades.

"Sunday has the lowest traffic volumes generally on the roadways and it's the day that the most number of people have off," said Reimer, who was elected to Vancouver city council in 2008 as part of the Vision Vancouver sweep of the election.

She previously served on the Vancouver School Board from 2002 to 2005, and was Canada's first trustee to run under the Green party banner. She is also the executive director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.