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Aug. 7, 2020 | Friday
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COVID-19: Town records 10,000 cars coming into town on weekend
A bylaw officer tickets a vehicle parked in the tow-away zone on Queen Street. (Richard Harley)

Niagara-on-the-Lake bylaw and a small army of tow trucks had a busy weekend trying to deter visitors from Old Town, and as hard as they tried, the visitors kept coming.

The Town of NOTL said 10,452 vehicles entered Old Town Saturday and Sunday. Mechanized counters gathered the data at the intersection of Mississagua and William streets and on Queen’s Parade near Fort George.

In total — even with parking banned in the downtown area — bylaw officers issued 113 parking tickets over Saturday and Sunday, said community engagement co-ordinator Lauren Kruitbosch, in response to questions from The Lake Report.

In comparison, bylaw officers issued 180 tickets over the same weekend in 2019, when there was no parking ban, she said.

That’s on top of 19 vehicles being towed, eight emergency order charges for groups of more than five and multiple complaints of people urinating and defecating in parks.

“The people from Toronto are still coming,” said Bob Strickland, a NOTL resident who was biking around Queen Street Saturday.

“The people are still parking, but there’s enough enforcement out to move them on,” he said. “Well done by the town.”

In a video address to residents on Wednesday, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said Niagara-on-the-Lake’s sole mandate during this crisis is “to keep the citizens of NOTL safe, healthy and protected.”

But despite the town’s efforts to ask people not to come, thousands still did.

“If we had not done what we all did collectively as a community this weekend, the results would have been exponentially worse,” Disero said.

She said there are three issues making the challenge harder: the Region of Niagara won’t allow the town to close roads, the Niagara Parks Commission is continuing to keep its parking lots open, and many businesses that attract tourists have been declared essential by the provincial government.

Bylaw enforcement officers will be out again this weekend, with extra staff to help enforce the parking ban, Disero said.

“I’m hopeful that we will get much better,” she said.

She thanked residents for co-operating with the province’s emergency orders.

“I know you want to come out, but just — just have some patience” for a few more weeks, she said.

“We need you to continue to comply. We need you to stay home, we need you to walk from home, we need you to wash your hands and not touch your face. Together we can get through this.”

Russ and Lisa Reynolds, who live a block off Queen Street, said they think it’s a good thing the town is trying to deter visitors.

“If they left the streets open, we’d be inundated with people right now,” Lisa said.

“I do think it has made a difference, it’s helped for sure. I just don’t know if it’s enough at this point.”

Murray Weaver said he thinks the parking ban is working, but that it’s “unfortunate” for the businesses in town.

“All these businesses along here, and a lot of people, they pay taxes. And I don’t think that the town is giving them the support that they should be getting,” he said.

“Why doesn’t the town support a lot of these businesses? List the people that are open for takeout, give them some help … some of these people are going to go out of business, and I think that’s going to be too bad.”

Amit Kharia, from Toronto, was in town at Nina Gelateria & Pastry Shop on Saturday. 

“I’ve been thinking about it, I was like, how do I justify if somebody approaches me and says, ‘Well why are you here? Don’t come,’” Kharia said.

“And I said, ‘You know what, each of us have to make a decision, and if we can maintain social distancing, wash our hands, do all the things we’re supposed to, then I think it’s an individual choice. I mean if you really want to deter everyone, then you have to have police presence and just say don’t come in.”

He said he saw the signs while driving in and considered them an “inconvenience.”

“It did force me to drive a little bit more to find where there were other cars parked, and (I) took a risk.”

“And I come often to Niagara-on-the-Lake. So, I know sort of the areas I can walk. I’m grateful that these guys are open,” he said.

He said he thinks with vendors open in town, it makes things more appealing for visitors.

“I mean, she’s open. I think if she wasn’t open, or if any other food vendor wasn’t open, that would force us to limit our visit to go elsewhere.”

NOTL is a “magnet,” he said. “The whole town and the Shaw Festival and the whole industry.”

He said people in town were very friendly. “We’ve said hello to many people tending their gardens.”

“I think that you do want to discourage people from congregating, but then how do you support business? You know, this town runs on visitors.”

People whose vehicles were towed had to pay $200 plus tax to retrieve their cars. All of the revenue went directly to the towing company.

The town did not pay to have trucks stationed throughout Old Town, said Kruitbosch.

The town received complaints of people urinating and defecating in the parks, but no fines were issued, she said, as “persons fled (the) scene before fines could be given.”

No fines were issued on Parks Canada property during the weekend, though the town can now enforce the lockdown rules there if necessary.

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