British Columbia

Vancouver's temporary summer patio program is here to stay

Though it started as a temporary project during the pandemic, the City of Vancouver's temporary expedited patio program will now operate annually.

Critics, council raised issue with accessibility and privatization of public space

A server takes an order from patrons at a restaurant in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in June. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Though it started as a temporary project during the pandemic, the City of Vancouver's temporary expedited patio program (TEPP) will now operate annually.

City council voted unanimously to approve the program after staff presented a report recommending its continued operation.

"Through the pandemic, patios have been shown to support economic recovery and a vibrant public life," wrote city staff in the report.

The TEPP was introduced in June 2020 in response to social distancing and indoor dining restrictions.

In 2021, the popular program saw almost 700 patios approved throughout the city, including on private land. There were 516 patios built on public land, with 388 on city curbsides and 128 on sidewalks.

"Discussion with [Business Improvement Areas] and the hospitality industry indicated that TEPP helped the restaurant industry survive at a critical time, and many residents felt a vibrant patio culture was created on many streets," the report said.

The program will run annually from April 1 to Oct. 31, allowing for increased restaurant occupancy during the summer. Breweries and distilleries are also eligible.

Accessibility issues

While the program was popular, it wasn't without criticism.

The Vancouver city planning commission, which advises city council on planning and development issues, took issue with the lack of accessibility over the past two seasons.

"The addition of patios has added to and worsened the existing level of inaccessibility in the city overall as well as in specific areas," wrote the commission.

The commission pointed to elevated dining areas without ramp access, chairs and tables crowding sidewalks and forcing people to step out onto the road to pass, and seating that didn't allow for wheelchair users.

The issue was also raised by Coun. Christine Boyle.

"We know there were a lot of competing pressures on these patios and thus far the accessibility of these patios hasn't been great," said Boyle.

Scott Edwards, manager of street activities for Vancouver, confirmed that accessibility is a requirement for permit approval.

"Over the past year, we've been focusing on trying to support the businesses and enforcement has more been along the [lines of] education and engagement with businesses," said Edwards.

"We've been trying to use carrots more so than sticks."

Moving forward, Edwards says the city will focus on enforcement.

Workers building a restaurant patio are pictured along Yew Street in Vancouver, B.C., in April. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Privatization of public space

The commission also raised concerns about turning public spaces into private spaces that can only be accessed by those able to pay.

It warned that the privatization of public space can have a gentrifying effect and can unfairly impact vulnerable people.

"Privatization of public space contributes to increased surveillance of public space and harassment of people around those spaces, which disproportionately impacts unhoused, poor and racialized people," said the report.

Lisa Parker, director of public space and street use for Vancouver, agreed it's a balancing act that city staff will focus on as it continues consultations on the program with the public and stakeholders.

"We take that very seriously, the balance of those uses. And really have a handle and an understanding ... that when we do start to change uses there are people who are impacted by that," said Parker.

City staff has been directed to review the patio program and to report back with "strengthened guidelines to balance demands on public space and to ensure and enforce accessibility."

Earlier in September, the City of Port Coquitlam also moved to make its outdoor spaces program permanent.


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