Saint John hopes rotating pedestrian-only streets will aid recovery
Germain, Canterbury and Prince William streets to take turns closing to cars on weekends
Saint John will "pedestrianize" one of its uptown streets every weekend through mid-September as part of an economic recovery plan the city admits may not work.
"The first open street initiative must be approached as a pilot and be designed to allow for ramp-up or wind-down if it is observed that the initiatives have not achieved or exceeded their desired outcome," says a report to council members prepared by Phil Ouellette, the city's deputy commissioner of growth and planning.
The plan will see sections of one of three uptown streets closed to vehicle traffic every Friday evening through Sunday from July 3 to Sept. 20.
The three adjacent streets, Canterbury, Germain and Prince William will take turns opening up to pedestrians over the 12–week period.
The idea is a good one, said Pam Wheaton of Heartbreak Boutique on Germain Street.
"I know it depends on your clientele," said Wheaton. "For me, I think it will work out fine."
Wheaton likes the plan to rotate the streets, meaning customers will still be able to park outside her shop on two of three Saturdays.
A few doors up the block, Gordie Tufts of Backstreet Records is relieved an earlier proposal to close a street for the entire summer was set aside.
He says the weekend-only plan on a rotating basis makes more sense.
"I think if we all pull together and we're on the same page it's going to be a wonderful thing," said Tufts.
But there's serious concern about the plan at Italian by Night, a restaurant on the same block of Germain.
"Business is tough enough operating at half capacity and then to close off the traffic and parking on our street would not be good for our business or convenience of our customers," said Elizabeth Rowe, a partner in the restaurant.
The business group, Uptown Saint John is taking a wait-and-see approach to the plan.
"It's one of those things that I guess we won't know until we try it," said the organization's executive director Nancy Tissington.
"Just because you close a street doesn't necessarily mean they're going to come."
Tissington notes the plan depends on merchants helping in some way to 'animate' the streets (through sidewalk sales, music or other activities) to draw pedestrians to the area. But many of her members, she says, are currently too busy trying to keep afloat to plan such events on short notice.
City council has approved up to $60,000 for planning, marketing and execution of the Open Streets initiative.
A special council meeting is scheduled June 29 to allow councillors to vote on the final version of the plan.