December 10, 2015 (email)
Since my email in mid-September to you, your fellow Council Members, the Mayor, and the CAO regarding “Market Square - Points on why the Square at the front benefits most” I have met with over 110 people, stakeholders, who are merchants or land owners with businesses and property located in the Heritage District that will be affected by the development of a Square located at the back or front of City Hall.
How to Determine the Location of the Square
As I noted last time, the AtFocus survey is flawed for many reasons, one of which is that the respondent was anonymous. The people I spoke with all have personal investment in what happens in the core and have signed a petition to Council to have an Economic Impact Study determine the right location for the first phase of the Square. I asked each person to note if they participated in the AtFocus Survey to provide an indication of whether the AtFocus results included this group of people. I asked where they preferred the Square to be located, as the concept for the Square at the Front was not well known at the time of the AtFocus survey.
It should be noted that 68% of the people I spoke with did not respond to the AtFocus survey. 95% chose the front for the location of the Square. Most liked the idea of the development of the pedestrian system that links the sidewalks of the ‘Hub’ of the Heritage District to a Square in Front of City Hall. The ‘Hub’ is the area bounded by Ontario, Erie, St. Patrick and Waterloo. I know many people outside of this group that have submitted correspondence to the Clerk in support of a Square in Front of City Hall.
Those who chose the rear were concerned about closing the streets to create the pedestrian system as it prevents vehicular traffic from passing by their business. Others did not require parking in the immediate area, as their customers walk from parking located elsewhere.
Most of the people I spoke with shared the AtFocus conclusion that something has to be done and it has to be done right. The message was not “Do it right or don’t do it at all” but rather “Do it right and do it all”.
The top reason for choosing the front was there was no loss in parking. Respondents believed that the demand created by the loss of the 71 spaces behind City Hall would ripple to the parking areas at their businesses. The concern is that those who typically park at the back will now seek out the next closest spot. The merchants experience two types of shoppers: convenience shoppers, who are in the store for 30 minutes or less; casual shoppers, who may be in a store for more than 30 minutes or who may be shopping at several stores. Besides shoppers there are restaurant patrons who require parking for an hour or two and theatre goers that require more than three hours if they also stay to shop or eat.
Most did not believe a parking garage could replace convenient street parking located at or near the entrance of the merchant. Most believe that a parking garage is required for those that want to park and stay in the core for a long period of time, such as theatre goers, restaurant patrons and those who work in the ‘Hub’. It was felt that this parking should be additional to street parking that presently exists. In my conversations, some of which lasted up to 45 minutes, with the merchants and land owners parking was generally the top item. The duration of parking, cost of parking and the policing of maximum parking limits was also part of many discussions.
The second reason people preferred the front was so the Transit Terminal could remain behind City Hall. Certain businesses chose their location because of the proximity to the buses. About 30% of Dollar Haven’s customers use the bus. The quick food restaurants around City Hall also have a customer base that uses the buses. At the Transit Review meeting on November 19th, the group present overwhelmingly approved keeping the buses at their present location. The group was told the principal reason for moving the Terminal was to develop the Square behind City Hall and the existing platform is not adequate for accessibility.
When I questioned the accessibility issue, Chris Prentice of IBI stated the retracting ramps on the buses extend about a meter from the door of the bus reducing the depth of the platform by a meter. The recommended depth for the platform to meet this accessibility requirement is 3.0m (9’-10”). The current depth of the existing platform at the narrowest point is 3.14m (10’-4”). As noted in our July 27 presentation to Council we propose to deepen the platform behind City Hall by a meter for a total depth of 4.14m (13’-7”).
A canopy was also proposed to protect bus passengers and the accessible entrance at the rear of City Hall from inclement weather. With a better facility it will be used by more people. Although not an AODA requirement, Chris Prentice also stated that it is preferred that users, at both the front and rear door, disembark onto the platform. The current platform layout does not permit the users of rear door to disembark onto the platform but instead have a greater step onto the pavement. This restricts those with limited mobility to only use the front door which may cause some congestion. It should be noted that there is reserved seating for those with mobility issues at the front of the bus.
