Times Associate Editor
A proposal to address safety concerns by transforming angled parking to parallel parking in the downtown core left the business community in a frenzy last week, shocked at the idea of losing half the parking stalls in front of their establishment and alienating business at a time of much-needed revival.
The two-phase downtown beautification project, presented in collaboration with the Downtown Design Review Committee (DDRC) and the Town of Strathmore, proposed implementing an inexpensive approach of changing the existing 78 angled parking stalls along 2nd & 3rd Avenue to parallel parking stalls – a process that would eliminate half the stalls in the process.
The plan, which also includes widening sidewalks, the addition of green spaces, outdoor seating areas, and crosswalk bump-outs, was a result of numerous traffic violations and accidents over the past decade.
"The issue with the angled parking is that our community, like almost every other community in the province has grown out of angled parking," said Glenn Freeland, chair of the DDRC. "Angled parking had its time and its place when vehicles were a lot smaller and when traffic was a lot less. The vehicles have gotten so large and they stick out so far, and so the safety aspect of it is astronomical. No parking style is perfect, but parallel is the safer of the two."
According to a letter from the Strathmore RCMP, the current parking scenario on 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue is a serious public safety concern for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. Statistics show that 118 cases of traffic violations were committed from 2005 to 2013. Furthermore, 121 collisions took place over the past ten years in the area.
During an information session on June 16, business owners took issue with the lack of other parking in close proximity, cost of the entire beautification project, the impact of the loss of the Co-op, and challenges parallel parking poses to seniors and new drivers.
While many in attendances voiced their concern that the changes may be premature – losing parking spaces without offering an alternative – residents were told that the town had thought about the possibility of entering into a partnership, such as with the Church on 2nd Avenue, in helping maintain the parking lot in exchange for its usage. Although others felt the town should purchase the Co-op property and turn it into a public parking area, town officials felt it was too soon for such a commitment.
"We want to make sure everybody is heard and we're not trying to hurt businesses," said Town of Strathmore Councillor Pat Fule, who is also a member of the DDRC. "We are thinking about safety, because we are averaging 15 incidences a year on angle parking backing out into the oncoming traffic. That's a worry for us, and we're trying to find a good solution that will help the downtown core but also make it safe."
raffic crossing the solid yellow line to park in one of the angled parking stalls and unavoidable actions of sometimes backing out blind into busy traffic, motivated the DDRC to propose a solution. While the project emphasizes available parking in existing lots including Kinsmen Park, the Co-op lot, and the parking area near the Strathmore Legion, business owners remained unconvinced that their customers would continue to choose their services over box stores near the highway where parking is in abundance.
"I think it's a little scary that at a time when we're facing probably the biggest crisis the downtown has ever faced that we're making access to our customers more difficult," said Linda Code, co-owner of Strathmore's Florist. "Cutting down the parking will do that. There's not if, ands, or buts about it."
With a great turn-out to the meeting, the DDRC, a volunteer committee, received feedback on possible solutions including the installation of warning signs regarding backing up and stronger enforcement of parking time limits.
Local business owner Mike Field also proposed changing 2nd Avenue to a one way – a change that had previously been implemented with no success.
"Less parking? You're killing my business, and you're killing me," said Field, co-owner of the Strathmore Value Drugmart. "Who's going to come and shop at my store when they can go to Shoppers Drugmart on the highway and have a huge parking lot? I think what you're doing here; you're killing business downtown. I need customers, and I need them to park in front of my store."
While some attendees were worried that the project would commence regardless, Freeland assured community members that the meeting was for information gathering and feedback purposes only, and emphasised the DDRC's desire to work with the building and business owners in the downtown area.