Diners enjoy a bite to eat outdoors under the beautiful summer sun in downtown Peterborough.
“I really like the chance to put up the patio, it really helps,” said Martin Carbajal, owner of La Mesita Mexican Restaurant on George Street.
For three years now the city has been changing the layout of the downtown in the summer, closing traffic lanes and parking spots so businesses can put out patios.
The changes were initially done for social distancing and to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While they were taken down for the fall season in October, many businesses say they love having the extra room, adding it invites more people into the downtown.
It hasn’t been flawless though, says Carbajal. Some customers are concerned about the lack of parking, and not everyone is using the tables to dine.
“The only issue is the homeless, and they use it to be smoking or doing drugs. And you tell them not to and they get upset,” he added.
The city isn’t sure whether patios will be an annual thing, says city communications director Brendan Wedley, as council has approved it on a year-by-year basis.
“At this point, it hasn’t been determined whether it will become a regular, annual change to the patios, sidewalks and streets in the downtown beyond the current focus on responding to the pandemic and helping businesses recover from the pandemic,” he said.
Responses have been positive, he notes, and “the layout of the changes has been adjusted each year to respond to feedback from businesses, residents and visitors based on their experiences to address concerns when possible.”
In its first iteration, George Street between Brock and King was closed, which only lasted a few days. During the first summer much of George was down to one lane, but in the following years the plan was refined and traffic has been kept at two lanes along the main north-south corridor.
The patios have helped increase business and make the downtown look more vibrant, says Carbajal.
“It makes the downtown look more alive,” he said. “People really like it.”
One thing people don’t like is how much parking spaces it takes up, but Carbajal says he’s not sure what can be done about that.
“Because they close the streets people get upset about it,” he said. “So it would be easier if we had a better plan about parking spots.”
More signage would be helpful, says La Hacienda owner Sandra Lennox, so not only is there more direction for traffic but so people can find businesses easier.
“I liked (the patios) 100-per cent, from what I hear from my customers as well,” said Lennox at her Hunter Street business. “The only issue is parking.”
For the last two years Hunter and Charlotte Streets downtown have been down to one lane during the summer. That means an expanded pedestrian space, but less room for parked cars.
Clearer guidance on which roads are closed and where they can park would be helpful so customers can more easily get to businesses, she says.
The layout with the lane closures can be “confusing, but you have to pay attention,” added Lenox.
Better communication would make things clearer, and perhaps increase the number of visitors downtown, she notes.
Lennox also says she likes the design of the summer streetscapes, with art installations lining the barriers and the murals on the road where pedestrians walk.
“They spent the time to make sure it fits,” she added.