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Aug. 7, 2020 | Friday
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NOTL bans parking in Old Town to deter visitors during pandemic
The green area depicts the 24-hour no-parking zone that takes effect Friday. (Supplied)

Resident one-hour permits voided but 15-minute parking zones planned for people stopping at downtown businesses still operating

Effective Friday, May 1, on-street parking in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake will be prohibited at all times, the town has announced.

The ban, aimed at deterring visitors from flocking to NOTL during the COVID-19 pandemic, remains in effect during the town’s ongoing state of emergency and until further notice.

 “No parking” signs will be posted to warn potential violators and several enforcement officers will be on duty issuing tickets to anyone contravening the new rules, the town advised in a media statement late Thursday afternoon.

In addition to ticketing, vehicles not moved after ticketing may also be towed, the town said.

As well all one-hour resident parking permits will be void during the parking ban. The expiry dates for parking permits purchased prior to May 1 will be extended by however long the parking ban is in effect, the town said.

The affected area is roughly Simcoe Street to Fort George and Gage Street to Lake Ontario.

Despite the ban, the town said several accommodations will be made:

* Because vulnerable residents dependent on the care of family or support workers remain a high priority, if a ticket is issued to someone providing an essential service, residents should contact the town at covidcomplaints@notl.com immediately.

* Residents holding a dedicated parking permit, for people who have to park on the street because they have no on-site parking, will be allowed to park within the prohibited zone. 

* 15-minute parking zones will be established to accommodate patrons of essential businesses remaining open in Old Town.

The road signs previously situated at main, high-traffic entrances will also be relocated to strategically target out-of-town visitors.

Messaging will be adjusted to say: "State of Emergency," "No Facilities Available,” “Parking Enforced,” and “Essential Business Only.”

It is important to remember the significant risk the spread of COVID-19 poses for Niagara- on-the-Lake, the town stated.

With more than 50 per cent of our population over the age of 50, one of the demographics identified as most vulnerable, this human health emergency could be disastrous for our community, the statement said.

“We can’t let up now. We have been very proactive up to this point and we must respond appropriately to the large crowds that gathered in town last weekend,” Lord Mayor Betty Disero said in the release.

 “We are a tourist destination and while we appreciate and value our tourist community, our facilities are closed, and we are not able to adequately accommodate visitors while under this state of emergency.”

During a special counci meeting on Monday, councillors heard the town was considering banning all parking in the urban area of Old Town, as town staff struggle to find ways to keep tourists out.

“The nice weather that we experienced last Saturday created a lot of challenges for enforcement staff,” the town’s interim CAO Sheldon Randall said.

“Tourism is anticipated to increase as the weather gets better. Staff are very concerned with the risk this brings to the town staff and residents. Quite honestly we’re shocked at the complete disregard of the provincial orders and recommendations from the province. It’s outstanding, I just, I can’t get my head past it.”

Randall said the issue of tourists is being discussed and the town is considering further options to get the message across that people should visit later.

He said the town was considering putting up signs at four key points within the town that access Old Town, with increased messaging, a move that was formalized Thursday.

“We feel that this might seem like it’s a harsh method, but we feel at this point with what we’re experiencing over the weekends that this may be the only method that people might understand," Randall told councillors. "So, if you’re coming into town, it will be clear that there will be no parking within the urban area in the Old Town. You can drive through, but you can’t park, and you can’t wander around, and you can’t use our parks. You can drive through and that’s about it.”

Achieving that will require additional staff, maybe contract employees, but the town is also “considering the use of volunteers.”

Disero asked if the Chamber of Commerce could also step up to help make its messages more direct, as many visitors searching NOTL online seem to land on the chamber’s website.

Chamber president Eduardo Lafforgue has not responded to repeated attempts by The Lake Report to reach him for comment.

Coun. Stuart McCormack said it might be prudent to also reach out to cycling clubs to make it clear they shouldn’t be riding through town, as he noticed many cyclists on the road last weekend.

Coun. Clare Cameron said she’s heard people asking why the town can’t just close off the roads.

“Unfortunately the province hasn’t put in place a travel ban,” Randall said. “They are recommending people not to travel, but if a car drives in to this community we don’t have many tools in our toolbox to block them off completely or close a road.”

Randall said the town could close Queen Street, but it’s not that simple and would create different problems.

“Closing a road like Queen Street would just cause other challenges to the businesses that are currently operating … there’s a lot of restaurants that are offering curbside service, pickup for meals and things like that, Valu-mart, the post office.”

Randall said the town is “looking at all options” including temporary traffic lights and “arms that go down to prevent so many cars at a time.”

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