You can't make this stuff up: a parking study finds that parking utilization has declined since 2005 but we still need a new parking garage.
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 16, 2013
this article has been updated
From the Supercrawl Buzzkill Department: Only in Hamilton could we commission a report that concludes there isn't enough parking downtown.
A Downtown Parking Study Update [PDF] being presented to the Planning Committee tomorrow says the downtown core, bounded by Queen, Cannon, Wellington and Hunter will need additional parking in the next five years, particularly in the Bay/King and King William/John areas.
The study, prepared by consultant MMM Group Ltd, updates the inventory of downtown parking after the 2008 Downtown Transportation Plan Five Year Review.
It determines that overall peak utilization of downtown parking has actually declined from 76 percent in 2005 to just 68 percent in 2012, yet still manages to conclude that we need to build new parking structures.
Again, only in Hamilton.
The Bay/King area is expected to reach 85 percent peak occupancy in five years, while King William/John is expected to reach 84 percent peak occupancy once the lot at John and Rebecca is redeveloped as a public park.
While urban parking economists generally argue that 85 percent occupancy is an ideal utilization rate, allowing for a good balance of effective resource use and accessibility for people looking for parking, MMM's parking study warns that 85 percent is the point at which parking starts to get problematic.
The study suggests that downtown will need a new multi-level parking garage with 500 spaces, at a cost of $20-23 million, to be produced jointly by the City and a private sector partner.
It is not yet clear whether this is connected to Wilson-Blanchard's demolition permit request for the commercial building at 20 Jackson Street West. The persistent rumour circulating around this building has been that the property owner wants to demolish it and build a parking garage in its place.
Astonishingly, it actually recommends not letting the Hamilton Downtown Mosque expand its operations with a school, retail shops, offices and immigrant reception centre because it's too important to retain the land around King William and John for surface parking.
I'm at a loss to understand how anyone could possibly conclude that having ample space for people to park is more important or valuable to the downtown than actually having destinations that are worth going to.
For the past several decades, we've been demolishing buildings - indeed, whole city blocks - to make room for parking, and it only accelerated the decline from which downtown is only now finally starting to emerge.
We've got a long way to go before downtown Hamilton starts to approach a density of land use that warrants concern about parking availability. Even so, the City's anemic downtown growth target - from 218 people+jobs per hectare to 250 people+jobs per hectare in 2031 - is a mere 15 percent increase over two decades.
Frankly, Hamilton should be looking to quadruple its downtown density, but our retrograde planners can't even countenance doubling it. They already rejected a modest density target of 400 people+jobs per hectare because it would threaten the city's sprawl plans if we were too successful at accommodating more people within the urban boundary.
The target reflects the City's GRIDS overall intensification approach, which follows sprawl-as-usual for as long as possible and almost entirely back-loads the bare-minimum intensification rate into the last years of the Province's Places to Grow planning horizon.
This practice of setting middling future goals and then maintaining the status quo for as long as possible is embedded deep in the city's planning practices. Consider the opening statement in the the Rationale for Recommendation section of the parking study:
The vitality of the Downtown core is dependent, in part, on readily available parking for visitors and customers, and while the long-term objective is to reduce dependency on the automobile and to promote alternative modes of transportation, the City is under increasing pressure to provide more parking to support development and revitalization of the Downtown.
This one sentence exemplifies exactly what is wrong with the City's ideology of land use and urban revitalization. Reducing automobile dependency is a future goal, and so successive reports and committee decisions continually punt the job of actually designing a city that is less automobile dependent to some unspecified future.
The way to make a city less automobile dependent is through an ongoing process of hundreds and even thousands of decisions, large and small, that steadily and incrementally shift the balance of incentives away from driving. This is how, for example, Vancouver managed to nearly double its downtown population while reducing driving by 30 percent.
But that's not what we do in Hamilton. We widen streets, add lanes, maintain multi-lane one-way traffic flows, synchronize traffic lights and enforce minimum parking requirements, all on the spurious reasoning that traffic reduction is a future goal but right now we still need to design for the status quo.
Developer Harry Stinson actually had to set the main floor of his planned Hamilton Grand hotel condo at Main and John back from the street because Public Works wants the option to widen Main Street beyond the five lanes it already consumes. You can't make this stuff up.
There are rare exceptions, of course, like the recent decision to add protected two-way bike lanes on Cannon Street. But such decisions are notable by their sharp contrast with the prevailing pattern, and they are made possible only through huge, broad-based citizen campaigns involving intensive volunteer work and thousands of participants.
The whole point of transportation demand management is to reduce driving, but it's clear that the City doesn't really believe in it. We're the proverbial lip-service dieter who keeps loosening his belt.
Our daily/hourly parking rates are lower than other Canadian cities (and City-owned parking rates are the cheapest), while the cost of an HSR monthly pass is almost twice as expensive as the cheapest monthly parking permit.
We get the city we design for. As long as we keep designing for driving, we will continue to have a driveable city. If we want a liveable city instead of a driveable city, we need to make different planning decisions. It's that simple.