In an effort to increase foot traffic, support local businesses, host outdoor events and help the climate by reducing car emissions, Downtown St. Catharines has been implementing a promenade on two of its busiest streets.
By blocking the entrances and exits of James and St. Paul Streets every Friday from 4 p.m to 11 p.m and Saturdays from 10 a.m to 11 p.m, cars aren’t able to ride through them or park on the shoulders of the streets. This adjustment has been implemented since June 3 and is scheduled to last until Oct. 1 of this year.
The city has been playing around with the idea of open, car-free streets since 2018, however, COVID-19 prompted an expansion for 2020. The idea has been met with some positive feedback, especially back in 2020 and 2021 with COVID-19 restrictions. Bigger groups and families seemingly enjoyed the promenade.
“We’ve definitely seen a lot more families come out; which is fantastic,” said Rachel Braithwaite, the current executive director of the Downtown St. Catharines Association.
It’s also a plan to help the environment and climate. “The proposed benefits are numerous, for economic reasons, we want to improve the perception of downtown to make it more walkable, more family-friendly and there are environmental benefits that come with that, reducing car emissions is an example of one,” said Braithwaite.
Walkable streets have an additional benefit in that they can also make people try out new businesses and places they would otherwise drive past.
“When you’re having people walk to the business as opposed to having people park right in front of it, it increases the likelihood of people going into a business they may have never seen before. People might go “Oh! There’s a coffee shop” which they otherwise might have not noticed if they were in a car,” said Braithwaite.
The promenade used the 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. slot on Fridays to catch the dinner crowd and a 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. slot on Saturdays due to the consumer traffic on the first day of the weekend. However, the response from both businesses and the community has been mixed.
“It depends on the businesses and what they do…” said Braithwaite. “Some of our businesses that do sidewalk sales or extended patios have benefited and they are definitely supporters, however, some of our other businesses who are more dependent upon car access; such as SkipTheDishes and Uber drivers, or businesses that require delivery or pickup vehicles are unfortunately not as supportive.”
Overall, the concept of the promenade, unfortunately, isn’t here to stay; “We got a lot of pushback this year,” said Braithwaite.
“I personally feel we jumped too far, too soon. COVID-19 restrictions made businesses need the extra space on the street. It’s a different case this year, however, businesses don’t need that and we’re seeing less uptake on patios on the street, and less uptake on sidewalk sales, which means businesses are not benefiting as much. Unfortunately, because of that, we have received negative feedback for the promenade, which means we’re probably going to reduce car-free streets or not implement them entirely.”
The limited accessibility was also a concern for some members of the community:
“If you’re older or in a mobility device, you couldn’t park or get dropped off right in front of businesses…I would prefer if we could figure out a way to mitigate that–like maybe we do designated accessibility parking, or have rickshaw drivers help bring people in–I think we could’ve gotten a bit creative, the challenge is often time, capacity and money,” said Braithwaite.
The fate of the Downtown St. Catharines promenade in future years has not been officially decided just yet, however, considering the negative feedback it’s been exposed to, it looks almost certain to be a thing of the past.