THUNDER BAY -- Closing roads to open streets seems contradictory.
But as the city’s first Open Streets initiative showed, it is quite successful.
For five hours on Sunday the entirety of Algoma Street was closed to motor vehicles and instead the usually busy north end artery was filled with human traffic.
While an exact figure was hard to calculate along the nearly six kilometre route, there were more than 1,000 people out at some point between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Coordinator Ashley Priem was pleased not only with the turnout along the way but the wide demographic of people and the means in which they were getting around.
“We just wanted to encourage as many people in the community to come out, exercise, be physically active and take advantage of access to nice smooth pavement to do whatever they’d like,” Priem said.
“We have lots of people out on the route of different ages and abilities.”
The Open Streets path extended from the beginning of Algoma at John Street all the way to Boulevard Lake, including West Lyon Boulevard.
Along Algoma there were a wide range of activities available for people to try, such as T’ai Chi, CrossFit, bike polo, ultimate frisbee and an assortment of demonstrations.
While there are obvious environmental and exercise benefits, there are also reasons to believe the project has economic merit.
Priem said she believes walking and cycling are two modes of traffic more conducive to window shopping and pop in visits than driving.
That was apparent in the Algoma-Bay business district, where people and visited the various local establishments.
Several of the establishments took their business out onto the streets and had people lined up out the door.
Speaking on behalf of the Bay and Algoma Business Association, Uriel Lubuk said it was an idea way to show off the revitalized neighbourhood.
“A lot of people are potentially down here for the first time and don’t know about the unique shops and restaurants,” Lubuk said.
“I’ve seen a whole bunch of new faces down here that I’ve never seen.”
Lubuk said the city’s first glimpse at the Open Streets concept should calm any anxiety businesses will have in the future.
“I think they’ll see the benefits in the long run,” he said. “I’m aware Open Streets works well in many other city centres.”
“From what I see so far I’m fairly happy. We knew as a pilot project we would have to be evaluating what was happening and that’s going to be the next step,” Priem said.
Priem said organizers will seek input from the public as well as businesses and community partners for feedback and ideas to improve if the initiative returns.
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