Coventry TransportationCoventry Transportation
The Weather Network
Oct. 21, 2021 | Thursday
Local News
Queen Street parking is a royal mess
parking meter in Old Town.(Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

If you’re coming to downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake you better sort out where you’re going to park because as many residents, business owners and employees who work along the main drag will admit: parking in Old Town can be a nightmare.

In the midst of the first weekend of the Icewine Festival, The Lake Report spoke with about 15 business owners and employees on Queen Street last weekend and the verdict is pretty well unanimous: something needs to change.

Potential solutions, like an offsite parking lot with shuttle service for employees or free parking along the main street for shoppers, were just a few suggestions put forth.

The cost and time frame of metered parking on Queen Street and the surrounding area, or a shortage of acceptable parking for employees, or even concerns about a “lack of transparency” when it comes to where the town is spending the annual revenue from parking are all issues they agree need to be addressed.

Parking on Queen Street costs $2.50 per hour on the high-demand blocks of Queen Street between King and Gate Street, with a four-hour time limit, and $2 an hour elsewhere with an eight-hour limit.

Other than metered-parking close to Queen Street, there are few places for people to park and on busy weekends like the Icewine Festival, drivers seeking free spots can fill neighbourhood streets for several blocks away from Old Town.

It is a combination of those issues that has left Queen Street with a “significant drop in morale” over the last few years, said Lynda Pecchia, manager of Brims and Things.

“People need a reason to come down here. There’s nowhere to sit, nowhere to park, there’s no information booth to explain things to people,” she said.

“If this keeps up, we (Queen Street businesses) aren’t going to survive,” she added.

Though Peter Earle, owner of Halley's men's fashion store, said all options need to be studied extensively by town planning staff if and when any changes are considered, he said parking in Old Town needs to be addressed.

“I’m an old planner from way back. I think you need to get the broad strategy first,” he said. The town needs to identify exactly what the problem is and then move forward with potential solutions, he added.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero agreed that parking has been an area of contention in Old Town “for several years.”

She said that during 2020 budget discussions in December, council asked town staff to look at creating additional metered spots on Wellington Street across from the old hospital.

In 2017, council approved the increase of time for paid parking in the core of the Heritage District by two hours – with paid parking running from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

At the same time, council approved an increase of 50 cents per hour in peak parking areas around the Old Town core.

The changes made in 2017 were to encourage regular turnover of parking spaces in high-traffic areas and to limit the monopolization of prime parking spots, a Jan. 16, 2017, council report said.

Disero said though the idea of creating an offsite lot for employees with a shuttle to Queen Street may work, she said she didn’t think it was a feasible option financially for the muncipality to take on.

“There is a lot of free parking a few streets over employees can take advantage of,” she added.

But concerns heard from Queen Street shops aren’t limited to availability of parking spaces.

The town's treasurer and director of corporate services, Kyle Freeborn, said the town earned almost $2 million in parking revenue last year.

"In 2019, the town earned $1,947,000 (unaudited and still subject to change following year-end review) in parking revenues," he said in an email response.

Many shop owners and employees said they would be more supportive about the metered parking if they could tangibly see that money going toward driving more business to town. Right now, however, many said the “vigilant” parking enforcement officers and limited time frame on metered spots cause customers to rush out of the store.

Alison Drury, manager of Maison Apothecary, said she’s noticed a “huge decrease in sales” over the last year.

“I think parking is one part of that,” she said. “People fly out of here because they’re worried about getting a ticket.”

As to where the revenue from parking is allocated, many people said they would like to see it going back into the street.

“I have no idea where the money goes – it doesn’t go to us, the businesses,” Drury said.

Disero said the dispersal of funds from the parking reserve is transparent in the budget.

“The parking revenues are used for things like discretionary grants, so some of the money that we give to different organizations for festivals and things like that would come through parking revenues,” she said.

“Everything is detailed in the budget in terms of where the parking revenues go.”

An October 2019 report to council outlines that parking reserve money is allocated to various town departments. Approved in 2019 with no proposed changes for 2020: $50,000 goes toward the roads program administration, which offsets staff costs for administering parking maintenance programs and another $50,000 for corporate services, to offset the cost of processing parking tickets, parking appeals and general administrative support.

Parking reserve money also goes toward offsetting the costs of community and development programs, transit, bylaw enforcement, building maintenance, building services and the heritage incentive program to the amount of $1.2 million in 2019.