The Town of Banff will close its main street to vehicles in the downtown core on Monday, May 15, in preparation for the reopening of the Downtown Pedestrian Zone between Wolf and Buffalo streets, and the adjacent sections of Caribou Street.
Banff Avenue will reopen exclusively to pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders from May 19 to October 13. Roam transit buses will continue to use Banff Ave., with increased frequency this year to support visitors accessing the main attractions in town and throughout the national park.
“What started as a safe way for residents and visitors to enjoy our downtown during the COVID pandemic has become a major attraction with overwhelming support from visitors from across Alberta and around the world,” said Darren Enns, Director of Planning and Development for the Town of Banff.
“We made a commitment to our community to reopen the Pedestrian Zone in 2022 and 2023, providing certainty going into our busy summer months. In the fall, the Town will ask residents and businesses for input on a concept of a recurring summer pedestrian zone into the future and what would need to be considered if that goes ahead. Public input will be collected for council’s consideration.”
With up to 30,000 pedestrians each day walking down Banff Avenue in the summer season, the Pedestrian Zone provides accessible space for people to walk, visit shops, use public seating and nearby public washrooms, or access many restaurants in one of the best patio zones in the world. The pedestrian zone also connects with the nearby Bear Street, which was redeveloped in 2021 as a completely accessible pedestrian-friendly hub.
The pedestrian zone provides 13,980 square metres of continuous space, including 8,265 square metres which would otherwise be used by vehicles the rest of the year. The total space of the pedestrian zone consists of 7% dedicated to restaurant seating, 1% for retail space, and the rest pedestrian area and public seating.
New in 2023
The bike valet – a free, staffed and fenced bicycle lockup in the Pedestrian Zone – will also include e-charging stations for the increase in e-bike users, especially those coming from Canmore on the Legacy Trail and those going on to the Bow Valley Parkway cycling route. The Roam Transit service is increasing frequency through the local network, which includes buses passing slowly through the pedestrian zone heading to top attractions like the gondola and Bow Falls.
For businesses in the Pedestrian Zone, the fee for restaurant seating and retail space on the street will increase to market rates. Visitors to the 200 Block will also see the start of construction as Parks Canada begins initial work on preparing Banff Avenue Square for expansion of a new visitor centre. Parks Canada is currently conducting consultation on the project.
The pedestrian zone on main street requires motorists driving south on Banff Avenue to detour to Lynx Street (west) or Beaver Street (east) to continue over the Bow River Bridge to southside attractions. The detour will add some travel time, but data tracking in 2022 demonstrated that the pedestrian zone does not contribute to traffic delays for drivers returning downtown from destinations such as the gondola or hot pools. In fact, with the pedestrian zone, drivers heading back downtown have a continuous right turn to keep traffic flowing, only paused by pedestrian crossings. Traffic flaggers will again assist traffic in navigating the area. Last year, the northbound traffic delays increased after the pedestrian zone was ended for the year.
Drivers are strongly encouraged to leave their vehicles in their campground, at their hotel or park in the free, long-term Train Station Parking Lot and walk the 8 minutes to the pedestrian zone, or 5 minutes to the scenic route along the Bow River trail. This avoids paying for parking downtown and the hassle of searching for one of the limited parking stalls. People heading to the gondola are urged to take the free shuttle or use Roam transit.
The congestion on the south side of the community is caused by too many vehicles travelling to the gondola and hot pools, and experiencing full parking lots. Town crews install alert signs at key locations on the north side (downtown) when Parks Canada notifies the Town that the parking lots at the gondola on Sulphur Mountain are full. The Town immediately displays sign alerting motorists to avoid crossing to the south side because drivers who continue will be forced to turn around after driving up to the top of the Mountain Avenue and will join a line of traffic waiting to return to the north side.
For people dropping off passengers who have mobility difficulties, drivers are encouraged to drive to the Caribou Gate on the east side of Banff Ave on Caribou Street (accessed from Beaver Street), unload at the gate and park at the Train Station or a nearby pay parking lot.
Resident input on the Pedestrian Zone future
The Town will seek input in the fall on the concept of making the pedestrian zone a recurring summer feature. Council will decide in December if the pedestrian zone will return in future years and if infrastructure work is necessary to support a permanent summer pedestrian zone.
Residents and businesses can register to receive notification about future engagement from a link on the project web page at banff.ca/BanffAve. People in Banff will also be able to provide input on pedestrianization, traffic planning and a range of other critical topics during the consultation on the long-term Banff Community Plan which will start this summer.