With 68% peak usage and falling, the last thing downtown needs is more parking, but that hasn't stopped some of our leaders from deciding we have a shortage.
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 21, 2014
A CBC Hamilton article about a proposal by Councillor Jason Farr to sell a public parking lot downtown to a developer includes a bizarre statement by Marty Hazell, the City's Director of Parking and Bylaw Services.
But downtown does have a shortage of parking, Hazell said, and that's "definitely a concern. There are very few underutilized lots downtown."
Wait, what? What kind of nonsense is this?
A Downtown Parking Study Update presented to Council last September found that peak utilization of downtown parking was only 68 percent in 2012. In other words, when our downtown parking lots are at their busiest, they have 32 percent vacancy.
Excessive parking in downtown Hamilton
That 2012 peak utilization of 68 percent is actually down from 76 percent in 2005. Yes, you read that right: peak parking usage in downtown Hamilton has declined over the past seven years of the study.
Nevertheless, the study, by transportation consultant MMM Group, recommended building two new parking structures downtown, one in the Bay/King area and one in the King William/John area.
This is because the report projects that peak parking utilization in those two areas will increase to 85 percent and 84 percent, respectively, over the next five years.
Urban parking economists generally argue that 85 percent peak occupancy is an ideal utilization rate, because it optimizes the use of spaces while still allowing entry and exit.
In other words, even if peak parking does increase as the MMM Group study expects, it will increase toward the optimum level, not away from it.
Beyond that, even if parking does start to become scarce, the solution is not to add still more of it but rather to adjust demand via pricing.
Right now, parking downtown can be had for as little as $4 a day, which is the same as a two-way bus trip using a Presto card or around three-quarters the cost of two cash fares. Monthly parking costs as little as $50, which is just over half the cost of a monthly HSR pass.
When you can park downtown all day for less than the cost of taking the bus - and when downtown parking is still only two-thirds full at peak capacity - the market problem is an unhealthy glut, not a shortage.
Indeed, so much of the downtown has already been demolished for parking that the real shortage is a lack of actual destinations worth going to.
So how on earth can anyone - least of all a director in the City's Department of Planning and Economic Development - come to the conclusion that we don't have enough parking downtown?
Has Marty Hazell actually walked around the desolate wasteland of asphalt north of King William and east of Hughson? I understand his area of responsibility includes parking, but as a director of planning and economic development, wouldn't he rather see these city blocks filled with, I don't know, buildings rather than half-empty parking lots?
Even a three-storey building would generate ten times as much property tax revenue as a parking lot, not to mention providing homes, offices and amenities that will also generate value, boost the city's economic output and increase the number of people living, working and playing downtown.
It is long past time for our leaders to abandon the persistent suburban mindset that has brutalized and deformed our downtown for the past several decades.
with files from Nicholas Kevlahan
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