Study ponders parking lots outside city core

Alternative forms of transportation and better parking options downtown make up the recommendations coming out of the citys major downtown parking study.
Alternative forms of transportation and better parking options downtown make up the recommendations coming out of the citys major downtown parking study.

Consultants with Boulevard Transportation Group unveiled their proposed draft plan Wednesday for city officials and council.

They subsequently took it to an evening open house at The Old Fire Hall, to which a dozen or so people dropped in.

Were taking a two-pronged approach here, city planner Ben Campbell told reporters during a Wednesday morning media briefing on the document.

The effort focused directly on parking issues and the ambition to take vehicles off the road in favour of other transportation modes.

It was through a series of meetings, parking surveys and questionnaires that Boulevard found theres a need to deal with the high number of vehicles parked in the downtown core through the day.

A survey done last June found a 64-per-cent demand for on-street spots peaking between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

While certain areas experience peak occupancy as high as 90 per cent, such as Main Street between First Avenue and Fourth Avenue, overall supply is meeting demand, notes a backgrounder on the study.

It also found that a number of all-day parkers take up on-street spaces designed for short-term users. In doing so, they impede shoppers and other adjacent residents ability to park, it was noted.

Consultant Mike Skene said the issues, and resulting recommendations, could be sorted into four categories: sustainability, on-street parking, off-street parking and city policies.

By moving to sustainable ways of dealing with traffic, the need for parking spots shrinks.

Recommendations through the draft plan would see improvements to sidewalks, bike paths and moving forward on improving the transit system.

As Campbell pointed out, the city is already working on major changes to the transit system designed to get more people using the buses through a more convenient system.

Preliminary talks have already also begun with major employers. Those discussions could see transit passes provided to employees as an incentive, though, as Campbell stressed, there have only been talks so far, with no decisions on how the passes would be funded.

The results were positive, Campbell said of the first talks. The next step will be developing a more detailed communication piece to look at exactly what would be involved with it.

One of the biggest issues in on-street parking are those who park for the day in short-term spaces, thereby leaving few spots open to businesses customers.

Skene noted the possibility of changes to the one-hour and two-hour parking spots in an effort to prevent spill-over parking in residential areas.

Theres a definite demand for off-street parking, with between 275 and 300 vehicles requiring the spots on any given day. Within 10 years, that demand could expand to between 500 and 575 parking spots.

That scenario could change should people opt for alternative forms of transportation, Skene pointed out, though he also noted the need to manage the issue.

The proposed parkade at Third Avenue and Steele Street could also provide a number of off-street spots.

Earlier this year, the city rezoned its parking lot there after developer Tippy Mah wanted to purchase the site for a multi-level parkade with commercial operations on the ground level.

The city must go through a tender process on the sale, but first rezoned the property to allow for a multi-level parkade.

With the citys focus largely on land development this summer, city planning manager Mike Gau said officials are still drafting the tender documents for the sale of the land.

The proposal, however, may not sit within the parking plan, if it goes ahead as planned.

Skene noted one of the recommendations proposes that parking lots be outside the periphery of the downtown core, either north of Alexander Street or south of Hawkins Street.

If that recommendation is adopted, Skene said consideration would also have to be given to a shuttle, transit or improvements for walkers or others getting from the parking garage to the downtown core.

City policies and regulations can also go a long way to addressing parking in the downtown sector, it was noted.

Boulevard consultant Daniel Casey pointed out zoning bylaws, the citys reserve parking fund and continued work on the cash-in-lieu provisions for property owners that cant provide the required spaces could all be factors in planning for parking in the future.

He pointed as an example to the reserve fund potentially opening up to projects that would encourage alternative forms of transportation as a way of getting more vehicles off the road, therefore reducing the need for parking.

Boulevard will seek the input of city officials and the public before coming back to the city with a final plan, likely towards the end of the year, for council to adopt.

Campbell said the draft recommendations were planned to be available on the citys website by today. 
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