With provincial borders closed, international travel forbidden, and the majority of pastimes restricted due to the pandemic, people don’t have a lot to do but be outside and that is causing issues in the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM).
“As the lockdowns get eased, there will be a focus on micro-tourism, which means we're going to be the area where a lot of tourists or people who want to visit with Mother Nature will come,” said TBM town councillor Rob Sampson. “I'm hoping that we can get ready for what is likely going to be a very busy spring and summer season up here.”
Since last Spring, TBM has been struggling to find a balance in managing the large number of visitors to the area. The influx of traffic has caused a number of issues, one of the most contentious being parking.
For the past several months, TBM council has received numerous deputations and letters of correspondence from residents begging for someone to step in and manage the dangerous and growing parking issues in and around area trail heads.
Earlier this month TBM council passed an amendment to its parking bylaw in an attempt to alleviate the concerns of congestion, cars blocking driveways and parking in unsafe areas.
After passing the amendment to the parking bylaw, town council received an onslaught of concerns from the public about how the new restrictions were impeding on the ability to access trailheads.
At TBM’s council meeting held on Monday, 47 letters of correspondence were received regarding the parking issues in the municipality – both in favour and opposing the new restrictions.
In an effort to provide better clarity on the town’s parking bylaw, Sampson brought forward a new motion that called on town staff to provide more options for a bylaw amendment that would allow for improved safety, without limiting access to recreational areas.
“I'm hoping that this motion will get that ball going and help people understand that we're actually not trying to limit people's access to the area but we have to make sure that it's done safely,” he said.
Within the motion, Sampson suggested the possibility of limiting parking to one side of the road, or limiting parking restrictions to weekends-only.
Sampson also asked for staff to take it a step further and work with area trail groups on brainstorming more long-term solutions to the recreational-related parking woes.
“We need to deal with the fact that some of these trailheads are located in areas that were never designed to accommodate a massive parking influx,” Sampson said.
Councillor Andrea Matrosovs added that she would also like to see the consultations undertaken with area residents.
“I'm really concerned about the need for the voices at the table to be the actual adjacent, nearby neighbours of those pressure points,” Matrosovs said. “Let’s include those residents in the invitation to come to the table along with these local trail groups and organizations to try to put everybody's heads together on how to produce the public safety we need.”
Town staff have also been asked to identify possible off-road parking in selected areas in TBM, including town-owned lands or road allowances, as well as private lands.
Councillor Jim Uram said the town should strongly consider getting the Niagara Escarpment Commission as well as the provincial government involved in the conversation.
“Most of these trails are located on land that is provincial authority of some sort. Plus many of these trails are also within the Niagara Escarpment area, which has very, very restricted land-use policies,” Uram said.
“I think it would very much facilitate the safety of the roads if the two provincial agencies that the province has in place for these areas were a little bit more cognitive of the issues that are being raised,” he continued.
Staff have also been poised with looking into the town’s paid parking bylaws to see how they could be implemented for non-residents in areas where off-road parking may be established.
TBM Mayor Alar Soever said he would like to see the town explore the possible use of something like the Rover Parking app.
Rover Parking, which was acquired by SpotHero in September, was founded in Toronto in 2014 as a peer-to-peer parking marketplace.
“A few years ago, Innisfil started targeting some of their busiest streets, and encouraging residents to rent out their unused driveways as Rover parking spots,” Soever said.
The town of Innisfil began using the Rover app in 2019 to facilitate additional parking along its beach park, which was able to generate 70 additional parking spots.
“The residents who created the spaces actually get part of the revenue,” Soever continued. “Hopefully we can look at some of those innovative approaches, because certainly, that would be a good way to get people off the roads.”
Will Thomson, director of legal services for TBM says town staff have already begun work on this file and hope to have a comprehensive review of the town’s parking bylaw prepared for council by the spring.
“We'll look at all of the roads in town that we currently regulate for parking, and not just those that have been added during the COVID pandemic in response to acute parking issues,” Thomson said.
He added that the parking review will likely include a public meeting to allow for members of the public to voice their concerns about area parking issues ahead of implementing any changes.
While council awaits the staff report, staff have also been instructed to strictly enforce the parking bylaw as amended with a focus on priority areas of public safety, while balancing the need for access to trailheads.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca