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Victoria approves design for 5-year pedestrian-focused Government Street revamp

Redesign of key downown stretch looks to put pedestrians first, highlight Indigenous history

Creating a pedestrian-focused stretch that would rival European streets while also highlighting the history of local Indigenous Peoples will be the focus of Victoria’s Government Street Refresh.

Council has approved the vision and design concept for the “people priority” revamp, along with some direction for initial construction from Humboldt Street to Pandora Avenue.

The plans boast first-of-its-kind engagement with the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations that’s helped incorporate Lekwungen features throughout the project. The Indigenous aspects will look to include narratives that tell the full story of what’s now Government Street. The project will also look to reflect cultural influences from Canada’s oldest Chinatown, Old Town’s built history and other backgrounds that shaped Victoria.

“This allows for a more complex interweaving of history and narrative that is not about diminishing or removing, but adding to and expanding the narrative to tell a more complete story,” a city consultant for the project said.

The project looks to expand walkway widths, add furnishings and art displays, increase the lacking downtown tree canopy and create two new public plazas including at the corner of Pandora and Government. Accessibility aspects of the plans include unobstructed sidewalks, inclusive seating and more to make the stretch barrier-free and culturally welcoming.

A “to-ness over through-ness” approach wants the street to be a commerce and gathering destination rather than a way for personal vehicles to traverse downtown. The shared-street focus envisions car-free or car-lighter streets, while ensuring business delivery trucks and emergency vehicles will be able to have access.

“I want to live in a city that has a street like this,” Mayor Lisa Helps said.

Council approved a potential piloted full-time closure between Humboldt and Courtney streets, while continuing the timed current car-free zones. A city analysis last summer found Government Street saw an increase in walkers during the timed north-south closure between Humboldt and View streets and no significant changes to vehicle traffic volumes on adjacent roadways.

Two options – one with flexible vehicle access and one closed to drivers – are considered for a Lekwungen cultural plaza on the Humboldt to Courtney block. Designers imagine terraced seating, added trees, a possible amphitheatre with views of the Inner Harbour and integrated public art.

The phased plans will see construction coincide with larger needed underground and surface infrastructure projects. The refresh will start with the two northernmost blocks in the project’s scope, between Yates and Pandora, with watermain replacement tentatively starting in early 2023. The city hopes for the entire stretch to be complete by 2027.

Victoria is planning to spend a total of $3 million from the next two budgets on the Yates to Pandora section of the project, which aims for a 2025 completion. Those changes will see sidewalk widening, traffic sign replacements, street trees and furniture and flex spaces for programs and patios.

READ: Victoria looks at bike network past and future as city rolls with the changes

READ: Downtown Victoria timed closure of Government Street begins

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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