Canada Day was the first trial run of closing Queen Street to vehicles to allow pedestrian traffic on the street.
The afternoon saw people using the street, but some store owners say the national holiday is not a good representation of how the closure will affect businesses and residents.
Maureen Dickson, owner of Irish Design and a Simcoe Street resident, said Canada Day is so unique that it isn’t valid for a test run and that things would be clearer during the next couple of weekends of the pilot project.
Queen Street will be closed on weekends now until July 19 as part of a project organized by the town in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce. It will be open to pedestrians only, from King to Victoria Street. Access to essential businesses like the post office and Valu-mart will not be affected.
So far, Dickson is not supportive of the closure, she said during an interview Wednesday.
She said she saw people driving around frustrated trying to find parking spaces.
“On Simcoe Street this morning I would say probably up until about one o'clock there's a lot of confusion, people trying to find a place to park,” she said.
“I think it's the same on the other side of Queen Street. People have been circling, trying to find places to park. 'Cause I haven't seen anyone actually find a spot in a couple of hours.”
She said by mid-afternoon the traffic had died down a bit and a lot of cars were headed out of town toward the Niagara Parkway.
Prideaux Street resident Elaine Bartolini said she thinks visitors are getting frustrated.
“We almost got hit by a car because the guy didn't even stop,” she said.
Dickson said as far as helping business, it’s also too early to know.
“It's hard to say because this morning it was busy in the store, which in the morning it can be, and then the middle of the day has been very, very quiet. So we're hoping that in the evening it will pick up a little bit,” she said.
“And it's hard to say what happened today. It's Canada Day, as I said before, and on Canada Day there's more people in town, so we would expect more sales. But I don't think it's symptomatic of the street being closed.”
Dickson said she’s not in favour of the closure at all, even if businesses were able to expand on to the street.
She said typically, as is common at the Peach Festival, the street just looks like a “flea market” and businesses tend to bring out old merchandise that isn’t selling anyway.
It also prevents people from going into the shops and seeing the full inventory, and typically, she said the Peach Festival doesn’t do the stores any favours.
Scottish Loft owner Simon Bentall also said he doesn’t think Canada Day is a good time to judge the outcome of the closure.
He said so far the closure made “no difference whatsoever” at this shop.
NOTL’s interim chief administrator Sheldon Randall said in a media statement that there’s “no doubt that closing Queen Street has long been a contentious topic among businesses, property owners and tenants in the Heritage District.”
On Canada Day morning, during the first hour of closure, Randall was downtown seeing how things were going.
There was some scrambling to get detours set up last-minute, but he looked forward to seeing the outcome of the pilot project.
“So what we’re going to do today and through the weekend, is just monitor and see where we need to make improvements to try to make it better,” he said in an interview.
He said a big issue is congestion on residential side streets.
“So we are concerned about the impact of the residents on the side streets. You know, more cars, more congestion,” Randall said.
He said the town will be monitoring the traffic.
“We’re going to try to monitor how much pedestrian traffic you’re getting on Queen and then for the weekend, we’re going to have cameras up so we can monitor congestion on the side streets.”
There were no signs to let people know they could walk on the street, however Randall said he figures they got the picture.
“I think people that visit Niagara on a regular basis realize that’s the use of it. I mean, out of the gate, it seems like people are using it. So that’s good.”
He said it’s a big task to set up the street and he would be checking with staff to see how it went the first day.
“We had staff drop some signage off yesterday in preparation and then (staff) were out early (Wednesday) morning, making sure we were blocking off parking stalls so people didn’t come in, park the car at seven in the morning, expecting to leave their car there for several hours,” he said.
“So I need to get feedback from staff on how well that worked. And whether we were out early enough or we need to come out a bit later.”
He said another issue is ensuring tenants living above the shops in the closed areas can get in and out.
“We had a lot of concerns that keeping the street closed overnight would really impact any tenants who live above any of the businesses on Queen Street. They’re the ones that get forgotten,” Randall said.
“People forget that there’s people that actually live up there. And there’s one lady that we’ve been talking to in her 80s. And she’s really concerned about it. So, we’ll continue to work with her,” he said.
Town workers might make some special arrangements for her. “I’m not sure what that might be. But if she needs groceries, or she’s picking up groceries and needs to get back to her place, maybe we can make sure there’s somebody there to help her,” Randall said.
“So again, this is going to be a learning process for everybody. We’ll definitely be tweaking it as we go.”