The Friends of Ryerson Park say proposed solutions to neighbourhood traffic and parking problems were never about excluding people from using the park.
Last week, Coun. Erwin Wiens made an emotional speech to council saying some recent delegations about park use have come across as promoting “exclusive” attitudes by some “wealthy, white” people who are trying to stop others from using parks close to their homes.
However, Brian Crow, a representative of the Friends of Ryerson Park, said that isn’t the case, noting it’s about legitimate safety concerns.
In recent years, Ryerson Park's popularity has soared, sometimes with scores of people gathering in the small lakeside park, especially around sunset.
Crow said the number of visitors, and the park having only five legal parking spots, leads to traffic congestion and cars parked up and down the neighbourhood's narrow streets.
With so many cars descending on the area, the group is concerned fire trucks and ambulances wouldn’t be able to get down the street in an emergency.
The lack of safe access for emergency vehicles could put lives in jeopardy, the group says.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she couldn’t comment on liability, but that “there should be a free and clear path for any and all emergency vehicles. We would want to provide that for everyone in NOTL.”
Another issue at the forefront of debate is overuse of the park.
The small park — which Friends of Ryerson Park has said is really a “parkette” — has no washrooms or public amenities, but attracts many beachgoers to its small sandy shoreline for a day of swimming.
The group says with many people staying all day, they’ve had visitors approach homes to ask to use washrooms — once someone even opened a door without permission.
Others, are relieving themselves in bushes and the lake, neighbours say.
A recent suggestion by the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake to install a temporary portable washroom was met with strong opposition from the group and the idea was stopped in its tracks.
Some solutions suggested by Friends of Ryerson Park are to implement a permit parking system for Chautauqua’s narrow streets, to keep streets clear.
Crow also noted the town would need to enforce parking regulations.
Limited parking could also curb use of the park, the group says.
Disero said permit systems are common in many municipalities, such as Toronto, where nobody can park on the street without a permit.
“There is public parking available in front of the park,” Disero said. “Even if the rest was by permit only, it isn’t exclusive.”
However, she said permit parking alone wouldn’t address all of the group's concerns, another one being traffic through the neighbourhood and high speeds by some drivers.
To address traffic in Chautauqua, the group is asking the town to install signage at the corner of Queen and Mississagua streets, to guide traffic back toward the QEW.
On a summer day, traffic often flows into the residential neighbourhood via Queen Street, which turns into Niagara Boulevard and then Shakespeare Avenue.
On any given day standing outside on Shakespeare, several cars stop to ask residents directions back to the highway, residents say.
Disero said the town has decided it will install new signs at Queen and Mississagua and said those plans will be coming to council this month.