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'Phenomenal' idea or hardship?: Newmarket to test making Main Street section pedestrian-only
July 26, 2021

From Paris, London and Glasgow to Miami Beach, Quebec City and Tokyo, communities around the world have created pedestrian-only streets banning cars.

Is Newmarket next?

The town is considering a pilot project -- possibly this year but more likely in 2022 -- that would see a section of Main Street become pedestrian-only for a set period of time not yet determined.

The area would be from Water Street to either Botsford Street or Park Avenue, and the pilot project would only be approved after the town, including Coun. Bob Kwapis, consults with the Business Improvement Area (BIA), business owners and residents, Mayor John Taylor said.

Taylor, who has studied the idea for years, said it could eventually mean closing the section of Main Street to traffic in July and August every year.

The “pedestrianization” of Main Street is one of the town’s strategic priorities for this term of council.

“I’m a very big fan of this idea,” said Taylor, who argues Newmarket has the benefit of a Main Street separate from Yonge Street that allows for pedestrianization, as well as surrounding thriving Riverwalk Commons and Fairy Lake to build on.

“I honestly believe strongly that this will put Newmarket’s Main Street even more firmly on the map. It will become a major destination. It will drive significant business. When you see pedestrianization done correctly, obviously in Europe but even in the U.S. concept, it can be a real draw.”

“Done correctly” means putting amenities in place, bringing in street performers and tying it to festivals and events to make Main Street a destination place, Taylor said.

Downtown business owners are split on whether prohibiting traffic is a great idea or a hardship.

Boris Fong, owner of Hungry Brew Hops, Lil’ Brew Hops and Hop Bop Noodle Shop, thinks it’s a “phenomenal” idea that would allow restaurants to put up or expand patios onto the street without permits.

“I love it. It’s going to draw more people to the area. It’s obviously going to be good for business for everybody,” he said.

It definitely wouldn't be good for business for everybody, Paul Knappett, owner of Knappett Jewellers, and Patricia Carmichael, owner of Carmichael Hair Design and Day Spa, said.

Many of their customers -- seniors, people with disabilities, bridal parties, those who want to get into their stores quickly in bad weather -- need to be dropped off at the front door or park nearby.

“This (making Main Street pedestrian-only) has been talked about for 50 years. It’s not the first time it’s come up. But I think we do need traffic flow here. You need vehicle traffic,” Knappett said.

“We’ve got sidewalks for the pedestrians, and we’ve got roads for the cars. Just leave it the way it is, I guess.”

Carmichael feels priority shouldn’t be given to the wants of restaurants and bars at the expense of other businesses.

“All business matters,” Carmichael said, adding she doesn’t mind closing Main Street to traffic on long weekends.

“We’re being left behind. Is this just going to be a restaurant street? Is it just going to be a bar scene here all the time?”

Carmichael said she already deals with tipsy bar patrons who vomit on her building, drop cigarette butts on her doorway and make life unpleasant late into the night for tenants living above stores.

BIA chair Tom Hempen wants proper consultation with businesses before any decisions are made.

“We need to come up with a solid plan where we have some events going on down here to make it a destination, where people come down, and we have an art show on the street, we have buskers on the street, we have vendors on the street,” he said.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s give people stuff to do and stuff to see. Just putting out a sidewalk sale, that’s so 1970s.”