London

Restaurant owner excited as Dundas Place prepares to close to cars on weekends

Expanded patios, sidewalk sales and physically distanced programming all seem possible now that Dundas Place is set to close to car traffic for several hours each weekend. 

Weekend street closures to start Friday, July 31

Currently, the flex street has enabled restaurants and bars to easily set up sidewalk-patios. Starting July 31, the street will be closed off to cars during certain hours on the weekend, allowing restaurants to expand those patios onto the street. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

Expanded patios, sidewalk sales and physically-distanced programming are all possible this summer, as the City of London has decided to close Dundas Place to car traffic for several hours, starting this weekend. 

According to a letter sent to merchants by the Downtown London BIA, and obtained by CBC News, starting Friday three blocks of Dundas Place will be closed to cars on set hours of the weekend in an effort to invite more pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy downtown shops and eateries while having more space to physically distance. 

It's an idea implemented in other cities across the province as a way to support economic recovery triggered by the losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

"We're really excited," said Angela Murphy, the owner of Grace Restaurant. "It'll be really nice for our guests to have the full flex street experience."

Grace Restaurant has been offering outdoor dinning on their sidewalk and patio area, but Murphy said the team is hoping to expand the patio onto the roadway during the weekend and welcome more customers. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

Dundas Place was created with this kind of flexibility in mind, but it's rarely been used in this fashion. 

For the year and a half it took to complete the $16-million streetscape, many businesses along Dundas Place struggled to keep afloat with limited access to their stores and restaurants. Then, just a few months after the street was completed in December, the majority of businesses were forced to close their doors due to the pandemic. 

Grace Restaurant has been offering outdoor dinning on their sidewalk-patio area for a few weeks now, but Murphy said the team is hoping to expand the patio onto the roadway during the weekend and welcome more customers.

"I'm looking forward to [Dundas Place] becoming a gathering place and a place where community can be built," she said. 

'Close it for the whole weekend'

'I hope they close [the street] down for the summer. Then you'll really see people come out,' said Billy Thomson, manager of The Scot's Corner. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

According to the Downtown London BIA letter, cars will be barred from three blocks of Dundas Place — from Talbot Street to Wellington Street — on Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m

But the limited hours frustrates some business owners — like Billy Thomson, who runs The Scots Corner, which is open until 2 a.m. on weekends. 

"The timing just doesn't really work," Thomson said. "For us it doesn't make much sense because if we extend the patio, we have to bring it back in before the bar is even closed." 

"I'd like to see them just close it for the whole weekend like other cities and open it back up Monday morning." 

While Thomson says his bar doesn't plan on expanding its patio unless the hours change, he is hopeful that fewer cars and noise will bring more pedestrians to the popular eatery. 

As for preventing the spread of the virus in what officials hope becomes a more populated area, Downtown London said in the letter to businesses there will be hand sanitizer stations, safety signage and security guards throughout the three blocks. 

City of London Division Manager for Culture, Special Events & Sport Services, Jon-Paul McGonigle and London Downtown Business Association chair, Andrew Mcclaneghan tell London Morning about the plans to close Dundas Place to vehicular traffic and encourage people to visit the core. 8:51

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