It was also noted at the Transit Review meeting that the new Terminal would not have public washrooms which currently exist at the present location. Of the five sites reviewed for a new Terminal location three moved the buses closer to businesses, 1) Downie and Wellington around the front and sides of City Hall, 2) Market Place and 3) George Street. The other two eliminated parking spaces, 4) Erie Street Parking Lot and 5) St. Patrick Street Parking Lot, as well as 2) Market Place option. 4) Erie Street Parking Lot was not recommended due to the difficulty to access and egress from Erie Street. The preferred location appears to be 5) St. Patrick Street Parking Lot which eliminates 25 parking spaces from the lot and 13 spaces on the street to create the area to develop the Terminal. With the loss of the 71 spaces behind City Hall plus these spaces the total loss of street parking is over 100 spaces. One merchant questioned, “Whose business benefits with the buses over there as there are no businesses near it?”
Although parking and buses were the common issues, the reasons why varied in different parts of the ‘Hub’ with the common theme, “How does any development of the Square, front or rear benefit them?”
With feedback from merchants and business owners, the idea for the Square at the front of City Hall has evolved into a master plan to develop the ‘Hub’ of the Heritage District into a pedestrian system with features that draw citizens and visitors throughout the area while retaining convenient street parking and transit.
The prime concern for Ontario Street merchants east of Downie was greater demand for street parking in front of their stores if there was any loss in parking behind City Hall. The merchants on the south side of Ontario with entrances on the Albert Street lot could see this lot being used by those other than their customers to compensate for the loss of spaces behind City Hall.
This thought was shared by the Albert Street merchants as this lot is the overflow for those customers that cannot get street parking. The prime parking location for customers of RBC, TD and the Downie Street stores with rear entrances is the Albert Street lot when street parking is not available.
With the Square at the Front and the pedestrian dedicated cross walk at Downie and Albert this group could see the merit of having the pedestrian connection to the Square that is visible from Ontario, Downie, Wellington and Albert Streets. It would be a safer the pedestrian route for those traveling from the parking lot behind City Hall, the buses and from the south end of Wellington and Downie Streets.
The merchants and owner of Festival Square see a greater demand for the spaces in the Erie Street lot as these spaces will be used by those other than their customers to compensate for the loss of spaces behind City Hall. With the Square at the Front their customers that use the buses or use other services in the area such as the banks will have safe pedestrian access to other parts of the ‘Hub’.
Wellington Street between Albert and Brunswick
Although these merchants lose parking spaces in front of their stores to develop the Square in front of City Hall, they still have convenient parking for their customers behind City Hall, the Erie Street Parking lot and the additional parking on Downie Street. As observers of the area at the front of City Hall, they commented that the Square at the front would make it safer for pedestrians as they now cross this area at random locations.
Downie Street between Albert and Brunswick
Similar to the merchants on Wellington on the west side of the Square, these merchants believed that parking realigned on Albert and Brunswick and the parking behind City Hall was still convenient for their customers. They share the same observations about pedestrian safety by developing the Square at Front. The prime parking area for the customers of Dollar Haven, the largest store in this block, is behind City Hall.
The Theocharis Brothers who own about 10 properties around City Hall definitely do not want to lose the parking or the buses behind City Hall. They are not sure yet about closing Downie and Wellington Streets but have indicated if they have to have a Square then closing the streets is better than losing the buses and the parking. They would prefer no changes.
The businesses on Brunswick also rely on the parking area behind City Hall for their customers. Although a slight loss, realigning the parking to perpendicular along the north side of the street better serves their customers and provides safe pedestrian access to the Square.
Downie between Brunswick and George
Although BMO has its own parking lot, the concern they have with the loss of parking behind City Hall is that more ‘non-customers’ will use their lot. This will increase the policing of it. With only four spaces in this block, Grub to Go cannot lose the parking behind City Hall for his customers. In addition to those customers that park, many customers are bus users. With the Square at the Front the buses remain and the number of spaces in this block increases to 10. Although this block is not on the Square at the Front, the development of the rear proposed by Ritz breaks this area into smaller parts making it Square-like and more pedestrian friendly.
