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Newmarket putting downtown pedestrian-only pilot on hold

Newmarkettoday.ca
April 27, 2022

Newmarket resident and musician Glenn Marais said he would like to see the town give a pedestrian-only Main Street a chance.

While there are some detractors, he said the idea should be explored.

“Let’s consider it as a possibility,” he said. “What if it’s really successful, and helps the businesses down there, it helps the whole vibe of the street? It would be a lot of fun," said Marais, who has played with his band, Glenn Marais and The Mojo Train, at downtown events over the years.

After plans to kickstart community conversation about a pilot project, the town said it is putting a pilot on hold this year due to pandemic recovery and other matters taking attention.

Mayor John Taylor advocated for a pedestrianization pilot last November to the BIA¬† and had said the town would look to have talks with businesses about it in February. Exploring the idea is also one of council’s strategic priorities and was included in its economic development strategy in May 2021.

But that will go somewhat unfulfilled before this term of council expires, with a municipal election in the fall.

“With Main Street businesses still in a COVID-19 recovery phase and so much else going on, the town will not be pursuing a downtown street closure pilot this year,” the municipality said, adding it would work with the BIA on a couple of smaller street closures this summer.

The debate over the idea has gone on for years and reared its head again on a community Facebook post April 23, with more than 300 comments.

Jackie Playter of Roadhouse and Rose said she is not opposed to exploring the idea, though she does not think it would work well for Main Street. She said some businesses could struggle without road access, and some elderly could face challenges walking the distance to do things like picking up prescriptions.

“I just don’t think it’s right,” she said, adding many stores do not have back entrances. “You’re cutting off their lifeline.”

She added that it would likely be a boon for restaurants and bars that could expand patios, but it would not do the same for all businesses.

Marais said he thinks concerns could be worked through, and it could be limited in terms of timing or portion of the street closed. He said he understand the town’s caution but added it could have been a way to help boost businesses.

“Businesses are probably in a fragile state,” he said, but added that “sometimes, you have to think outside of the box, especially when you’re coming out from the pandemic.”

Playter said she is OK with the pilot getting put off for this year as someone opposed to the concept. But she said a community discussion will be important before any pilot goes ahead.

“They really need to pay attention to the people when we have valid reasons why it shouldn’t be closed, and maybe valid reasons why it should,” Playter said. “Let’s just hope we can all get together, discuss and decide what’s the best for Main Street.”

“It would be a shame if (the conversation is) completely shut down in the future,” Marais said. “A lot of people would really welcome the idea.”