Bear Street Shared Street

Reconstruction of Bear Street was completed on July 19, 2021, creating a pedestrian-priority street in the heart of Banff. Bear north July 17

The $9.5-million project transformed the commercial hub and resident service centre into a pedestrian-friendly street where people shop, dine, visit galleries, rent bikes or skis, visit dentists and medical offices, get supplies or simply relax and take in the vistas.

Underground, the project replaced all sewer and water lines - some 100 years old - created new connections to 50+ properties on the street, and added soil cell technology that collects all storm water, filters it, automatically irrigates 80 new trees and all landscaping, and cleans drainage before draining into the storm water system. 

Above ground, the transformation is apparent.  The project added energy-efficient street lighting, an abundance of bike racks, 37 new planters ringed with famous Rundle rock boulders to provide public seating in addition to numerous benches and Adirondack chairs, a fireplace and many areas for restaurant and cafe patios.

There are no curbs - the street is one level from buildings on one side of the street to the other side - making it accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. The removal of clear delineation for sidewalks and vehicle street, and with the removal of a painted centre line, vehicle drivers are reminded that they are a guest on this street and proceed cautiously. Landscaping and trees will provide ample shade for people lingering on the street, and, combined with a pattern of block pavers that encourage pedestrians to cross everywhere, the street's features provide traffic calming to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe and comfortable.  

The 90,000 interlocking paver blocks that cover the entire street, create a pedestrian plaza feel reminiscent of old European town squares.

There are seasonal elements that will allow more parking to be added in winter months. And the design will allow central areas to be transformed into event locations with performer stages any time of year. Temporary traffic bollards can be added to close off sections of the street to create pedestrian only zones for special events. 

The design of the surface features are intended to attract more visitors to the street. Currently, Banff Avenue has five times as many pedestrians as Bear Street. Now finished, Bear Street will level that off, distributing visitors over more pedestrian areas in downtown Banff.

In December 2020, Bear Street was converted into a Winter Pedestrian Zone to attract visitors and residents to the commercial and service hub, complete with a skating rink, mini Christmas Trees in all the planters, bear sculptures by artist Jason Carter, and a replica of the "Banff" entrance sign was installed in the centre of Bear Street.

Project Overview

  • The Bear Street Shared Street project (called a Woonerff for five summer trials) will help pedestrians, cars and cyclists become equal users of the commercial road.
  • In addition to the beautification of the street, traffic-calming features will make vehicles drive at very slow speeds, pedestrians will have the right-of-way, and cyclists will travel comfortably through the space.
  • Research of conversions to pedestrian-friendly streets in other communities show increased pedestrian safety, visitor enjoyment, and an economic boost to businesses.
  • The project replaced all underground sewer and water mains, add soil cells for better maintenance of more trees and landscaping,  better street lighting, additional public seating areas and restaurants patios.

Image of Bear Street Redesign in Summer (PNG)

Soil Cells - innovative environmental technology

Hidden under each planter is a soil cell bed that extends about 8 feet wider than the planter perimeter and about 5 feet down. These provide up to four times the amount of soil for normal planters for trees and shrubs on urban streets. Uncompacted soil allows tree roots to grow and spread, making healthier trees.

The soil cells are connected to the storm drainage system. All rainfall and snow melt on the street is diverted to the soil cells. Sensors in the soil cells turn on automatic irrigation of the trees when needed, which saves costs for the Town because we don’t have to bring in trucks to water trees and shrubs.  

Soil cells also filter all storm runoff. The system reduces the volume of runoff and will make the filtered water much cleaner by the time it goes back into the Bow River.

Bear Street Reconstruction Approved to Proceed during Pandemic

The Bear Street Reconstruction Project was formally approved on January 27, 2020, when Banff Town Council approved the annual operating and capital budgets. However, even though the Construction Contractor was selected from the 2019 Request for Proposals (RFP), the spread of the coronavirus and consequent COVID-19 global pandemic resulted in the Town of Banff paused the project. The Town of Banff declared a State of Local Emergency and Banff Town Council reopened the budgets in order to cut costs to reduce property taxes for our community facing a protracted recession and unemployment.

Although many Town of Banff infrastructure projects and operating services were cancelled for 2020, Council directed the Bear Street Reconstruction project to proceed.

Why did the project proceed in 2020:

  • Work during the COVID crisis was seen to have less disruption to Bear Street tenants and residents, than if undertaken in a normal year or during Banff’s recovery period.
  • The project employed 90% Bow Valley residents for construction crews, during the protracted recession and widespread local unemployment. When the project started, Banff had an estimated 85% unemployment rate.
  • Reconstruction of the major street helped minimize impact on Banff’s destination reputation while international borders are closed and through the period when people were advised to avoid non-essential travel.
  • The completion of the project will help position the Banff economy for recovery in the late period of the pandemic.
  • Timing is capitalizing on low interest rates used to finance the project.
  • Bear Street stakeholders - businesses, services and property owners on the street - were consulted on whether to start the reconstruction during the COVID pandemic or wait until after all restrictions were removed. The vast majority recommended the project should proceed during the pandemic.

 Read the summary of the March 20, 2020 Emergency Bear Street Stakeholder Meeting on COVID-19 (PDF)

Bear Street Project Review

Banff Town Council asked for a review of the Bear Street project before the construction resumes in spring 2021. A goal was to review issues the project experienced in 2020, in order to explore ways to improve the spring reconstruction process and future projects.

