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COLUMN: Open Air Dunlop shows it's time to permanently close main street to vehicles

From live music to events and a variety of themed celebrations, possibilities are endless should city ever decide to get vehicles off Dunlop Street for good

Open Air Dunlop continues to get rave reviews from those who take part in the regular weekend event, so what are we waiting for? Can Dunlop Street be closed to vehicle traffic everyday, all year round?

I have been hitting nearly every Open Air Dunlop event since it started in September 2020 and the vibe and liveliness it brings to downtown Barrie's east end every Saturday is fantastic. 

The event was started by the Downtown Barrie BIA and runs for at least 15 Saturdays. From Mulcaster to Clapperton streets, Dunlop Street East is blocked to traffic from the early morning of the designated Saturday until 3 a.m. the following morning. This lets people walk the main street, enjoy music and dine out on a patio.

Part of the reason it started was to allow for more space for people to walk around, as health guidelines asked for everyone to continue to keep a safe distance from each other during the pandemic. This year even saw the addition of tables and chairs in Memorial Square, located at the heart of downtown, so people could grab some takeout from nearby eateries and enjoy the sights and sounds. And the lake is just a stone's throw away.

The question is, why only Saturday? Why isn't this a permanent fixture?

There could be sticking points, though. I’m not entirely sure how deliveries would work should Dunlop Street be closed off to vehicles. Stores and restaurants would need trucks to be able to either park close by or find a way to manage drop-offs, but that should be doable. Calgary does it on Stephen Avenue, which is also a closed pedestrian road. Maybe this is something that could be further investigated in Barrie. 

Closing Dunlop Street allows for live music and events to happen safely. It has also allowed for the placement of information tents from local organizations who have been unable to get the word out for the last year and a half about what services they provide.

Patios are bustling and sometimes have line-ups of people waiting for a table. But nobody seems to mind lining up because they’re inevitably going to bump into a friend to chat with while they wait.

And why just the summer? How cool would Halloween be for families with a wide-open and decorated Dunlop Street? Businesses handing out candy. Shop owners dressed up. Spooky Halloween music playing.

Don’t get even me started on the winter. The whole street decked up like a scene from a Hallmark Christmas movie? Count me in!

There are other events that could happen which would be visually cool for video and photos. The city's Indian community has been very active holding events lately. Imagine a street-long bhangra dance festival to highlight Indian businesses in the downtown.

Or Cinco De Mayo promoting the celebration that draws business to the Mexican businesses.

Caribbean businesses could host a Carnival In Jamaica in the middle of April to coincide with the island nation's popular event.

If the logistics can be ironed out, the possibilities are endless.

The main street has also taken on a whole new look in recent months. The $16.1-million Dunlop Streetscape Project was completed prior to the summer. It focused on pedestrian safety and accessibility, as well as enhanced lighting and visibility, giving the downtown area a complete makeover. 

And with Open Air Dunlop, it has shown that shutting down Dunlop Street to pedestrian traffic can be done and done well. 

And let’s be honest, who chooses to drive along Dunlop Street anyway? Nobody says, “I know, I’ll quickly cut through the downtown core and get where I have to go.”

Most people would chose to go along the lake on Simcoe Street, or perhaps use Collier, Grove or Wellington streets to go east and west around the downtown area anyway. 

I personally haven’t heard anyone complain about Open Air Dunlop closing the main drag, but it would be interesting to hear other points of view.

Anyone interested in a permanent pedestrian-oriented Dunlop Street? Who's with me? 

Shawn Gibson is a staff reporter at BarrieToday. 





Shawn Gibson

About the Author: Shawn Gibson

Shawn Gibson is a staff writer based in Barrie
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