Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The skinny on Parking

So I attended today's Transportation Committee meeting to discuss the surprise change in the City's parking policy.

To recap, the surprise was that the changes to the parking policy were implemented as part of the 2008 budget, with scarcely any consultation. The changes were to eliminate the free evening (after 5:30 p.m.) and weekend parking, and to increase the hourly rate from $2.50 to $3. They would also introduce metered parking to three new areas of the city (on Wellington in Hintonburg, on Beechwood, and in Old Ottawa South).

As a cyclist, I really couldn't have cared less about this decision, except that petitions sprung up everywhere to retain free night and evening parking. I was surprised at how much fire erupted from changes to parking regulations, while the annual transit fare increases never really built up any critical mass of energy. I asked myself, rhetorically, "why aren't there any petitions for free transit service on nights and weekends?"

So two weeks ago, when I learned that there would be a meeting of Transportation Committee to discuss (and possibly reconsider) this move, I immediately e-mailed the committee coordinator and asked to be put on the speaker's list. Even though this was a week before the Committee's agenda came out, I still didn't get a chance to make my delegation until after lunch.

By the start of the meeting, 40 people or groups had registered to make a five-minute delegation, and that number approached 50 toward the remainder of the meeting.

Early on, I could tell that I wasn't going to speak at least until after lunch, so I decided to leave for the morning after the second or third delegation, until lunch. Nevetheless, here are some of my observations:


The meeting started off at around 10:10 a.m. with a fifteen-minute-or-so procedural debate.

One councillor moved a motion to suspend the rules of procedure to consider the item in question (this is because it would be a reconsideration of an earlier decision--the 2008 budget--so required a 3/4 majority to be reconsidered). But another councillor (Jacques Legendre, I believe) wanted to defer this decision until after Committee had heard from the delegations.

Legendre's reasoning for deferral was that if Committee ended up not waiving the rules of procedure, Committee wouldn't be able to hear from the delegations. Of course, if they ended up not waiving the rules of procedure, and therefore couldn't reconsider the parking decision, everybody's time would have been wasted sitting through these delegations.

The motion to defer was defeated, and the motion to reconsider was passed.

Next, City Staff (primarily Michael Flainek of the Traffic and Parking Operations branch) presented their report, which was essentially an exercise in justifying this cash-grab after the fact. (Even though I don't mind the fare raises, I still have to agree that it is a cash-grab, and that it wasn't made democratically)

I didn't pay too much attention to it, but two things caught my ear:
- Apparently, evening parking is nearing capacity (which is a good example of a problem for which fee raises would be a reasonable solution. Revenue generation is a bad example)
- Also, apparently for every 10% raise in parking fees, transit use goes up by 1-2% (I didn't write that one down, but it was along those lines.)


I took note of some of the more memorable points made during delegations.

Lori Mellor, Preston Street BIA: (paraphrased)
- "We want people who commute by car to stop by on their way to and from work" (Though isn't the City's vision to discourage people commuting by car?)
- "The problem on Saturdays is attracting more customers ... many of our stores aren't open on Saturdays" (So parking fares on Saturdays is going to scare away the customers who currently don't come to your closed stores?)

Peggy Ducharme, Downtown Rideau BIA, Mr. Blatherwick, consultant hired by DRBIA: (started 13:15)
- This BIA (and the merchants it represents) is actually calling for metered parking to be added to their area. This is what metered parking is all about: discouraging staff and lingerers from parking on the street all day, and encouraging opportunities for customers to park.
- They also want to "Reclaim curbside space", by removing bus bays and taxi stands. They later elaborated that they want more flexible street use outside of peak hours.
- They also commissioned Mr. Blatherwick (didn't get his first name) to do a study on parking in the area. The study started last spring and is ongoing.
- According to this study, there is an even split of people who park less than three hours and more than three hours. 55% of customers for the area arrive by car, 14-15% by transit. 1/3 of businesses have most business on weekends, 1/3 during the week, and 1/3 spread evenly between weekends and the week.

Jasna Jennings, ByWard BIA: (13:41-14:00)
- They had 5,000 people sign their online petition. This comment was immediately followed up by a comment that "tens of thousands of people" were getting involved in this debate.
- Jasna's spirited comments elicited applause from the peanut gallery.
- Jasna commented that the estimated increase in revenues is $4.1 million, whereas the cost to implement the changes is over $6 million. Councillor Bloess's responded with a comment that one is from the Operating budget and the other from the Capital budget, and Mr. Flainek pointed out that the Pay & Display machines (one of the bigger parts of the $6M figure) typically pay themselves off after 5 years, and last 10-15 years. Nevertheless, both are being incurred in the 2008 budget. I still don't understand this.

Rev. David Crawley, St. George's Anglican Church (Metcalfe & Gloucester):
- The church issue was a popular one. Churches' big day is Sunday, and their parking parishioners may now be forced to pay for parking. This is compounded because 60% of this congregation's members are from outside the core, and therefore "must" drive.
- Later on, on CBC Radio's All In A Day, host Adrian Harewood spent a lot of time talking about the Church issue (note to self: contact these people next time I want to do an SMAP event!)
- Crawley pointed out that it's not just a Sunday issue. There are events on all nights of the week, including choir practise.

Jacques Legendre played a really dastardly trick on the Reverend. He asked, roughly, "Do you have any suggestions to remedy the situation, specifically with regard to churches?"

