Downtown Bureau

Downtown Parking Study Recommends More Parking

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. Update: not only in Hamilton after all.

New Parking Garage

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.

Parking or Destinations

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.

Faulty Ideology

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.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 09:36:04

Great post. Had no idea an HSR permit costs that much more than downtown parking.

Maybe Hamilton's suffering from the Pensacola Parking Syndrome?

Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk & Jeff Speck coined the term for cities & municipalities that tear down so many buildings to create parking spaces that people stop going there because it's no longer an appealing place to visit.

Any chance the new condos going up and the businesses opening downtown can buy parking spots in the underutilized municipal lots rather than build their own?

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By Brad (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 14:37:47 in reply to Comment 92191

Pensacola? I think we invented that.

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 09:44:05

This would surely have made Tom Murphy's presentation even more colourful. Like you said "you can't make this stuff up".

Comment edited by Core-B on 2013-09-16 09:45:55

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 16, 2013 at 09:53:12

There is a much simpler way to reduce the city's parking occupancy percentage without building a single lot: Raise the all-day parking rates and let the elasticity of demand do the rest. To people who complain it will kill their business downtown: no, your customers pay the hourly rate. They want more meter parking and meter-like pricing structures.

We're saying this is a limited resource, we're talking about spending millions to fix it, but nobody is talking about the obvious solution: raise the parking price that applies to commuters - they're the people who are already getting the best deal on parking downtown anyways. I mean, even if occupancy is maxing out, why is our pricing structure saying "$2/hour for people who want to stay for only a few hours to get some shopping or an appointment done, $0.75 an hour for people who take up the parking spot for the whole darned workday". And that's not even mentioning the monthly rates that hover around $55/mo. $55/mo over (average) 22 workdays at 8 hours a day is $0.31/hr.

Want to get that parking usage down below 85%? Stop charging a quarter and a nickel per hour. The commuters are paying per day what the consumers are paying per hour.

Of course, the problem is the private lots will eat the city's lunch, and reducing competitive pressure from the municipality will mean more incentive to create and preserve private lots. Which means the city would have to start giving the private lots a hard time (taxes, enforcing the moratorium on new surface-level lots). And that sounds like work.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2013-09-16 10:02:14

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By higgicd (registered) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:23:30

The part about the Mosque development is particularly disgusting - especially the last paragraph. I want to repeat it straight from the report here. Good ol Hamilton City Planning - getting Rapid Ready and willing to spend tens of millions to ensure no one has to walk too far to their parking lot.

Unintended Consequence - Downtown Mosque

There is an unintended consequence of the Parking Study which will negatively impact a valued downtown stakeholder. This Study has identified that the area bounded approximately by Rebecca, King, Ferguson and John will reach practical capacity (demand will exceed supply) within ten years, should both the parking lot at 140 King William be redeveloped for another use and Municipal Carpark #1 (John and Rebecca) is redeveloped as a public park. Therefore, from a parking perspective it would be prudent to retain 140 King William for parking purposes to ensure adequate public parking in this area of Downtown.

Discussions have been held over the last several years with the Hamilton Downtown Mosque about their expansion plans. Parties to these discussions have included Councillor Morelli, former Councillor Bratina, Councillor Farr, the City Manager, Economic Development staff, and Hamilton Police Services. The Mosque owns a building and leases parking from the City at the corner of Wilson and Catharine Streets. Their desire was to obtain the Ontario Realty Corporation (ORC) and GO Transit lands adjacent to them, such that they would essentially own the full block bounded by Catharine, Wilson, Mary and Rebecca. Their expansion plans include not only an expanded Mosque and parking area, but a school, retail shops, offices and new immigrant reception centre. These uses are all compatible and, in fact, highly desirable from the neighbourhood and City building perspective. Unfortunately the lands they were interested in acquiring, and were having discussions with some City representatives about, were already being acquired by the City for Hamilton Police Services. These lands were eventually acquired in 2011 for the purpose of constructing a future forensics lab.

In an effort to accommodate the plans of the Mosque, in early 2012 discussions were initiated between the Police Services Board (PSB) and the Mosque, with the City at the table, which would have seen the PSB switch their plans for a future lab to the municipal parking lot at 140 King William Street (directly across the street from Police Headquarters). There was staff support in principle with the Mosque, in terms of structuring a potential deal where the Mosque would acquire the ORC/GO Transit lands from the City, at the same price the City had paid for them, plus an additional amount as may be required if there were any incremental costs to the PSB as a result of moving their project from the ORC/GO lands to the 140 King William parking lot. However, the deal was conditional upon the municipal parking lot being available for redevelopment.

As a result of this Parking Study, it is the opinion of the Hamilton Municipal Parking System that the municipal parking lot is needed for current and future parking needs. It is, therefore, not available for the Police Services’ lab, and the lab reverts to the original intended site, and the Mosque will no longer have a site for their expansion. This is an unfortunate outcome, and Council needs to be aware that this is a group that has been patient for a number of years and is now, understandably, extremely frustrated that they are no further ahead than they were several years ago. City staff will continue to work with them to try and identify a suitable alternate site within close proximity to the existing site. We will also work with them to accommodate additional parking on an interim basis on the Police Services’ land. Staff will also examine the existing on-street parking regulations to see if they still meet operational and neighbourhood needs.