The Theatres and The Theatre Store fill the remainder of this block. For the record the Festival would not comment on this issue and leave it to City Council to resolve. It was reported by several merchants in the ‘Hub’ that parking for their customers is substantially limited during the Theatres matinee performances.
On the opposite (west) side of the street, the business with the largest occupant load is Wills. The owner commented that he can tell when the theater season is over as his sales are up because his customers can park in the area behind City Hall.
George Street West
Limited street parking for customers and limited overnight parking for upper floor residences are the reasons the businesses on this block chose the plan that maintained the number of convenient street parking spaces. It is proposed to have an entrance to the St. Patrick Street Lot from George Street between the Police Services Building and Chocolate Barr’s. This would increase both vehicular and pedestrian traffic to this block as well as add 10 additional parking spaces.
The buses remain behind City Hall with the Square at the Front and eliminate the possibility of a George Street Transit Terminal.
Downie Street between George and St. Patrick
Some of the merchants were concerned about the closure of the portion of Downie Street beside City Hall as it would eliminate through vehicular traffic going by their stores. They could not understand how the Square at the front could help their business when the Square at the back was physically closer to them. The businesses located closer to the parking behind City Hall realize that the loss of that parking would put a greater demand on the parking in this block of Downie.
By closing Downie Street beside City Hall positive changes result in this block. With the elimination of through traffic, this block becomes a place to park when going to downtown versus a way to drive through downtown. The reduction of through traffic, traffic moves slower to find parking, permitting the parallel parking on both sides of the street to be replaced with perpendicular parking on one side of the street. This realignment provides 10 additional parking spaces that would benefit the merchants in this block.
Since Downie is blocked between Albert and Brunswick south bound traffic from Ontario would take Albert to Waterloo which would be signed to direct traffic back to the Downie Street. Through time this will shift and access to Downie south of City Hall will be by Waterloo and Erie.
Through traffic that took travelers west via Downie will now take St. Patrick to Erie Street. Modifications to the Waterloo, Douro, Downie and St. Patrick Street intersections will result in north bound traffic on Downie being directed to Waterloo. At Douro, west bound traffic would have an advance left turn to Erie via St. Patrick with no stop at Downie. This eliminates the north bound lane of Downie between Waterloo and St. Patrick permitting Battery Park to expand west to the center of Downie Street.
The wider park, with a feature, would be a focal point at the south end of Downie and the east end of St. Patrick. Pedestrians at the Square in Front of City Hall or the Avon Theatre would see it and as they travel to it they would pass by the stores along this block of Downie. Once in Battery Park they have access to the development that may occur at the Rail Shops site. The larger park would also benefit the future development of the properties that border it along Waterloo Street.
The Downie Street merchants would also benefit with increased pedestrian traffic by providing a George Street entrance with added parking that leads to the St. Patrick Street Lot. A parking sign to the George Street entrance that is visible from the Avon Theatre will encourage theatre patrons to use this lot since it is close to the theatre. Entering off George will lead to the St. Patrick Street lot. If it is full it leads them to the lot at the Rail Shops. Pedestrians from the Rail Shops are encouraged to use Downie to go to the Theatre by limiting access to Justice Laneway with a fence that has man and vehicle gates to only permit Police and delivery vehicles to enter. Battery Park is a further attraction to lead them to Downie to go to the theatre, a route they will also take after the theatre.
An item to consider in the future is mid-block access from Downie to the St. Patrick Street Lot similar to Allen’s Alley from Wellington to the Erie Street lot. The preferred location is 138 Downie directly across from Hudson’s the largest store on the block. The owner of 138 has no intentions of selling as they have a very good tenant that has been there 14 years.
Although the owner of Hudson’s, who also has several properties in this area, prefers no changes he selected the Square at the front as he concluded a sign will direct a customer to his store but a sign cannot replace a parking space.
Wellington Street between Brunswick and St. Patrick
The merchants in this area felt the need to maintain parking but were also concerned about closing Wellington Street beside City Hall as it eliminates vehicular traffic from Ontario to get to their store without going around the block along Albert to Waterloo. The Square at the back does not close the streets on each side of City Hall and vehicles can continue to drive down Wellington via Downie from Ontario. However, once they are on Wellington where to park is substantially reduced. The loss of parking behind City Hall would put a greater demand on the existing convenient street parking in front of the stores forcing vehicles to seek parking elsewhere and walking back to this area.