He didn't specify what "the situation" was. But his question assumed that the fare increase and extension of hours would be implemented, and that "the problem" is that this will harm churches. Really, "the situation" is that this shouldn't have been done in the first place, and "the problem" can be solved by reversing it.

Unfortunately, Crawley took the bait and responded based on the assumption. He said he couldn't respond purely based on the church angle, because it was a much larger issue.

Doug Casey, Charlesfort Developments: (started 14:13)
- As a developer, Casey wants more people to move downtown.
- He promoted smart growth, perhaps the only presenter to use the term. I didn't hear the term "global warming" (or its variants) once the whole time.
- He pointed out that Kent and Lyon have become extensions of the Queensway, and it's difficult to get anybody to feel at home there, or to have a pedestrian-friendly retail area on those streets

It's interesting he talks about Smart Growth though, because one of the points of Smart Growth is that you put residents and commercial areas in the same place. One of the assumptions in this whole debate is that we apparently want people to live in the suburbs and travel all the way downtown to shop. Not only that, but we want them to take their cars to do it!

If you ask me, deterring people from driving downtown could actually encourage more places to open up in the suburbs, closer to where suburbanites live. After all, suburban houses aren't going to go away.

Gerry LePage, Bank Street BIA: (started 14:23)
- As much as I hate what this guy's BIA does and lobby's council for, his speech today was awesome. For once, I actually agreed with pretty much everything he said. Gerry gets the RealGrouchy Award for Creative Grouchiness for this speech. It was loud, angry, and didn't hold back for the sake of pleasantries.
- Gerry started off by pinning this move on suburban councillors. I'm too lazy to check the votes, but I suspect he's right. (The counterargument that "suburbanites pay when they park downtown, too! Is bullshit, if you ask me)
- He also questioned the attention paid on such a meagre figure, paraphrased: "You can't make $4 million out of a $2 billion budget and all of a sudden the City will stop?" (Though I've heard similar amounts of debate over a mere $50,000)
- "This is not a parking issue, not a financial issue, but a community issue." (paraphrased)
- "Bad policy, in part or in whole, is still bad policy." (paraphrased)
- Mr. LePage sits on the City's Business Advisory Committee, and the Committee was never consulted about this, other than the general consultation on the budget. If individual businesses were notified, it was by the BIAs, not by the City.
- The $6 million expense to implement the changes is a known figure, but how do we know about the $4.1 million projected revenue? Since we don't currently charge for those times, how are we able to predict the traffic patterns? Are the traffic estimates used for the revenue estimates from weekday counts or weekend counts? (an EXCELLENT point).
- The Innes Road area (where Mr. LePage owns a pharmacy) has a higher density of retail space than downtown. At what point does a built up area warrant meters? People who shop downtown are paying a surtax to shop there.
- This last point spurred some debate with Innes Ward Councillor Rainer Bloess. Bloess pointed out that these suburban stores have their own parking, which they must pay for, and that expense must be passed on to the customer.
- Unfortunately, Mr. LePage didn't respond as I would have: First, the suburban stores have lower property tax assessments, and therefore lower taxes. Second, (downtown) stores that don't provide parking have to pay cash-in-lieu-of-parking fees to the City.

- Diane Deans had a long response to Mr. LePage's delegation. In my notes, I summarized it with "boo hoo, my feelings are hurt by your tone." Technically, councillors are only supposed to ask questions of delegations, not make points. Deans' "question" went on for a couple of minutes, and Chair McRae didn't cut her off, as she should have (and often does for urban councillors). During her question, the person next to me asked where the question was. I replied to him "It's a suburban question; it has a long commute."

LePage's point, which he iterated in response to Deans' hurt feelings, was this: He wants an equitable parking policy. What is presented here is analagous to a surtax on downtown.

When you factor in the Province's recent refusal to address the property tax inequity, I must say that I agree 100% that suburbs are getting a free ride on the backs of downtowners.


I left after LePage's consultation, but the meeting disposition (a record of what decisions were made, which is available before the formal minutes) is available on the City's website here. The minutes will be posted on this page when they are available.

I saw them this afternoon, and I laughed out loud:

a. that the 2008 rates and hours for on-street parking be adjusted so that :

i. There is no charge for Sunday parking in commercial areas of the City;

ii. Hours are reduced for on-street parking to 7:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday; and

iii. The rate for on-street parking increase to $3.25/hour beginning October 1, 2008...

So, in order to solve the problem of an unexpected rate increase from $2.50 to $3.00, they raised it to $3.25! That is so hilarious I laughed out loud.

Now, this is just the Committee's recommendation to Council. Council will still have to go through the same rigmarole, but without the delegations.

And at the end of the day, I'm a cyclist who's only paid for parking once in his entire life, and I don't really care how this ends up. So all I can really do is sit back, watch, and laugh at the hilarious hole that Council will inevitably dig deeper.

- RG>

1 comment:

RealGrouchy said...

In related news, Hell Freezes Over: Councillor Rick Chiarelli, possibly the most conservative on Council, has suggested a tax increase to alleviate the parking issue.

On the surface, this looks like using property taxes to subsidize car drivers. But really it isn't, because the parking stunt was merely a cash grab to get more general revenues.

Though Chiarelli may not realize it, what he's really suggesting is a property tax increase to fund general revenues. The parking thing was just a quirk.

(of course, assuming he voted for the 4.9% increase, he probably would have voted for this 4.9-and-a-bit% increase had he beem aware of the parking cash-grab suggestion)

- RG>