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Commercial Drive struggles to find formula for weekly car-free days

August 3rd, 2009 · 28 Comments

As anyone who reads this blog even passingly knows, I love markets and street stuff in cities. So I’ve been watching with interest to see how the city’s car-free Sundays, aka Summer Spaces program, is going.

I went down to Commercial Drive yesterday, where they had their first non-car-free day of the summer (Main also scheduled a break in theirs, because it was too hard to get policing/barricades for the Summer Spaces when there were so many other things going on this weekend) and did this story for the Globe and on the dissatisfaction on that street with how it’s going. It also seems to be very much in question whether the originally planned car-free Sundays in August will take place.

However, the message didn’t seem to be that car-free days don’t work at all. Instead, it seems to matter who’s involved in organizing, which streets and how many blocks are closed, whether there’s an activity for people to come out to that they normally wouldn’t have, and other factors.

I went down to Gastown’s first Summer Spaces yesterday, which is planned to continue throughout August and September Sundays. It was only a block on Carrall Street and the Gastown business association has partnered with the Vancouver Farmers’ Market people, so I happily dropped all my available cash to get cherries, sweet peas, heirloom tomatoes, corn, small English cucumbers, field strawberries, onions and garlic. Tragically, that left me with not even enough change in the bottom of my bag for pistachio macaroons or something at the soap/nice smelly stuff booth.

It felt nice. It’s on a great block of Gastown (the block of Carrall between Water and Cordova, in front of the Irish Heather and Boneta) that feels intimate and historic. There was an older guy, clearly one of the area’s social-housing or SRO residents, buying some corn and a few out-of-area visitors like me. Leanore Sali, the Gastown business group’s longtime director, was watching from the sidelines and pleased to see what looked to her like a lot of local residents.

The Main Street people have told me they’re happy with how things are going there. They’ve rotated their Sundays among different sections of Main so that businesses share the impacts of the closures.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Commercial Drive organizers and businesses go forward from here, and what kinds of different solutions they can come up with to enhance the Drive’s already energetic street life but without actually making things even more inaccessible to regular people. (One of the problems was that buses got rerouted to Clark, even further away than the previous detour route of Victoria, making it a long uphill hike for anyone trying to get to the street by bus.)

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