It was an idea born during the pandemic to promote social distancing and help businesses. Four years later, the seasonal closure of Banff’s most famous street has become a summer experience that town council has voted to make permanent from late May through Thanksgiving.
Parks Canada supports the pedestrian zone and public seating and tables on Banff Avenue, but is not on board with commercial patios.
“As we return to regular business, the proposed permanent and ongoing expansion of commercial activities in public space is no longer supported and is contrary to the laws which ensure this special place is protected,” said Parks Canada officials in a statement.
The town’s mayor said they received a letter from the superintendent in the “11th hour.” While they have been in talks with Parks Canada, Mayor Corrie DiManno is confident they will be going ahead this summer with patios.
“The Town of Banff feels our position is strong and we are not outside of our commercial cap as it relates to commercial use on public lands, but we will continue talks (with Parks Canada) and I am optimistic we can find a resolution,” said Mayor DiManno.
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The closure has allowed bars and restaurants to expand their seating outdoors with patios lining Banff Avenue under the watchful view of Cascade Mountain. Pedestrians walk with ease crisscrossing the main artery in the heart of the mountain town.
But the closure has come with no shortage of controversy among people who call Banff home. Some locals raised concerns about the congestion it causes and the traffic being diverted onto neighbouring residential streets. Others are concerned about safety risk in cases of an emergency. The issue even sparked protests.
The mayor said Banff doesn’t have too many people, the issue is too many cars. The town is considering a project that would see the expansion of a parking lot at the edge of town, to help alleviate congestion. Banff resident Harvey Locke said he’s gobsmacked it’s even being considered.
“We are creating a new attraction on Banff Avenue. We are jamming it up with more people, making it difficult to get south of the river and we want to bulldoze a parking lot into a forest that is (a) critical wildlife corridor,” said Locke
“We are seeing these decisions being pushed or made in defiance of these bigger goals for the national park and it’s not OK.”
Longtime Banff resident Leslie Taylor, who previously served as the town’s mayor and acting superintendent of parks, is among those against the closure. She’s also concerned about the rift created between the two governing bodies.
“It makes me distressed to see the park and the town at odds,” said Taylor. “We all care about the same place and the rules are pretty clear and the intent of the rules is very clear.”
DiManno insists the town deeply respects the laws in place that have made Banff the special community it is.
Public consultation will begin in March on the parking lot development.
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