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Idea to turn 17th Avenue S.W. into a pedestrian walkway lives on, despite BIA pumping the brakes


Last summer, a thread on Reddit drummed up support for closing 17th Avenue S.W. to cars and making it a pedestrian walkway.

In response to the online postings, the Business Improvement Area (BIA) polled its 730 members.

BIA executive director Tulene Steiestol says 85 per cent of respondents said 17th Avenue isn't the right place for a pedestrian mall and that coming just as a years-long construction project has concluded isn't the right time.

"The words that we heard, if we were to do any kind of closure, is it would kill us. It would destroy us. We would be shut down," Steiestol said.

"There is and was no plan to close 17th Avenue. We heard loud and clear it would impact businesses in a negative way."

But that hasn't stopped the idea from percolating back to the surface.

Christopher Chiasson, who moved to Calgary two years ago from Toronto, where he worked as executive director of the Cabbagetown BIA, started an online petition calling for the "pedestrianization of 17th Avenue on select weekends in the summer months."

"There's no way we would know if it's going to be beneficial if we don't experiment with it," Chiasson said.

"There's always the opportunity that by closing off traffic to cars, you maybe don't get that traffic from those travelling by vehicle, but you actually invite a whole new audience of potential attendees and visitors and shoppers."

Florist Marika Styba owns Peaseblossoms Flowers on 11 Street S.W.

Her store is part of the 17th Avenue BIA.

Styba says most of her customers come by car, and she's seen sales drop as bike lanes diminished parking and a long construction project limited traffic to the area.

She says even a part-time closure of the artery would further hurt business.

"We already have a lot of barriers to having people come down and visit us as small businesses. Parking is really critical for access, not just for local area customers, but people who come from all over," Styba said.

"To have a car-free zone works in certain places, but certainly not in areas like 17th Ave."

Trolley 5 Brewpub owner Ernie Tsu says closing 17th Avenue on weekends through the summer would benefit businesses like his, which attract a lot of foot traffic and have large patios.

Even so, Tsu says he's not sold on the idea.

"It can't just be about the restaurants, it's got to be about all the businesses, and I think retail needs to be engaged before anything like this is, you know, looked at," he said.

"I mean, Trolley 5 is here because of all the amazing retailers that are on the street as well. So, it would have to be beneficial for all of the retailers and everybody that's on 17th for this to work."

The BIA also says closing 17th Avenue even temporarily would put people in the area at risk.

The four-lane corridor is a dangerous-goods route through Calgary, as well as the area's main thoroughfare for emergency vehicles.

By 7 p.m. Wednesday, Chiasson's petition on had garnered 148 signatures. Top Stories

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