Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes has asked Emergency Operations Centre staff to consider residents’ requests to close some roads to vehicle traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I've been receiving input from residents on the potential of closing some streets to vehicle traffic amongst other options.
— Fred Haynes Ph.D. (@HaynesSaanich) April 22, 2020
On April 22, Haynes announced on Twitter that he’d heard from many residents in favour of closing some Saanich streets to vehicle traffic during the pandemic. He added that he’d be bringing the issue up with the District’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to find out what the options are.
Saanich residents have said sidewalks are crowded and that since streets are quieter due to reduced traffic volumes, lanes may be better used by pedestrians needing to practice social distancing, Haynes explained.
He added that many have also pointed out that other municipalities have made the decision to close some roads to vehicles – Stanley Park was closed to vehicle traffic on April 8 and the City of Victoria limited on-street parking in James Bay to give pedestrians more room starting April 23 – to make more room for cyclists and pedestrians needing to social distance.
Haynes pointed out that Saanich closed Mount Douglas Park to vehicle traffic over the Easter long weekend. In an effort to ease congestion and make room for the increased number of pedestrians, the gate on Churchill Drive was closed from April 10 to 13 – blocking drivers from taking their cars to the summit. Residents cooperated with the closure and the District was “very pleased” with the results, Haynes said.
Friends of Mount Douglas Park Society President Darrell Wick reached out to council ahead of the long weekend calling for Churchill Drive to be closed to vehicle traffic for the duration of the pandemic. He was pleased to see the park closed to traffic over Easter but wished the closure had continued past April 13.
The Saanich EOC has considered closing some roads to drivers during the pandemic and is continuing to monitor the issue, said Megan Catalano, information officer for the EOC.
“At this time we’re not planning to close any streets,” she explained. “The only closure we have in place is on the Tillicum Bridge where we closed one traffic lane for pedestrian use.”
Haynes is asking the EOC staff to take another look at road closures but he emphasized that “just because another city does it, doesn’t mean we [Saanich] have to do it; it just means we should look into it.”
He added that District staff have taken a “data-driven” approach to all decisions and are doing the same with the matter of road closures. It’s a “risk-benefit analysis,” he explained because there could be enforcement issues and closing streets would affect traffic patterns.
Saanich hasn’t seen the same issues that other cities have seen so it’s not a top priority but Haynes emphasized that residents’ concerns are being heard and that “[staff] are looking into this all the time.”