Vancouver temporary summer patio program is here to stay

Although it started as a temporary project during the pandemic, the City of Vancouver’s Temporary Accelerated Terrace Program (TEPP) will now operate annually.

The city council voted unanimously to approve the program after staff submitted a report recommending its continued operation.

“Throughout the pandemic, terraces have been shown to support economic recovery and a vibrant public life,” city staff wrote in the report.

TEPP was introduced in June 2020 in response to social distancing and indoor eating restrictions.

In 2021, the popular program saw nearly 700 terraces approved throughout the city, including on private land. 516 terraces had been built on public land, with 388 on the city’s curbs and 128 on sidewalks.

“Discussion with [Business Improvement Areas] and the hospitality industry indicated that TEPP helped the restaurant industry survive at a critical time, and many residents felt that a vibrant terrace culture was being created on many streets, ”the report states.

The program runs annually from April 1 to October 31, allowing for increased restaurant occupancy during the summer. Breweries and distilleries are also eligible.

Problems with accessibility

Although the program was popular, it was not without criticism.

The Vancouver City Planning Commission, which advises the city council on planning and development issues, addressed the lack of accessibility over the past two seasons.

“The addition of terraces has increased and exacerbated the existing level of inaccessibility in the city in general as well as in certain areas,” the commission wrote.

The Commission pointed to elevated dining areas without access to ramp, chairs and tables crowded on sidewalks and forcing people to step out on the road to pass and seating that did not allow wheelchair users.

The question was also raised by Coun. Christine Boyle.

“We know that there was a lot of competitive pressure on these terraces and the access to these terraces has not been great so far,” Boyle said.

Scott Edwards, head of street activities in Vancouver, confirmed that accessibility is a permit approval requirement.

“Over the last year, we have focused on trying to support companies, and enforcement has been more involved. [lines of] training and engagement with companies, “Edwards said.

“We’ve been trying to use carrots more than sticks.”

Edwards says the city will focus on enforcement.

Workers building a restaurant patio are pictured along Yew Street in Vancouver, BC, in April. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

Privatization of public space

The Commission also raised concerns about turning public spaces into private spaces that can only be accessed by those who are able to pay.

It warned that the privatization of public space could have a gentrifying effect and unfairly affect vulnerable people.

“Privatization of public space contributes to increased surveillance of public space and harassment of people around these spaces, which disproportionately affects innocent, poor and racialized people,” the report said.

Lisa Parker, director of public space and street use in Vancouver, agreed that it is a balancing act that city staff will focus on as it continues consultations on the program with the public and stakeholders.

“We take very seriously, the balance between these uses. And really have a handle and an understanding … that when we start changing uses, there are people who are affected by it,” Parker said.

City staff have been instructed to review the patio program and report back with “strengthened guidelines to balance requirements for public space and to ensure and enforce accessibility.”

Earlier in September, the city of Port Coquitlam also moved to make its outdoor space program permanent.

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