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Jan. 16, 2021 | Saturday
Local News
In-Depth: Queen Street parking a royal mess


Brittany Carter

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva

The Lake Report

More parking lots, more free spots, better signage, allow parking for longer periods, a mobile app, two-storey parking garages tucked into nooks off Queen Street, special permits for downtown workers, shuttle buses from off-site parking and free parking from December through March, not just the last month of the year.

Oh, and fix the darn meters, but stop trying to squeeze every last penny out of tourists. 

Whether you are a resident, visitor, business operator or employee, almost everyone has ideas for how to fix the parking headaches that plague Old Town, the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s tourist economy.

People love NOTL but recognize that parking in Old Town can be a nightmare.

With Old Town packed for the annual Icewine Festival the last two weekends, The Lake Report spoke with dozens of people about their suggestions for improving the parking situation.

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 designated 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 increased the time you can park 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 could 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.

Parking revenue (and enforcement) is a big-money item for the municipality.

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 of 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, “People fly out of here because they’re worried about getting a ticket.”

As for where the revenue goes, 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.

“The town is very strict. They don’t give any warnings when ticketing,” said Bobby Kaltsidis of Elle Du Monde store. “People spend time looking for meters instead of shopping and some meters aren’t working. Create more parking space and be kinder and more flexible to tourists.”

Lisa Elliott of Edward Spera Gallery supports the idea of free parking from December until March or April, and suggested using it as an incentive for tourists who go shopping at the Outlet Mall.

“Build a lot or a garage or allow more parking time in the parking meters as it limits people who are constantly looking at their watches,” she said.

“Have a mobile app, like Green P Parking (in Toronto), to allow people to update their payments on their phone, rather than them having to go back to the meters and pay.”

Serendipity manager Ann Froese said she understands businesses want to see changes but some of them aren’t feasible.

She suggests better labelling of the drop-off boxes for people who wish to immediately pay their parking fines. In NOTL, there are four red drop-off boxes throughout town, including Picton Street, Victoria Street, town offices and Niagara College, according to the town website. There used to be a box at the Court House lot but it got broken and was never replaced, said the chamber’s events co-ordinator Nicole Cripps.

Last Friday two customers at Reiner’s Original had to rush out without buying anything because they didn’t want to get ticketed, said manager Yvonne Bredow.

“Rates shouldn’t go up, it’s horrible, it deters people,” she said. “Tourists don’t need a bad experience, leaving the town with a bad taste in the mouth. More free parking would help in the low season. Parking in the evening, from 5 p.m. onwards, should be free.”

During the second weekend of the Icewine Festival, a few visitors complained about the cost of parking.

Ohio resident Francis McCowin, who was visiting NOTL with his wife and a friend, said when he first tried to pay for parking on Queen Street, near Prince of Wales Hotel, the meter didn’t accept his credit card, so his wife had to use another card. For three hours of parking, they paid $7.50, which McCowin found expensive.

“They want people to come in and shop, to eat more, drink more. (But) you don’t have enough money to stay and buy,” he said, suggesting the town build a parking lot near Fort George and have buses bring people into downtown. 

Amanda Woodhouse, of Guelph, said she couldn’t park on Queen because of a broken machine, so she and her husband parked on Regent Street. She said whenever they visit NOTL, they stay at Pillar and Post Inn and Spa, so parking hasn’t really been an issue for them.

“(The town) can’t do much in terms of a parking parkade because it would wreck the feel of the town,” she said. “But make the rates more affordable,” she said.

Another American tourist, Vicki Ault from Ohio, said she parked on a side street and suggested more free parking would be helpful.

“In our city, Columbus, and its suburbs we have parking garages that cannot go too high, only a couple of storeys, but it makes a big difference in our communities, so people don’t have to struggle,” she said. “Make it free if you want to attract people on weekends. No one wants to pay.”

Kitchener’s Catherine Evenden was one of the lucky ones. She had no trouble finding a spot, parking in the lot near the old Court House.

She wishes there were more parking lots instead of just street parking.

“In summer, it’s busier, so I’m not surprised it wasn’t a huge problem to find parking today,” she said.

Kristen Richardson, of Niagara Falls, echoed the sentiments of many visitors.

“It’s already expensive as it is,” she said. “Give tourists a little break. Don’t try to get every last penny from them.”

NEXT: What do the town and Chamber of Commerce have to say?