Car Free Sunday ‘vibe was very high’ except for isolated incidents

Rain wasn't going to ruin this parade.
Following a morning downpour, the skies cleared Sunday afternoon for the inaugural Car Free Sunday in downtown Courtenay and Cumberland where pedestrians, rollerbladers, cyclists and skateboarders could roam the streets and not contend with vehicular traffic.

Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard prepares to cut a ribbon

Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard prepares to cut a ribbon

Rain wasn’t going to ruin this parade. Following a morning downpour, the skies cleared Sunday afternoon for the inaugural Car Free Sunday in downtown Courtenay and Cumberland where pedestrians, rollerbladers, cyclists and skateboarders could roam the streets and not contend with vehicular traffic.In keeping with a worldwide celebration, the Imagine Comox Valley-event included vendors, workshops, art, music, street theatre, street sports and forums. About 500 people attended at the peak of the afternoon in Courtenay, according to Andrew Gower, a director at the non-profit society. “It was a remarkable success,” said Gower, whose band Tin Town performed on Fifth Street. “There were people dancing in the streets, literally.”Some merchants moved their businesses outside once the morning rain eased off.”Any time you bring more people to the downtown core, that’s positive,” said Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association president Mark Middleton, who walked the Courtenay loop with his parents and two dogs. “We had a perfectly enjoyable afternoon…We didn’t hear anything negative from any of the merchants.”Courtenay shut down a section encompassing Fifth and 16th streets, and McPhee and Fitzgerald avenues. In Cumberland, closures at Dunsmuir, Fourth, Ulverston and Derwent created a figure-eight formation. The event was not held in Comox, where some business owners opposed the idea.”We need to hear from the people in Comox,” Gower said. “(But) We appreciate people being opposed to this.” He notes a couple of road rage incidents in Courtenay, one involving a driver who almost ran over a cyclist on a closed route. “That’s unacceptable,” Gower said. “That’s something for the police to deal with…But even with that, it was a success.” Although it can be a tall order asking a community to wrap its head around street closures, Cumberland Chamber of Commerce president Meaghan Cursons said most people took no issue with the event. “The vibe was very high. Cumberland is good at closing streets,” Cursons said. “I thought a little bit of the confusion was good because it forced us to rethink things that we are completely automatic about, like where we drive and where we walk.”She notes “spontaneous interaction” does not happen when we use vehicles to go from point A to B. “The best part was seeing kids in the middle of the street,” said Cursons, whose family took more than an hour to walk two blocks from downtown to home because they kept running into familiar faces. “We played a game of euchre at the corner of Penrith and Fourth.”The Cumberland event featured music at the Wandering Moose, a roller derby demonstration, a climbing wall and a bike rodeo at Village Park.Cursons expects a Cumberland team will help organize next year’s event.”We learned a lot of lessons,” said Gower, noting the need for tighter traffic control at key intersections and better signage. Organizers also need to determine how to better reach the public, despite spreading the word through newspapers, leaflets and the Imagine Comox Valley website. “There were still people who didn’t even know it was going on,” said Gower, who notes the afternoon was not meant to be an anti-car event.Ironically, he put about 100 kilometres on his truck driving between Courtenay and Cumberland. “I drive a 4×4 pickup,” Gower said. “I think it’s great. But at the same time it’s nice to go play on the streets and feel safe. I have a six-year-old. I hate riding my bike with him around town. So yesterday I could just let go. Ride your bike, stay inside the barricades and have fun…You take people outside their cars, it’s amazing what happens.”More than 1,500 communities around the world were expected to celebrate World Car Free Day this year.Gower encourages community feedback about the local event. For more information, visit www.imaginecomoxvalley.ca.Visit http://carfreesunday.rowvote.com to participate in a public poll.reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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