Mayor calls parking pilot project successful, but says the future of the initiative is undecided

Saint Andrews – In order to ensure the safety of residents and tourists alike and adhere to COVID-19 protocols, the Town of Saint Andrews took on a new challenge this summer in the form of a parking pilot project: eliminating on-street parking on a few blocks of Water Street in order to make it easier for people to be able to maintain social distancing. Was this pilot project a success as they had hoped? Mayor Doug Naish said yes, he feels it was successful, although he did admit the plan wasn’t without its drawbacks. Will they be using the same plan summer of 2021? As it stands, that remains to be seen.

“You know, it depends on who you talk to,” said Naish. “We’re going to have a bit more of a debriefing on that, probably not until into the new year, to really go into it in detail. From my point of view, I think it was a success, from everything that we’ve heard.”

The pilot project, which was implemented at the end of June and ran until the end of the first week of September, was twofold. First, it was to create more room for people to adhere to social distancing guidelines, so people could pass each other along the street and still be able to remain six feet apart. The other reason for the pilot project was to help those businesses that faltered during the quarantine in March.

Naish said he has received a lot of feedback from visitors who said they felt very safe while visiting Saint Andrews, thanks to the way things were set up. He added once the budget and infrastructure plans are taken care of, the town plans to take another look at this pilot project to see if it is worthwhile to do again next summer if we haven’t rounded the COVID-19 curve by then.

“Knowing that many of the businesses were small in terms of their physical premises on Water Street, in order to comply with the physical distancing regulations that were put in place, they would have to really cut down on the number of customers they could have inside,” said Naish. “So, we widened out the band of encroachment so particularly restaurants and other businesses that serve food and beverages could move their tables out onto the street, onto town property, and therefore increase the number of people they could serve without violating the distancing regulations.”

Naish did say that several residents were not happy with this pilot project, and they felt it made it inconvenient for people to be able to access certain stores because of the reconfiguration for the summer. But, from a tourism point of view, it was successful. He said it attracted many visitors to town, more than if they hadn’t put the plan in place. He also admitted there were times when even he found it a bit of an inconvenience.

“I think that it certainly was inconvenient, I can say from my own personal point of view,” said Naish. “I found that on occasion, it was difficult to move around right downtown in that three block area, and it was difficult to get to where you wanted to go. But, in the big picture, the purpose was to increase business in Saint Andrews. And, I hope we were successful in doing that for the most part.”

Council will be looking at the results of the project in the new year, to see if it is something that they will implement again next summer. Naish said the main concern is the limitation of mobility of residents when they are in the downtown area.

“It was different. It was a change, and we can appreciate that,” said Naish. “We’ll do a more full evaluation between now and next spring before we start putting anything in place for next summer. This wasn’t just done arbitrarily by Town staff or Town Council. It was done with the full cooperation of business organizations, and business people themselves. I know that the Chamber of Commerce surveyed businesses at the end of summer, and so did our staff, to see what they had to say, what was good, what was bad, and what we could improve.”

Naish said it is possible that something similar will need to be put into place next summer for the tourism season. At the moment, it is very hard for municipalities to plan anything, because no one knows when we are going to round the COVID-19 curve.

“Right at the moment, it looks like we’re not going in the right direction in some places, so we’ll just have to bear with that. Of course, everything that we do these days is predicated on trying to figure out what might be happen a day, a week, a month from now with COVID. It’s very hard to plan on that basis.”

Katy MacDonald, president of the Saint Andrews Chamber of Commerce, who also runs the Leather House with her mother, Vikki MacDonald, said she thinks the project was a success. She said she heard many different opinions, from those who didn’t like the aesthetics of the program o those who thought it was a great idea.

“I think functionally, it was really good,” said MacDonald. “It provided lots of ability for people to social distance when walking down the street. I know I used it a lot to go around groups of people. I would say, overall, it was a good project. There were some issues when it came to parking, especially for people with mobility issues, and like I said the aesthetics of it.

“Saint Andrews is a very quaint town, so it sort of took away from that, but I think the purpose of it was so people could have more space to social distance. For that purpose, it was awesome. I’m glad that the town went ahead and tried to make the town as safe as possible.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca