An evaluation of the first Car Free Sunday in Courtenay has come back positive — with a few lessons that can be learned.
Council received a report from operational services director Kevin Lagan and environmental planner Nancy Hofer evaluating Car Free Sunday, a new event that closed several streets to vehicular traffic for four hours on Sept. 25.
In supporting the event, council had requested that the proponents of Car Free Sunday provide an evaluation of the event so council could use a measure of objectivity in assessing its success.
The report includes “lessons learned” and identifies signage, communications and planning timeframe as areas that could be improved. More signage and more barricades placed at the entrance to roads were recommended.
“The greatest irritation reported by motorists among volunteer traffic controllers was that the motorist would have to backtrack and re-route,” noted the report. “More and bigger road closure signage could help alleviate this concern in the future, coupled with more advanced notice in the media.”
Notification letters were hand-delivered to all residents and businesses along the route, but streets running perpendicular to the Car Free route did not receive any special notifications, and City staff recommends that hand-delivered letters be delivered to streets running perpendicular to the route in the future.
City staff recommends at least a six-month planning time frame for future organizers of similar events and to arrange the appropriate approvals through council and staff.
Three hundred and fifty participants were recorded on a single sweep from 3 to 3:30 p.m., but organizers figure the numbers were higher given that people would have been steadily entering and leaving the event throughout the day.
More than 20 community groups and a dozen businesses participated in Car Free Sunday.
The report notes that the general comment from the president of the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association was that the event was perceived as “positive” but that more advance notice will be required for future similar events. It also notes that community groups enjoyed participating.
The RCMP received one complaint that a vehicle went through the blockade at McPhee Avenue and 14th Street and was driving fast.
Hofer received four calls before the event, and all four expressed concern and did not support Car Free Sunday, according to the report.
“In looking at the results of the surveys, from the volunteer input, it’s generally very positive coverage,” planning services director Peter Crawford told council. “I think it was generally received well.
“One of the items that’s certainly suggested is giving a little more lead time to this.”
Councillors appreciated receiving the feedback about the event.
While she was at Car Free Sunday, two things stood out for Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard.
“One thing was the children that were on the streets on their bikes,” she said. “I realized that for most of us growing up, it was an opportunity that nobody thought about; your parents sent you off, and you were on your bike and you were safe.
“Most kids today in an urban environment don’t have that experience so they never have a sense of ownership of the road, that they have a right to be there as well. There were a lot of kids out there learning more about the rules of the road; it was, I think, a good step forward.”
The second thing that Leonard noticed was that Fitzgerald Avenue was quiet.
“For all the folks living on Fitzgerald, for the first time, they weren’t listening to the roar of traffic for four hours and all they heard was kids laughing and people chatting,” she said.
Coun. Jon Ambler was pleased to see the DCBIA thought the event was good for their business.
“If this thing had been bad for their business, that would have been a tremendously telling blow against it and against ever doing it again in the future,” he said. “But it’s been my experience in other communities where I’ve lived that if you can create an environment where the people will come out into the streets, you have a totally different atmosphere, and it’s a positive atmosphere, and there’s a sense of community, and it’s one we enjoy like on Canada Day on Fifth Street.”