Although the Square at the front closes the streets on each side of City Hall it improves pedestrian movement to flow to this end of Wellington Street. As noted previously, west bound traffic from Downie to Erie via St. Patrick will expose this part of Wellington to higher vehicular traffic. Any traffic coming from Ontario down Downie will see this part of Wellington at Albert and determine that it is just a matter of going around the block to get there. Signage at both Waterloo and Erie on Ontario is proposed to promote and direct traffic to this part of the ‘Hub’.
Adjusting the angle of the parking to be more perpendicular, to match the angle of the cross walk to Market Place, will increase the number of parking spaces in this block.
The restaurants in this block prefer to keep the parking behind City Hall for their customers. The businesses are mixed on whether this parking is required. The Owner of Bard’s, the restaurant that is currently in renovations located at the center of the block, compared the removal of the parking in front of his restaurant the same as removing the parking at Crabby Joes, disastrous for the customer and the business. The zoning by-law requires one parking space for every four seats in a restaurant. The 71 spaces behind City Hall would be adequate for a 284 seat restaurant. Bard’s has seating for 404.
The franchisee of Pizza Pizza requires the parking behind City Hall for his take out customers but also for his delivery drivers. One of the reasons Pizza Pizza chose this location was for the proximity to the people that use the buses.
One of the merchants commented that the back was bigger than the front so fewer people could attend a staged performance such as a concert in the Square at the front. Although the area of the square at the back and the square at the front including the sides of City Hall are about the same the area, the area of the back is bigger than the area of just the front of City Hall by 65%. For an event where you allow 10 square feet per person if they are standing the back could accommodate 3,650 persons and the front would have 2,200 persons.
Points to consider: our largest theatre has a seating capacity of 1,833 persons, events at the rear would stage at the back of City Hall restricting the rear exit stair and accessible entrance to City Hall, the removable stage for events at the front would be on the steps of City Hall although it blocks the front entrance, this entrance is not a required exit, the grade at the front or rake slopes towards the stage like most performance venues where at the back it slope away from the stage, events at the front can occur during City Hall business hours as the building has an accessible entrance to transit and parking lot behind City Hall, the Tourism Office is on the Square at front so it can be used to service and monitor events, the Tourism Office could be renovated to add washrooms to accommodate such an event at the front, the auditorium of City Hall could be used as the green room or dressing rooms for the performers in the event, additional facilities to support an event at the front could be located at the sides of City Hall, with an event at the front parking and transit is immediately available at the rear of City Hall.
John Fisher shared the same view as Andy Theocharis and Lee Helperin that there should not be any changes but if a Square was to be developed there should be no loss in convenient street parking. For that reason he chose the Square at the front. He did question, as many others have, if the street width could accommodate two way traffic and perpendicular parking on one side. John was also concerned about the street closures to create the Square at the front and sides of City Hall because other communities that have closed streets to create street malls have reopened the streets due to the loss of business in those blocks.
The width of streets where perpendicular parking is proposed, range in width from 40 to 42 feet (12.2 to 12.8 metres). With the Downie and Wellington Street closures, the streets are no longer through streets. Although, one can still drive from one block to another, the purpose of using the street changes from a route to go through downtown to a parking aisle to park downtown. The parking requirements of the Zoning By-law require 6.0 metres of width for a two way parking aisle and a 5.5 – 6.0 metres depth for the parking space for a total of 11.5 -12.0 metres. The exiting street widths permit a parking aisle that is about 6.8m wide. Most vehicles will park with the front edge over the curb by a foot (0.3 metres) so the clear width of the parking aisle would be about 7.1 metres (23.3 feet). This is wider than two of the four lanes on some sections of Ontario Street which are about 20.2 feet wide.
The pedestrian street mall has failed in many communities as the length was too long and any business that was not close to the end, where there was drive by traffic and parking, did fail. As noted earlier, the merchants on the Square at the front and sides of City Hall believe, since drive by traffic and convenient street parking is close and visible, it is still convenient to their customers.