By Kate Porter
A 15-block stretch of Bank Street in downtown Ottawa will close to vehicles every Saturday for at least the next month, becoming the latest area to try to recover customers during the COVID-19 pandemic by making more space for pedestrians and cyclists.
Starting this weekend, Bank from Queen to Flora streets will close tomotor vehicles from 9 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. every Saturday through Aug. 8, and possibly beyond if businesses deem it a success.
'Get out of your condos, come visit our businesses and our restaurants. We're hoping people will enjoy the freedom they'll have on Saturdays.'- Christine Leadman, Bank Street BIA
That lets shops apply for permits to sell goods on tables set up outside, and lets restaurants apply to expand their patios onto the street, both measures the city has implemented to try to prop up ailing local businesses during the pandemic.
"I don't think there's any way they'll make up [all the lost revenue], but at least make a little dent in what they've lost," said Christine Leadman, executive director of the Bank Street business improvement area (BIA).
The pandemic has hurt local businesses badly, and some have closed, Leadman said. With government office towers empty, the BIA is hoping to attract downtown residents who are eager for a bit more space.
"Get out of your condos, come visit our businesses and our restaurants. They're still there. We're hoping people will enjoy the freedom they'll have on Saturdays," Leadman said.
Surveyed businesses block by block
Leadman wouldn't comment on how her group is managing to close such a long stretch of Bank Street, while a proposal to close just three blocks of the same street in the Glebe proved controversial.
Coun. Shawn Menard pitched the far more modest lane closure in May, but Mayor Jim Watson blocked the move, demanding that business owners on each block provide their consent to any proposed road closure.
Leadman said it was the BIA that proposed the Saturday street closure to its downtown members, and then took on the task of surveying businesses to get their buy-in block by block.
Vehicles can still park on side streets and cross Bank Street at intersections, she noted.
Bank Street is not the first to make more room for people and businesses during the pandemic. Just around the corner, restaurants and pubs on one block of Somerset Street W. are also taking over the street on weekends.
Meanwhile, in the ByWard Market, parts of William, Clarence and York streets and ByWard Market Square have also made way for patios and pedestrians for the summer.