OPINION: Come all ye faithful . . . to the downtown

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By Nick Seebruch
OPINION: Come all ye faithful . . . to the downtown

It is exciting to see all the great new businesses that have opened downtown and along Pitt St. in Cornwall.

In just the past few months, we have seen new restaurants such as El Tumbao, Brunch on Pitt, Tilly’s, and Birchwood open. Just this past weekend, a new store, the Happy Popcorn Co. opened its doors.

This upward trend is something that I think the City should support as much as it can. For the month of December, the Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA) pushed for free parking in the downtown area daily after 4 p.m. I think this is a great step, and it the perfect opportunity to talk about re-imagining downtown parking in its entirety.

The biggest recent change to parking in the downtown has been the removal of parking meters along Pitt St. in favour of a couple of parking machines that electronically track parked cars via a pay-by-plate system.

I myself advocated for such a system in a column in the fall of 2018. The main advantages of a pay-by-plate system means less machines to maintain and no need to have change on hand, but even good ideas also sometimes have unforeseen difficulties.

I know that the City has had to run some educational videos because the pay-by-plate idea didn’t easily catch on at first.

The new system also provided some difficulties for seniors or those with mobility issues. It isn’t easy for a person with mobility issues to walk half a block to use the pay-by-plate machine.

These issues have also led to difficulties for businesses in the downtown. If a customer is having trouble parking and getting to a store, then they might just give up on shopping local altogether, especially in the day and age of online shopping.

Should we get rid of paid parking downtown all together? Is that the solution? I’d say no, and I have a few reasons behind this.

The first being, and I know some downtown businesses who have expressed this concern, is that having no parking restrictions would allow people to park in spots in front of stores all day long. Additionally, removing paid parking would result in a loss of revenue for the City of Cornwall, something that taxpayers would likely have to make up for.

According to the City administration, the lifting of parking restrictions after 4 p.m. just for the month of December is costing Cornwall a little over $7,000. That’s just two hours, six days a week when parking is free, if parking restrictions were lifted all together, that would be a significant loss of revenue for the City.

Ultimately though, the problem is getting more shoppers into the downtown, and while paid parking might be a deterrent, removing it might not be the solution. If the goal is to bring more people downtown and create more revenue, I think there are two main solutions to that, events and bike lanes.

According to a study conducted by the University of Toronto earlier this year, when new bike lanes were added to their downtown the number of shoppers at local businesses rose and so did revenue generation.

Not only did more people do their shopping downtown after bike lanes were introduced, but the people who did shop downtown, also did so more often.

Perhaps this is the solution the City is looking for. To encourage more people to come downtown, perhaps the City should introduce a bike lane pilot project. I would suggest that between Third St. and Water St. that a bike lane be added on the right side of Pitt St.

What do you think readers? Will becoming more bike friendly bring more shoppers downtown? How would you solve the downtown parking problem? Email me a Letter to the Editor at nseebruch@seawaynews.media

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