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Oct. 21, 2021 | Thursday
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Plan to reduce Ryerson Park visitors attracts hundreds of 'Friends'
Brian Crow, left, and John Scott are among the residents pushing for changes to parking near Ryerson Park. (File photo/Kevin MacLean)

Door-to-door blitz shows widespread support for changes, group says

 

The Friends of Ryerson Park had no idea they had so many friends.

The community group was formed out of frustration this summer after residents near the small, lakeside park grew increasingly upset with a huge influx of traffic, illegally parked cars and large numbers of tourists.

After discussions with Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake officials made it clear they needed evidence that more than just a few vocal residents were complaining, the Friends organized a blitz.

They went door-to-door in the Chautauqua neighbourhood outlining their suggested solutions and soliciting support.

"Nobody said no," noted an enthusiastic John Scott, one of the spokespersons for the group. "The results of this canvassing have been astounding."

The consensus was "it's about time" and "where do I sign," he said.

Before their campaign began, "we thought maybe 90 households would sign up."

They ended up with 183 households backing the petition, representing more than 350 individuals, Scott said – 136 households from the Chautauqua area alone and 47 others from beyond, including people across town who are familiar with what many residents see as overtourism problems across the municipality.

The Friends also worked with the Chautauqua Residents Association, which endorsed the group's plan.

Every summer, Ryerson Park is a magnet for sunset watchers, picnickers and people using the small beach. 

There are no washroom facilities and only five designated parking spots along Niagara Boulevard, so the overflow spills onto the narrow neighbouring streets. 

With many roads only about 13 feet wide in what was historically a cottage district, the Friends expressed serious worries about fire and ambulance vehicles being able to get through in an emergency.

For their two-week door-knocking campaign, the Friends revised their initial pitch from a few months ago – the controversial idea of making Niagara Boulevard one-way eastbound starting at Shakespeare Avenue was dropped – and they settled on a three-point plan.

The ideas, to be presented formally to council in the new year, include:

* Resident-only parking on all streets in Chautauqua from the lake south to Lakeshore Road. (Each household would be allowed one visitor permit. The HonkMobile app might be used to monitor parking.)

* Stricter enforcement of lower speed limits and noise infractions, higher fines, no-stopping and tow-away zones, and closing the park at 10 p.m.

* Deterrents to through traffic at Queen and Mississagua streets, using street markings, better signs and an adjusted intersection.

As well, in their doorstep conversations, Scott said residents highlighted concerns about pedestrian safety and sanitation, congestion and pollution, and emergency vehicle access.

"As one older gent said to me, 'How could anyone oppose this? It's such a good-news story. It's going to balance the visitors and the residents, and it's going to be good for everybody, not just in Chautauqua but in all of Niagara--on-the-Lake,' " Scott said.

His neighbours Shaun Devlin and Brian Crow, who are among numerous residents involved with the Friends, said they're not looking to drive visitors away. 

"From the start, we've been looking to restore some balance," Devlin said, noting the area is not like Crystal Beach or other popular recreational areas.

Located in the middle of a residential area, "Ryerson Park was never intended as a day park," Crow said. 

With only a handful of parking spots and no facilities, he and Devlin said they hope Niagara Shores Park, owned by Parks Canada, could become an alternative go-to site.

Niagara Shores, the subject of a comprehensive documentary film and investigative report about shoreline erosion by The Lake Report in 2019, is about 1.5 kilometres west of Ryerson Park.

Crow said it seems a logical alternative, if the town and Parks Canada are able to agree on opening up the park to more visitors.
"There's no people living there. It's a beautiful beach. It's got the sunsets, it's got parking, it's got access."

Vehicle and pedestrian access to the area might have to be developed to make that happen. The beach, several hundred metres long, sits below the 20-foot-high sandy cliffs where the endangered bank swallows nest.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero noted that "Niagara Shores was open until a few years ago" and the town's director of operations, Sheldon Randall, is working hard with Parks Canada to have it reopened. 

"Parks Canada, as usual, is very co-operative and I believe we share the same goals. I believe it is doable," she told The Lake Report. 

Niagara Falls MP Tony Baldinelli is also supportive of seeing the park's use expanded, she said.

"If it does happen, it will be Sheldon's legacy as acting CAO for 2020. We will owe him a great deal of thanks," she added.

Looking ahead at a solution for Ryerson Park's headaches, Scott said he gives the town "credit for being very blunt with us" by telling the Friends they had to show that the community really wanted changes made.
"Now we have the support. Now we have narrowed our ask to very critical areas that we think will be very productive."

 

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