Walking Government St.

Ever since moving to Victoria, I have wondered why Government Street isn’t closed to traffic

Ever since moving to Victoria, I have wondered why Government Street isn’t closed to traffic from the inner harbour to around Yates or Johnson. I envision a bike lane running through the centre, wide pathways for pedestrians and shoppers, large flowerboxes with colourful benches on every side — and a few cool pieces of public art.

It would become, in essence, an urban park where people can grab a tea at Murchie’s, a book at Munro’s, and a bite to eat from any of the fabulous restaurants or food carts to enjoy outside when the sun is shining. And after lunch, a little shopping never goes amiss, nor a leisurely stroll up the street to one of my favourite indulgences, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

And, naturally, the added space will welcome more street entertainment and market opportunities.

As an experiment in the possibility of such a scenario, John Vickers is proposing a temporary mini-closure for this summer’s Victoria International Buskers Festival. Vickers’ proposal calls for Government Street to be closed between View and Yates for nine consecutive evenings, beginning at 6 p.m., in July.

While the closure plan still needs to receive a permit from the City of Victoria, the affected businesses seem to be onboard.

“I’ve spoken to all the business on the affected block,” says Vickers. “The overwhelming consensus is the merchants are excited to bring the buskers’ festival to Government Street.”

Personally, I love the idea and would like to see it grow.

When I was a wee lad growing up across the big pond, my family vacationed in Millport on the tiny island of Great Cumbrae. Being situated on the west coast of Scotland, Millport’s sandy beaches aren’t exactly tropical and I remember wearing rubber boots to go paddling in the chilly waters of the Firth of Clyde, but for a kid from Glasgow with a new bucket and spade it could have just as well been Hawaii.

And one of the things that made Millport so special (this would be the ’60s and early ’70s) was that vehicles (with a few exceptions for delivery vans, etc.) weren’t allowed on the island. As such, children could run around without danger and the only mode of long-distance transport was to rent a bicycle. Great Cumbrae was so huge that, from a child’s point of view, it took forever to cycle all the way around it. We’re talking maybe two hours, but at only 3.9 km long and 2km wide, it could have been less. And the ice-cream 99 cone at the end made it worthwhile.

But even to this day, I remember how peaceful and grand it was to walk down a street without cars. It’s so easy to forget how a wee break from that noise and exhaust can recharge one’s spirit. Our downtown core is a special place for locals and tourists, this closure plan could make it even more so.  M

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