By Jessica Lovell
A plan to turn St. George’s Square into a traffic circle of sorts isn’t exactly a hands-down winner with downtown businesses.
The design concept, which would see the area become a centralized square with a single-lane, one-way road around the outside, is part of a report going to Monday’s meeting of city council’s planning & building, engineering and environment committee. But the public and business community have already had a sneak peek at the concept and a chance to provide feedback.
“At first I was very against the idea of a circle,” said Sarah Harrison, owner of Coriander, a shop on Wyndham Street just north of the square. “I’ve come full circle,” she added.
Harrison commended the city for its efforts to consult with the community about the plan. It was developed with an eye on reconstruction work that will need to be done on the square and on Wyndham Street replacing infrastructure and improving servicing to the future Baker Street redevelopment.
Two concept plans for St. George’s Square were developed and shown to stakeholders in the fall. The first option keeps the current road configuration with a T intersection at Wyndham and Quebec streets, while giving the area a makeover similar to Market Square.The second option would reverse the direction of Douglas Street to lead into the square, where a single lane of traffic would run around the outside of a central public space.
“There was not consensus either from the businesses or public regarding which concept presented provided a more promising direction,” said the city staff report.
But based on the public feedback, the second option with the traffic circle was revised and further developed.
“It’s definitely more progressive. It’s definitely more exciting,” said Harrison of that option.
The concerns that had her coming out against the idea included reservations about what will happen in the central area and the potential for vagrancy.
“It needs constant thought,” she said.
The area will need regular programming and maintenance to keep it animated and make it a valuable part of the downtown, she said.
The redesign includes more green space, public art and the promise of resources to keep the space maintained and activated.
But there are also concerns about what the change in road configuration might do to the traffic.
“I’m worried that people will avoid the downtown because it will be more difficult to drive through,” Harrison said.
But she admitted she had reservations about the Market Square rink, too, when it was first proposed.
“Look at the good it has done,” she said. “The community loves it and they flock to it.”
But another business owner, Ken Dool, at Robinson’s Flowers, just across the street, wasn’t so positive about the plan for the square.
“How many parking places are they going to eliminate?” he asked as he examined renderings of the plan.
While it might make sense to reverse the direction of Douglas Street to drive traffic into the downtown, people need to have places to park, he said.
“You’ve got a lot of wasted space here,” he said, indicating the central square. He also expressed concerns about vagrancy and other undesirable activity that the area might attract.
For Ken Polach, who owns Capistrano Bistro right on the square, the separation from that central space is what concerns him.
While the potential of the plan to shrink the size of his restaurant’s patio was a concern, it is also important what the patio looks out upon, he said.
Currently, “you can sit on our patio and still be connected with what’s happening in the square,” Polach said.
Under the new plan, “we would basically be separated from what activities are planned in the square by the road and by parked cars,” he said.
He sees the city as trying hard to reanimate the square since the buses moves to the station on Carden Street.
“Both options have the potential of doing that – just in different ways,” he said. But he believes the central square option presents a greater challenge.
“There’s going to be a big adjustment to how we use the space,” whether pedestrians or drivers, he said.
Polach gave credit to the city for working hard to hear the concerns of the businesses, and whatever option is ultimately chosen will be positive, he said.
“Either option is going to be a fantastic improvement on the current,” he said.
By Jessica Lovell