Saint John continues program to 'pedestrianize' uptown streets
City points to positive feedback from businesses and public
The City of Saint John will continue a program that temporarily closes uptown streets to encourage pedestrian use as part of a COVID 19 economic recovery plan.
A pilot program dubbed the "Open Street" initiative saw sections of four streets in the commercial district take turns closing to vehicle traffic for several hours over three Saturdays.
Crowds on the three days ranged from around 1,000 on a rainy July 11 to an estimated 2,200 on July 26.
Phil Ouellette, the city's deputy commissioner of growth and planning, said the decision to continue the program follows a survey of retailers and restaurants in the area.
He told city councillors Tuesday that 81 per cent of the 22 businesses surveyed said they support the initiative, with some reporting a lot of new customers.
But there's been confusion with the weekly change of streets to be "pedestrianized," along with the varying of hours depending on which streets are involved that Saturday.
Ouellette admitted print and radio advertising, social media and other notices have not always succeeded in getting through to the public and to the businesses on the streets involved.
"Some people felt frustrated" said Ouellette.
"We think we can improve on this. We have to improve on this. It's an ongoing effort."
Some businesses have complained the closed streets have made it difficult for customers trying to gain access or make pickups, a major issue when sales have already been hit hard by the pandemic and, in the case of restaurants, by the requirements of social distancing.
The plan also depends on merchants helping in some way to "animate" the streets — through sidewalk sales, music or other activities — to draw pedestrians to the area.
Open Streets is paused during long weekends.
It resumes Aug. 8 with sections of Canterbury Stret and Grannan Lane closed to vehicle traffic.
On Aug. 15, Princess Street between Charlotte and Germain will be closed, along with sections of Germain and Grannan Lane.
The street closures will be listed in advance on the city's website, saintjohn.ca
The program is tentatively scheduled to continue through Sept. 26.