Solving the Parking/Crowding Problems Will Be 2021’s Thorniest Challenge

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The most compelling part of MNBP Council’s Dec 21 Meeting came under “Correspondence” — a letter from Elaine Blau, who lives on Grant Watson Drive in Tobermory,

She asked if Council and staff had “decided on a no car-parking plan for the turnaround? [at the end of Grant Watson Drive]. If you need more information from the neighbourhood residents, we are prepared to assist at any time. While we know that you have developed a tourism committee, we feel that for reasons already stated, (turnaround too small, the end of our road does not access a formal Parks tourist facility, identified by you already: it lacks space for cars) this is not an item for that group. Our sense is that this is not a complicated question and we are hoping that we can have a plan in place by January and implementation well before the tourism season. Please do not refer this to the Tourism committee. A decision can be made by you. It is in no one’s interest to carry on with the status quo at this location.”

You could feel Council’s shoulders slump. What followed was not an argument. It was the sound of five people reluctantly trying to solve an impossible puzzle.

Councillor Megan Myles noted how clear the letter was in asking that this not be deferred to the Tourism Advisory Board. It’s an emergency turnaround. Mayor McIver did not disagree but pointed out that Council has promised to deal with this but not as a one-off. “Then we need a policy,” Councillor Myles replied. Mayor McIver stated he thought Council was going to have a meeting to deal with the McCurdy Road lot, Little Cove Road, Big Tub Road, Cape Chin South. We need to make a decision as to how we’re going to move forward. Councillor Smokey Golden said that while she sympathized with the situation in summer, Council needs to consider the whole year; Grant Watson Drive and Mermaid’s Cove (aka Burnt Point) are a popular walking path; do we just do something for a couple of months? We have found out how far people are willing to walk. Are we going to put no parking signs all the way down Grant Watson Drive? We have to think about the whole picture. Mayor McIver asked if there is another access? Through the visitor centre perhaps? Not really, he was told.

Councillor Myles suggested that Council needs to find a way to set a limit on the number of people. Mayor McIver picked up on Councillor Golden’s point — you wouldn’t want to say no parking because then locals can’t park there in October. He continued with that thought, musing that the McCurdy Street lot in Lion’s Head (access for the Lion’s Head lookout) is crowded through October and even November. We said we were going to set aside time and solve these problems. 

Coming back to Grant Watson Drive, Mayor McIver asked if the Parks property was off the end of the road. Yes, confirmed Councillor Myles. But parks can’t staff it and neither can the municipality. Councillor Golden commented that when Big Tub Road was closed for three days, people walked all the way from Tobermory. There were masses of people walking on the road.

Mayor McIver and Councillor Jamie Mielhausen both acknowledged that Council was going to have to set aside time to deal with these issues. They didn’t sound particularly hopeful about the outcome.

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2020 might have been the year that the rest of us realized what the residents of Moore Street and Big Tub Road have been putting up with for years. Cars parked so densely that an ambulance or a fire truck couldn’t get through even if your life depended on it. Landscapes strewn with garbage, latrine sites, smoldering barbeque coals and anything else that visitors couldn’t be bothered schlepping back to their cars. 

At some locations, the crowds overflow onto private land. Then there are fireworks being set off on public shorelines, in public parking lots, in the backyard of the Short-Term Rental nextdoor. Evening bonfires big enough to set your hair on fire.

But it’s not just that.

It’s not just the crowding. It’s also the crowding out. It’s locals who can’t go for a walk anymore, who can’t go to the beach anymore, who find their local Bruce Trail segment feels like a subway platform at rush hour.

Can we, as Councillor Myles suggests, find a way to limit numbers? Reserved parking perhaps?

Could we solve two problems at once — limit numbers while offering access for locals? Can we have parking spaces reserved for permit holders? “Parking By Permit Only” is a common sight on streets in Toronto. Why not here?

The municipality banned public parking on Moore Street. The world did not end. They closed Little Cove Road and Big Tub Road during peak crowding periods.

Could we put up a sign at the entrance to Dyers Bay that says “No Public Parking Beyond This Point”? Or maybe a sign on Grant Watson Drive that says “Parking by Permit Only Beyond This Point?” In both cases, that would limit traffic effectively without depriving locals. Or “Parking By Reservation Only Beyond This Point”? With some spaces reserved for permit holders?

We probably need to think outside the box. Because we are definitely in a box. And it’s getting crowded in here.