'Make it interesting and exciting' so people want to shop in town'
Trials of full and partial closures of Queen Street in Old Town Niagara-on-the-Lake have left residents, business and visitors with a wide variety of opinions on whether the project has been a success.
Some loved the full shutdown, making the street a pedestrian promenade, others are happy to see vehicles permitted down the street again and off residential streets.
“I love it, I wish they would keep it closed for the whole year,” NOTL resident Alex MacGregor said.
On Saturday, MacGregor said he was unsure of the purpose of the metal fencing set up by the town this past weekend, which cordoned off on-street parking to make wider pedestrian walkways.
“I’m not sure if it’s for walkers or pedestrians or for bicycles,” he said. “So, bicycles stay on the street?”
“I had a problem when they closed the street that they didn’t direct cyclists to get off the bicycles.”
He said he is unclear where bikers can go. “Should they be allowed, or shouldn’t they be? And when they’re separated it like this, which one is for cyclists now?”
“I’ll go to a coffee shop or go to a restaurant or go to the post office and I’d like to not have to worry about cars coming by. I just like the open space concept.”
“I actually think it’s good for business and I live just two blocks from here,” he said.
“I don’t find any more cars or parking issues or drivers shouting, which some of the locals have complained about. I don’t see that at all.”
Johnson Street resident Maria Townley said with a full street closure the space looks less inviting.
“I think when you close Queen Street and it’s not busy, the optics are worse because it looks like it’s not busy,” Townley said.
She said traffic detouring through her neighbourhood doesn't bother her.
“I lived for many, many, many, many, many years in a tourist place. They don’t bother me at all,” she said, referring to the tourists in town.
“I like them here because otherwise it would be too quiet for me here.”
Townley said she's glad that traffic was allowed back on Queen Street this past weekend. “I never wanted it to be closed, period.”
“When people are driving through, they can see there is a buzz and there’s interest and that may make someone driving by actually want to stop,” she said.
“But if you can’t drive by and see that, and you’re walking through and there’s hardly any people because now the space is too much, that’s not good for retailers either.”
Other residents, like Bruce Harvey who lives near the intersection of Johnson and Gate streets, said the detour for traffic during the street closure was disruptive to him at his home.
“Canada Day was the worst,” Harvey said. “The only one who would have made any money would have been the police because no one stopped at the stop sign.”
“The real problem is the motorcycles. I counted 20 Harley-Davidson, great big motorcycles in one hour,” he said.
“That’s very distracting and you can’t even sit and enjoy your backyard because it’s so noisy.”
Harvey said he thinks an issue with the full street closure is accessibility of the main street.
“If you look at who is coming, to me it’s over 50 per cent families with kids and they don’t want to walk,” he said.
“They’re coming for a day out, an ice cream, a picnic in the park. The two parks on the water are just wall to wall people on a Sunday.”
“If people want to shop, they go to the outlet mall and they’re not coming here to shop from what I can see,” he said.
“I think overall, I don’t agree with it continued.”
Harvey said he walked down to Queen Street to check out the fences set up for the pedestrian walkway and he was very happy to see the traffic flowing again.
“Maybe that’ll work a little better because the roads are not closed, but the problem is people can’t find any place to park,” he said.
“All the shop owners got all these spots on Johnson tied up by 9, 10 o’clock in the morning.”
“You see you see people driving up and down looking for parking spots and now you’ve taken all these street parking away,” Harvey said.
“It just seems to me that it’s not going to change overnight.”
Visitors like Zoe Patmanidis and Katherine Damangos from Toronto said they noticed a difference between their visits over the past two weekends and said businesses have been helpful in navigating the changes.
“Last week they had the street boarded,” Patmanidis said. “It was a Saturday.”
“There was much less people, but very organized. Everybody was keeping a distance, going into the stores, everybody was conscious of using sanitizers and whatever.”
“To be honest, because we drive and we drove through, it was kind of nice to drive like we used to. We come quite often for the past 15 years,” Demangos said as the pair was shopping on Saturday. She appreciated the expanded walkway.
The women commended the stores for being helpful during the full street closure last weekend, which forced them to park far from Queen Street.
“They’ve held our things, they’ve helped us,” Patmanidis said.
“One store further down, they actually even said, 'We’ll take it to the car for you.' ”
Linda Alexander, manager of Kurtz Culinary Creations, said people didn't seem to understand why the walkways were expanded this past weekend.
“We saw most people walking down the sidewalk the way they always had. We saw bicycles going down the parking spaces and at one point we saw two people racing on bicycles, one on the sidewalk and one in the parking spot lane.”
“I think that probably, realistically it didn’t create more room for people,” Alexander said. “We didn’t see hardly any people using that particular space. It seemed like they were all on the sidewalk.”
“I think shutting down the street, people understood more,” she said. “They used that space more because it was all wide open as opposed to having this fencing in place.”
“I think, though, that if the street had some creative ideas out there to draw people, it would be even better,” Alexander said.
“Some places where people could sit out there, some flowers. Different ideas to make it more of a creative place for people to walk and it would be more of a drawing card for them.”
“If you’re going to open up the street, rather than just having the street open – which I think a better concept – then make it interesting and exciting so that people want to come here and want to shop in town.”