Angle parking survives in downtown Smiths Falls after public backlash

Smiths Falls, Ont., council opted for angle parking on its main street instead of a "complete street" with parallel parking and a bike lane in a close decision Monday evening.

Town council votes against 'complete street' with parallel parking, bike lane

Angle parking will only change a few degrees on Beckwith Street between Elmsley Street and Chambers Street to improve safety while people back out of spots. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Smiths Falls, Ont., town council has decided to keep the distinctive angle parking along the town's main street, despite a push from the mayor for parallel parking and a bike lane on Beckwith Street.

Four councillors at Monday night's meeting were in favour of keeping angle parking as the street gets redeveloped from Elmsley to Chambers streets.

Two councillors and the mayor spoke in favour of the parallel parking option to create a so-called "complete street."

Coun. John Maloney spoke with some emotion about the passion the parking debate had stirred up among citizens — including calls for boycotts of certain businesses for their position.

"Do not penalize a business in this town for our decisions. We're making this decision for everybody and it's really, really hard," Maloney said.

He decided to support angle parking based on the overwhelming feedback he said he'd received from residents, something that was echoed by councillors Joe Gallipeau, Jay Brennan and Dawn Quinn.

Angle parking will be preserved as the city replaces sewer infrastructure under the main street, adds crosswalks and two raised intersections and creates a "gateway" into town at Beckwith and Elmsley streets.

The town now has to put out a tender for the construction work. It has plans to start construction in 2019.

Coun. Chris Cummings said the parallel parking option would have saved the municipality money, however, the debate over parking style hijacked a discussion about the future of downtown Smiths Falls.

"I think it's a serious mistake and it's put us way back. However, I respect that democracy being the way it is, other councillors preferred a different style and that's the way it's going to be," Cummings said.

Pro-parallel parking Coun. Lorraine Allen left before the final vote Monday evening, making the final result 4-2.

Mayor Shawn Pankow said the redesign was a generational opportunity and that he wished the vote had gone differently, but change would still be coming to Beckwith Street.

From left to right: Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow, Coun. Lorraine Allen and Coun. Chris Cummings all spoke in favour of the option for Beckwith Street that included parallel parking. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

'An incomplete street'

​The gallery of town council chambers filled up for Monday night's decision.

About a dozen people let out a smattering of applause as councillors spoke in favour of retaining angle parking.

Vince Hamilton, a Smiths Falls resident, says he is happy that angle parking is being preserved in the redevelopment of Beckwith Street. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Vince Hamilton said the parallel parking plan would have had people exiting their cars into a bike lane and that would be no solution for safety or accessibility concerns with angle parking.

"By shoving everything into [the wide street we have], you would end up with an incomplete street. You didn't have a good bike lane, you didn't have a street for patios. You had terrible accessibility with parallel parking onto a bike lane," Hamilton said.

"We have a beautiful street, I'd like to keep it."

The proposal from Parsons would have converted angle parking into parallel parking spots to make way for a separated cycle track and streetscaping. (Smiths Falls Council Agenda)

Barb Lavier was among the people happy with council's decision. She grew up in Smiths Falls and had been actively following the issue, though she said she wished it hadn't happened because of all the division it created.

"Honestly, I never even considered it would be an option to change from our angle parking. It's what we're known for. So when it was an issue, I was really dumbfounded by that," Lavier said.

She said there has been very little use of bike lanes on streets and there is no reason for the lanes to be added on the Beckwith Street.

An illustration of how angle parking works. (Smiths Falls Council Agenda)

'Toxic environment'

Chris McGuire, who grew up in Smiths Falls and recently moved back from Montreal, said the vote was "extremely disappointing" and a step back for plans for waterfront and downtown development.

"There's businesses downtown that were afraid to come forward with their chosen stance because people were talking about boycotting businesses that supported parallel parking," McGuire said. 

"That really corrupted the conversation and created a toxic environment to make the decision."

Chris McGuire said the proposal for parallel parking on bike lanes would have been a step forward for downtown Smiths Falls. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

McGuire, who is also involved in the town's heritage committee, said changing angle parking was the next logical evolution of the street, which at one time allowed parking down the middle of the street.

McGuire said he hopes neighbours will come together in the aftermath of the decision.