Vancouver’s COVID-era restaurant patios to become permanent

Council unanimously supported continuing the summer patio program, which began as a way to let restaurants and bars serve customers outdoors to reduce transmission of COVID-19

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Many of the expanded patios that popped up around Vancouver restaurants, bars and cafes last year as an emergency response to COVID-19 will become lasting fixtures of the city.

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Vancouver city council voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a new continuing summer patio program, which evolved from the temporary program launched last year in the early days of COVID. The temporary program was initially presented as an emergency health measure to enable restaurants and bars to serve patrons outdoors with more physical distancing to reduce transmission of COVID.

But, as city staff and council both commented Wednesday, many Vancouver residents came to enjoy the patios that took over space on sidewalks, streets and other outdoor areas.

This week’s staff report, entitled “Making Pop-Up Patios a Part of Every Summer in Vancouver,” responded to a council motion directing staff to report back on the creation of an annual pop-up patio program.

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Although every council member present voted in favour of creating the ongoing patio program, councillors did raise concerns and asked staff questions regarding issues of accessibility, both physical and financial.

Some councillors commented they had heard members of the public complain that many of the temporary patios created so far aren’t accessible to people with disabilities and mobility issues.

Vancouver’s manager of street activities, Scott Edwards, said that while the existing temporary patio program includes accessibility requirements, the city had so far focused on educating and supporting businesses, instead of enforcing.

“We’ve been trying to use carrots more so than sticks, but I think moving forward we need to make sure that any new patios going in are adhering to the basic requirements, which includes accessibility,” Edwards said. “We will have to put additional resources into enforcement and ensuring they are adhering to our requirements.”

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Regarding financial accessibility, COPE Coun. Jean Swanson asked about concerns raised by the Vancouver City Planning Commission about the privatization of public space, where for-profit businesses take over previously public areas for the sole use of their paying customers. And there is no last-call for COVID-era patios.

Vancouver’s director of public space and street use, Lisa Parker, replied: “We do take that really seriously, the balance of those uses.”

Parker said that in addition to the continuing patio program being discussed Wednesday, which will be largely used by customers of private firms, city hall is separately looking to expand and improve public spaces, plazas and “parklets” around town.

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The program will allow the use of both private and public property, and will run from April 1 to October 31 each year, when patio demand is highest due to the weather, the staff report says.

Not every existing patio will necessarily remain, with all applications reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The staff report cited the example of curbside patios on busy arterial streets, which will be reviewed in relation to transit, traffic and safety. In some cases, concrete barriers might be required to ensure safety.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart commended staff for their work so far, saying he was glad to see how well used the temporary patios had been.

“If there is a bit of a lemonade out of the lemons, it’s that this (COVID) will continue and it will forever change how our city looks and operates and feels.” Stewart said.

dfumano@postmedia.com

twitter.com/fumano

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