A group of Old Town residents concerned about traffic and overcrowding in their neighbourhood near Ryerson Park is asking the town to take some aggressive steps to control the problems.
Among the proposals outlined in an extensive nine-page report by the residents is making Shakespeare Avenue and Niagara Boulevard one-way from Lakeshore Road to the traffic triangle at Johnson Street.
That would reduce traffic and make it harder for visitors to get to the area, the residents say.
As well, the group proposes better signage, stepped-up enforcement, increased parking fines and only allowing parking on one side of Chautauqua’s narrow streets.
Street parking would be restricted to Niagara-on-the-Lake residents with a municipal parking sticker while Chautauqua residents would each get one guest parking permit.
John Scott and Brian Crow, spokespersons for the residents group, say they are not anti-tourism, they simply feel the neighbourhood and the lakeside park can’t handle the big influx of visitors to the small community.
“We want a positive solution that is good for everybody, one that can restore some balance,” Scott said in an interview.
Residents just want to enjoy their neighbourhood and the park without being overrun. “This is about looking after the safety and well-being of this community,” he said.
They note the roots of the problems are complex, including the surge in short-term rentals, the town, B&Bs and travel sites promoting Ryerson Park as a destination, especially for sunset-viewing, and the narrow streets in what was once a cottage district of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The residents want to work together with the town to resolve the issues, Crow said.
The group grew out of conversations among neighbours, leading to their attempt to document the situation and propose some solutions, he said.
On Labour Day, the residents conducted a traffic count and in an eight-hour period from 11:20 a.m. to sunset about 7:40 p.m., they noted 1,470 cars and 69 motorcycles passed Ryerson Park in both directions.
Most of the vehicles were headed toward the park from downtown: 1,092 cars and 52 motorcycles. Headed into town were 378 cars and 17 motorcycles.
On top of the sheer number of vehicles, residents must contend with the noise of the cars and motorcycles accelerating in both directions, Crow said.
The traffic noise can make having a conversation in your yard almost impossible at times, he said. The residents are also concerned about pollution caused by vehicle emissions.
Making Shakespeare and Niagara Boulevard one-way is probably the most contentious proposal, Crow said.
To avoid sending unwanted traffic onto neighbouring streets, the group suggests routing cars back toward downtown when they reach the traffic triangle where Niagara Boulevard, Johnson Street and Palatine place converge. Prominent signs would also discourage drivers from heading westward from downtown in the first place, the group says.
Crow and Scott said they would welcome trying the one-way traffic change as a pilot project to measure its effectiveness.
“Some people will be inconvenienced slightly” by having to change their driving habits, Crow said. And while some might not like the idea, he said he thinks when they realize it could solve some of the area’s problems, they will be in favour.
In some cases, people would have to drive a bit out of their way to get home, but “Wouldn’t that be offset by having 30 per cent less traffic on our streets?”
Presented that way, many skeptics will approve, he said.
The group’s report says its suggestions have been endorsed by the executive of the Chautauqua Residents Association and received “tacit approval” from that organization’s members at their annual meeting in September.
The number of visitors has been growing for years as Ryerson Park is a destination for sunset-watching and picnicking, Scott said.
And this year, despite the closure of the Shaw Festival and the U.S. border, problems got even more out of hand, he said.
The park has no washrooms, which leads to people relieving themselves in nearby bushes, on people’s property or along the waterfront, he said.
“It’s gone beyond civility,” he said. “It’s become a human sanitation issue and it’s become a massive safety issue.”
There are no sidewalks or curbs in the area.
When visitors fill the five designated parking spots on Niagara Boulevard, the overflow traffic often moves on to Vincent and Wilberforce avenues, both narrow streets that are only about 13 feet or four metres wide. According the town, the minimum width for a typical two-lane urban street is about 20 feet or six metres, plus shoulders.
With cars parked on Chautauqua sidestreets, sometimes on both sides, traffic can’t get through, people have difficulty getting to their homes and Scott fears emergency vehicles could be blocked.
The residents’ report cites one “recent incident where an ambulance could not make it down Shakespeare Avenue because of parked vehicles.”
With busy, two-way traffic along Niagara Boulevard, the residents also fear for pedestrians.
“Somebody’s going to get hit sooner or later on one of these streets,” Scott said.