AS THE world moves towards a less carbon reliant and more efficient future, the design and implementation of better transportation and congestion policy must be forefront in our decision-making.
Noted by the Squamish BIA parking survey, downtown has a parking problem. Drivers clog the streets circling for parking access while 151 parking spaces on Cleveland remain occupied during peak hours. The world has found Squamish and it’s getting crowded.
Parking infrastructure has long been a divisive argument among citizens. Despite a desire to chip away at climate change, Squamish is car reliant. We lack regional transportation, and sit on the cusp of affordable local transit options. In opposition to environmental goals, we demand parking be free, abundant and pole position. What if the problem in Squamish is not too little parking, but too many cars? Consider that free parking actually increases motor use. [manual_related_posts]
The United Nations predicts that by 2050, 66 per cent of the world’s population will be urban. Population growth is happening at a faster rate in lower density areas for reasons of affordability and lifestyle. We need plans for growth, and ways to manage our land resources with efficiency and fairness.
Parking is not a sexy political conversation. Merely discussing metered parking is political kryptonite. Promises of “free” often get politicians voted in. Valuing on-street parking spaces based on market values can mitigate poor air quality, reduce congestion, and encourage active transportation choices. The environmental impact of congestion affects everyone. Free parking contributes to pollution, accidents and congestion. When a street is congested, it is unpleasant. Road widening doesn’t increase flow, and building more spaces will never ensure everyone free parking. Willingness to consider active transit may.
Cars are parked 95 per cent of the time. Drivers use cars as if parking comes at no expense. The result is congestion and higher housing costs due to less density. By some estimates, every dollar that a driver spends on their car, the public bears .50 cents in parking costs.Parking is a public resource, and has been paid for by the commons instead of the user. What if we spent parking revenue on education or health?
Some, including myself, have argued for a centralized parking structure. This option costs over $8.56 million to build not including land acquisition, displaces tax-paying commerce, and people will still circle for free parking. Bylaw enforcement of two-hour parking by chalking is expensive. Weak enforcement invites abuse while strong enforcement discourages shoppers.
There are 2,300 parking spaces in downtown Squamish. The complaint has been “not enough”. Congestion happens on one block of Cleveland Avenue, which, by all other global standards should be a place for interactive, human-scaled design, not maximizing cars. One solution is peak-period parking charges. These have been successfully piloted in cities all over North America. During congested periods, the charge for parking spaces increases. Ideal occupancy is 85 per cent. Higher turnover means more customers in shops and restaurants. Studies of the ‘park smart’ initiative showed that more shoppers were brought into the area increasing revenue to the shops. Meters have more enemies than friends, but the assumption people will choose differently because of pay parking is not true. A mall provides a different experience than a well designed downtown transformed by its vitality.
Not unlike fossil fuel arguments, do we continue to increase car-centric infrastructure despite a future consisting of shared transit resources and driverless cars? With advents in technology, the parking industry has undergone massive changes; the ability to collect by licence plate, remote applications, solar-based meters, and the internet have allowed for many options to efficiently collect fees.
Market charge for parking is one solution. Longer-term needs are better public transit, safe active transportation, increase in handicappedparking spaces, and human-scaled development. Pushing the status quo in politics can end you on the third rail. For the climate, policy must lead for behaviour to change.