Monday's open house on the Hall Street project had a strong turnout.

Monday's open house on the Hall Street project had a strong turnout.

Dozens scrutinize Hall Street project

Two business owners directly affected by traffic changes in the Stores to Shores downtown revitalization have mixed feelings.

Two business owners directly affected by traffic changes in the Stores to Shores downtown revitalization have mixed feelings about the latest design.

Vince DeVito of DeVito’s Specialty Footwear and Brent Holowaychuk of Finley’s Irish Bar and Grill were among about 100 people who attended an open house Monday to examine revised conceptual drawings of the project, expected to begin this spring.

“I’m really in favour of the streetscape improvements and bringing tourists up town,” DeVito said. However, he’s less enthusiastic about changes to traffic flow, including turning the 400 block of Hall Street, where his business fronts, back into a two-way.

“We went to one-way traffic over 27 years ago for a reason. There were too many accidents. Changing to the one way made very good sense at the time.”

DeVito also said having two-way traffic on the south side of Vernon through the 500, 600, and 700 blocks will mean a lot of lost parking. “My concern is access to my business. I deal with a lot of seniors. We’re going to lose some parking on my end and gain some on Victoria, but seniors aren’t going to walk four or five blocks to get to me.”

Holowaychuk, whose business is at the northeast corner of Hall and Vernon said “there’s a lot that I like. I’m happy traffic coming up Hall will be able to continue straight through, as with the current flow.” (Under a previous proposal, southbound traffic coming up the Hall Street hill would have been forced to turn right onto Vernon.)

However, Holowaychuk is concerned that having a stop sign at the top of the hill won’t work and may be abandoned, rendering some of the present designs “superfluous.”

While he agreed bumpouts on the corners can calm traffic, he doesn’t think they need to be as “aggressive” as currently designed. “In fact, they may create more sightline issues with traffic on Vernon. Smaller bumpouts would be better.”

He’s also concerned about deliveries and bands loading and unloading, as Finley’s doesn’t have back alley access. He noted that part of town recently lost parking as the former Extra Foods lot was fenced off ahead of groundbreaking on Nelson Commons.

“Parking hasn’t been an issue, but it certainly is going to be now, with the co-op moving in and the movie theatre becoming more viable. These are all good things, but they are going to impinge on [parking].”

A sampling of other comments:

• Allan Collier said: “It’s a good plan, but there are some parts I don’t understand at all. I don’t understand the corner of Cedar and Vernon. That one just baffles me. I don’t know why they think that’s going to work.” He also doubted Hall Street will ever be a pedestrian thoroughfare from Baker to the lakeside. “I’m dubious about that. It’s pretty steep.”

• Capitol Theatre board member Barry Auliffe said his main concern is around access to the theatre — the plan calls for angle parking stalls in front of the building, where there is presently a loading zone.

“Currently the theatre has a very good drop-off point, which is important to seniors and people with disabilities. Equally important is when we have groups come in. They unload all of their equipment at the theatre doors.”

• Dave McMichael said he only had minor concerns and appreciated the open house. “It’s good to show people the changes and get public input,” he said.

Among comments posted on a board at the meeting:

• “Why do we need to connect stores to shores? Doesn’t seem necessary to me.”

• “Pedestrians without cars that rely on wheelchairs or walkers are screwed by this plan. Absolutely no improvement to current barriers to safe walking from Vernon Street to Front Street. Have to walk in traffic now and will have to walk in traffic still.”

• “The reconfiguration of the NDCC lot entrance makes sense. Leave the rest alone.”

• “Is Hall going to be one way or two-way?” (Two-way, including the block that is presently one-way.)

• “The proposed design solutions don’t fully address the challenges. Is there a plan to address steep gradient? Provide crosswalk/crosswalk lights? Where would the bike lane on Lake Street connect bikers to? Some good improvements.”

• “Two-way on Vernon southside won’t work. Congestion, large vehicles. Too narrow. Hall should stay one way. Preserve our parking!”

• “If you can’t find a parking spot in front of the medical clinic, how do you get to the other side of Vernon to park? Drive up High and around Park streets? Seems not practical.”

• “Edgewood onto Vernon/Cedar. Disagree with making this lefthand lane one way going south (currently shared). Very few routes from town to Front St. This pushes cars to go further to High Street tourist park and take back lanes or all the way to nearly Safety to get to Front Street. A pedestrian crosswalk light at Cedar and Front is a must.”

• “Maintain green bank area between back of Civic Arena, Hall Street and NDCC parking lot as a green space. A gathering area with wonderful view of North Shore/glacier.”

Development services manager Pam Mierau said 92 people signed in to the meeting and 60 people filled out survey forms, so it’s safe to say close to 100 people came. She will tabulate the yes/no questions and type all of the comments verbatim, which will go to city council.

Council is expected to sign off on the project budget next month so it can go to tender. Two councillors, Bob Adams and Janice Morrison, have indicated they oppose the traffic changes.