CANMORE – Canmore's Main Street reopened to vehicle traffic Thursday (Sept. 24) after being closed for three months to facilitate social distancing for visitors, residents and businesses.
The COVID-19 closure of the two blocks was a decision of the municipality's emergency coordination centre (ECC) in May and involved several related changes to intersections throughout the downtown core to make it work.
While the road has reopened, Canmore's manager of engineering services Andy Esarte said the alterations to the traffic patterns will remain in place, with an added change at the intersection of Main Street and Eighth Avenue.
"We will maintain the intersection changes we made this past summer," Esarte said during the Sept. 8 committee of the whole meeting.
Changes to the intersection at Main Street and Sixth Avenue to install a scramble crosswalk will be kept, along with four-way stops at Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue and 10th Street and Eighth Avenue.
The removal of the four-way stop at Main Street and Eight Avenue will continue and Esarte said traffic travelling along Main Street at that intersection will not be permitted to turn left.
Esarte said the changes to traffic patterns that accompanied the closure of Main Street were part of the municipality's Integrated Transportation Master Plan.
Transitioning Main Street toward a pedestrian-oriented streetscape is part of the plan. He said these changes to traffic flow patterns will help to support that.
"Moving forward, the idea is to not revert strictly back to Main Street being a main thoroughfare across town and really focusing on it as for local business access," he said, adding traffic moving through the downtown should use Seventh or 10th streets.
General manager of municipal services Sally Caudill said when it comes to potential future closures and decision making around that, administration will return with recommendations.
"There are lots of conversations about the future potential for closures, but we know there are many unknowns ahead," Caudill said.
"The current reality of life with COVID-19 may still exist next summer and we may have all kinds of unknown impacts if there is a second wave."
Caudill said it is important to remember how the situation has evolved over time and that the closure was implemented to provide additional space, not to add vibrancy.
"We did not actively do much to create it as a vibrant space," she said. "There was some funding that was matched by the Business Improvement Area (BIA) to make sure the space was inviting and welcoming."
While the ECC made the decision to close Main Street under a state of local emergency, Caudill said future decisions will have to consider how that process will occur again.
"These are conversations administration will have and bring to council for discussion at a future date," she said, adding it may form part of the upcoming budget discussions.
BIA executive director Beth Vandervoort said her organization appreciated the support and cooperation from Town administration when it came to implementing the closure.
"It showed how we can work together to pivot, be nimble and create a project in a very short period of time that addressed the needs of COVID-19 with minimal dollars spent compared to other communities," Vandervoort said.
"Our observation over the summer is that it was overwhelmingly well-received and allowed many people to enjoy the atmosphere of our downtown without worrying about crowding and with less exhaust and noise."
She said there were businesses that did not support the closure, but for the most part the business community downtown worked together regardless to try and make the best of the situation.
Vandervoort said while the community saw visitation return through the summer, there are concerns about what the fall and winter will mean for businesses.
"The next few months are going to be really interesting as to how we as a community approach these issues," she said.
Manager of economic development Eleanor Miclette conducted a survey of downtown businesses, along with face-to-face meetings to gather feedback on the closure. She said while there were diverse opinions from businesses, visitors and residents felt the closure was successful in creating a feeling of safety.
"The diversity of feedback from business owners was all over the map ... but the majority of the feedback was positive overall," Miclette said.
"We received a significant number of emails from visitors or Canmore residents that they really appreciated the closure and thought it was the best move."