Calgary

Banff will close its main street to cars this summer, opening space for pedestrians

The Town of Banff will close its main street to cars this summer to make more space for visitors on foot. 

Town is preparing for how to safely welcome back visitors in the coronavirus era

A police vehicle patrols the empty streets of Banff on March 24. Parks Canada is restricting vehicles in the national parks and national historic sites amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The Town of Banff will close its main street to cars this summer to make more space for visitors on foot. 

Banff Avenue — the town's main drag — will be closed between the 100 and 200 blocks from June 5 to Sept. 11.

A portion of Caribou Street between Banff Avenue and the Bear Street laneway and between Banff Avenue and the Beaver Street laneway will be closed as well.

The closures are intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 by allowing for two metres of space between pedestrians and cyclists, and to attract more foot traffic to local businesses.

"If the goal here is to drive maximum safety and maximum distancing, that should drive your thinking on how this space should be configured," said Darren Enns, development services manager for the Town of Banff.

Between 20,000 and 30,000 vehicles travel through Banff on a typical summer day. 

But Mayor Karen Sorensen said this year will be quite different due to the coronavirus pandemic once the town reopens. 

"It will be a different experience for people for sure," she said.

Part of Banff Avenue will be closed to vehicles this summer to help pedestrians keep a two-metre distance from each other, a precaution the town is taking to lessen the risk of COVID-19 transmission. (Town of Banff)

The town and the majority of its businesses are preparing to reopen June 1, when national parks are expected to gradually begin resuming operations.

During the May 2020 long weekend, traffic in Banff was down 70 per cent but pedestrian traffic was down 88 per cent, which suggests people currently prefer to drive or avoid congested pedestrian spaces, town administration said.

The town will spend $175,000 on landscaping and traffic control to make the closed roadspace more pedestrian-friendly.

The mountain town's economy, which is centred on tourism, was devastated as COVID-19 brought international and domestic travel to a halt. The community is facing an unemployment rate as high as 85 per cent.

Banff remains under a state of local emergency.

There have been four cases of COVID-19 in the community, which has a population of around 7,800. The national park attracts more than four million visitors each year.

Torsten Merker, who owns the King Edward Hotel, said he's concerned about how the logistics of the street closure will work, but hopes it could bring in some much-needed foot traffic once the town begins to reopen.

"We don't know how the behaviour of people will change. And once we have a little bit more information on that I think that's when we will see if it helped or hindered the business," he said.

One of the town's biggest tourism draws, the Banff World Media Festival, kicks off Tuesday — virtually. The in-person festival was originally slated to take place in mid-June.

With files from Helen Pike

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