Comment edited by higgicd on 2013-09-16 10:24:26

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:48:10 in reply to Comment 92194

"The Downtown Secondary Plan recognizes parks, squares and open-spaces as valuable assets for Downtown regeneration and designates the block bounded by Rebecca, King William, John and Catharine Streets as parkland. The development of a park in this area of the Downtown will enhance the lifestyle of area residents and add to the value of potential residential development within the vicinity. The park will be constructed in two phases; the first phase being the existing municipally owned parking lot fronting on John and Rebecca Streets; the second phase being the land that fronts on Catharine and King William Streets that currently has two privately-operated businesses located on the property. The second phase of the urban park will be implemented in the future when/if considered economically viable.... The RAP will be implemented in 2010 and the surface re-asphalted allowing the continued use of the property for parking purposes until construction of the urban park commences, currently anticipated to be in 2013. The parking spaces at 76 John Street North will be replaced at the new parking structure planned by the Hamilton Realty Capital Inc. (HRCI) as part of their proposed development at 140 King William Street in keeping with the conditions set-out in City Council’s approval of Report PED09226 at its meeting held August 13, 2009... The Downtown Secondary Plan, Schedule L-7 identifies the land bounded by Rebecca,
John, Catharine and King William Streets as Parks/Open Space. Section of the Plan titled ‘Public Open Spaces’ describes parks as being intended for passive recreational use and special public activities and events. A high standard of design of all
public open spaces is to be achieved to promote comfort, safety, enjoyment, accessibility, a sense of nature and usability. The remediation of the property located at 76 John Street North is required in moving forward with the development of a park in this location."

One barometer for the timeline around John/Rebecca park may be the lot directly to the east, an unremediated brownfield that has sat vacant since the mid-1990s.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:29:59

The parking structure is a great idea if used to reduce/consolidate some of the surface lots so they can be built on. Hopefully that is the case here - where another multilevel parking garage is part of an intensification plan. Like many wonderful urban centers - together with complete streets it gives motorized visitors to downtown a great place to deposit their vehicle and go explore and shop on foot!

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:47:28

Love the current moratorium on surface parking. Also love the idea of actually planning for the future - ala LRT. IF there is a FUTURE need for more downtown parking, then lets plan for it in a proactive way that would design it aesthetically. I.E hide it underground, or design hidden structures behind streetwalls. but as it is right now, I go downtown often, have for many decades, and I've NEVER had trouble finding parking.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 11:30:28

Ryan, any chance that RTH would make a presentation to council (or the planning committee) on this topic when/if it comes up?

I think someone needs to point out how ridiculous this report is - we shouldn't be spending city money on a parking garage of dubious utility when we have so many other unmet needs.

If it's really needed then the private sector would be able to make money off of it and they would build it themselves.

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By Mike (registered) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 12:45:33

Only thing wrong with the article is that there is no such thing as a driveable city. Any city designed for the car will soon become undriveable due to increased traffic congestion.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 12:49:49

I would love to see the city start expropriating private lots for their fair CURRENT market value to put an end to these speculator lots.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2013-09-16 12:50:06

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By rrrandy (registered) - website | Posted September 16, 2013 at 15:19:02

Great analysis as always Ryan - thanks!

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 20:39:30

Here's an idea. How about we add curb side parallel parking on both sides of King, Main, Bay, Queen, Cannon and Hunter with no ridiculous rush hour restrictions. We have so much traffic lane capacity it's ridiculous.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2013 at 08:41:43 in reply to Comment 92223

right on. all of our major streets and side streets should have parking on both sides.

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By ViennaCafe (registered) | Posted September 16, 2013 at 21:51:42

"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."

Too stupid for words.

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By brundlefly (registered) - website | Posted September 17, 2013 at 08:45:04

So the company we contract out to study parking, just happens to make them, what great news.

"MMM has extensive experience in the planning, design and contract administration of multi-level, complex parking structures. The firm has been responsible for parking garages ranging from several hundred to several thousand vehicle capacity, for airports, office buildings, hospitals, shopping centres and other facilities. The firm has participated successfully in parking structure projects as prime consultant and project manager providing complete services, as subconsultant to a lead architect and in joint venture with other consultants to a client-led project management team."

Be nice to hire a firm without any other motivations for something positive in the city for once.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted September 17, 2013 at 09:39:54

Perhaps city hall can sponsor a comedy stage at next years super crawl, obviously there are several very funny people working there!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 17, 2013 at 12:45:49

I have to say that when I first saw the headline "Downtown needs hundreds of new parking spaces: report" I thought it was from the satirical news site Hammer in the News ... and it seemed even more like satire when I discovered that the same report recommends denying a development request because it would mean sacrificing one of Hamilton's precious surface parking lots!

As Ryan, said, you couldn't make this stuff up!

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By Paul Barter (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2013 at 20:01:49

I wrote a post at the Reinventing Parking blog about this issue. Only just found your excellent items here at Raise the Hammer and I have updated my post to link to them.
See my item at

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2013 at 20:51:27

Who would believe it? In a city that where transportation is dominated by cars, in a country where transportation is dominated by cars that there would be a demand for for a drivable city? Does anybody find that hard to believe? I don't and the majority of the populace doesn't. But then again the majority of the populace gets around by car. Strange but true.

Only at RTH

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By TROLL all over again (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2013 at 08:04:15

Who would believe it? In a troll whose worldview is dominated by cars, that his comment would demand that Hamilton remain a driveable city. Does anyone used to your comments find that hard to believe? I don't and the majority of people who are used to your nonsense don't. But then again, the majority of your comments get around without ever questioning your own close minded assumptions. Strange but true.

Only at LOL

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 22:19:54 in reply to Comment 92261

My world view is dominated by reality. I never demanded that Hamilton remain a driveable city. I pointed out that most of the people who live in Hamilton use a car as their main mode of transport and that they prefer that Hamilton remains a driveable city. Not very hard to understand but you choose to attack me instead.

Some things never change, especially at RTH.

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