Administration's report was presented to Banff Town Council on March 8, 2021. The report highlights the challenges and successes of the project to date, through the phases of design process, procurement and construction. The report also provides a schedule of the 2021 construction activity to completion.

Project Team

  • Darren Enns, Director of Planning and Development
  • Adrian Field, Director of Engineering
  • Pierre-Hughes “PH” Gagnon, Bear Street Project Manager
  • Rick Williams, Business Liaison Officer
  • Marie-Eve Jackson, Community Liaison Officer
  • Janice Carson, Senior Communications Specialist
  • Jason Darrah, Communications Director

Design Standards 

  • This project will follow design elements set out by the Banff Refreshing standards, which have been in place for 15 years. Incorporating these principles will provide a harmonious streetscape within Banff’s relatively compact downtown core.
  • Design principles include:
    • Shifting vehicular space to pedestrian and amenity space
    • Enhancing street drainage
    • Removing curbs and maintaining street and sidewalk areas on the same grade
    • Adding zones for removable patio seating designated to restaurants that apply for additional seating
    • Additional public seating areas
    • Paving patterns and street features to slow vehicle traffic;
    • Additional bicycle parking
    • Safer crossing environments for pedestrians
    • Introduction of trees and vegetation to the streetscape
    • Additional street lighting
    • Banff Refreshing-style street furnishings (public benches, waste bins).

Public Feedback

Public input on project for budget consideration
Members of the public were invited to present their viewpoints to the December 17 meeting of Town Council reviewing the project before budget decisions.

Public input on marketing & communications 
Bear Street businesses and residents were invited to provide input on a draft communications and marketing plan to promote the street during redevelopment.  Administration revised the communications and marketing plan based on input received over 6 meetings with Bear Street tenants and property owners. This recommendations were presented to council on December 17: Revised Communications and Marketing Tactics for Bear Street Reconstruction, with Stakeholder Input (PDF).

Public input on Reconstruction Design
The Town held 13 hours of public input sessions in February and March 2019 to compile feedback on design options.
See the Open House Information Boards (PDF). On March 25, 2019, council was presented a What We Heard (PDF) report. Administration also provided options for the design in response to the feedback in a Council Report (PDF).

Public input on shared street (woonerff) trials
Residents and businesses were surveyed on the trials of adding summer seating on Bear Street, Caribou Street and Wolf Street over four summers. The input helped revise final designs of the project. The temporary seating platforms on Wolf and Caribou streets will not be installed between Bear Street and the alleys in 2020.


  • Following four summers of trials with temporary features, the Town developed a proposed street redesign. In January 2019, council provided direction on parking requirements.  Administration developed conceptual design options and compiled public feedback in February and March 2019. 
  • The Town of Banff Council selected a preferred design after review of public input and maintained the timeline of construction in 2020, to occur at the same time as renewal of underground drainage, sewer and water main systems.
  • Summer 2019 was the fifth and final year of the Bear Street Woonerf trial. A trial of temporary seating platforms was also held on adjacent Wolf and Caribou streets.

Project approved
During the annual Service Review of all departments, on December 17, 2019, Town Council asked for the Bear Street Reconstruction project to be brought to budget deliberations for final review.  

On January 27, 2020, Town Council approved the annual budget, including:

  • an increase in the reconstruction budget to a total of $7.8 million, and
  • a  communications and marketing budget of up to $550,000 to maintain customers and clients visiting Bear Street businesses and services during the construction in 2020.

Following a detailed Request For Proposals (RFP), the Town has selected a construction firm to undertake the work in 2020. The construction is estimated to last up to 11 months. The schedule of construction and the phases of work on sections of the road will be determined when the contractor is selected. Examples of designs in the RFP document:

Testing the concept of a "Woonerff"

WoonerfTurning the 200 Block of Bear Street into a shared street was one of the recommendations in the Transportation Master Plan. The Town has been testing the design and impact of the "Woonerff" to assist with long-term decision making.

Woonerf is a Dutch word used to describe a shared street, or "living street."

The concept is used throughout Europe and is gaining popularity in North America. Banff is a very walkable community, so it was a natural step for us. It was also an unusual word that helped it stand out and draw attention to this new project.

The Dutch word is actually spelled Woonerf (with one ’f’) but we used ’ff’ to mirror the way we spell Banff!

Why Bear Street?

Bear Street is not considered a main arterial road in the downtown core and receives a fraction of the vehicle and pedestrian traffic of nearby Banff Avenue or Lynx Street.

Living streets, or shared roads, are designed to foster more sustainable, active modes of transportation, and enhance the vibrancy of downtown spaces.

Studies have shown that making streets more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians has a positive economic impact for businesses on the street.

In addition, a more pedestrian-friendly road in our downtown provides an additional attraction for visitors to popular Banff Avenue in peak season.

Four years of trials

Summer 2019 was the fifth and final year of the Bear Street Woonerff trial. A trial was also held on adjacent Wolf and Caribou streets.


Bear Street Concept Perspective 2
Bear Street Concept Perspective 1
Two Yellow Benches in the Shade
Bikes Locked Up Beside the Street
Wooden Tables and Seats in a Public Area
Bear Street Looking North - Downtown Enhancement Concept Plan (1992) (JPG)