Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The High Cost of "FREE" Parking!

Today while my car was in for service, I walked from my office at First and Cedar Streets to Hurontario Street for banking and other errands. I realized that making the trip as a pedestrian was more convenient than driving. Ever since the Town of Collingwood implemented the two hour free parking on Hurontario Street it has become almost impossible to find a parking space during normal business hours especially in the first two blocks from First to Third Streets. While the rationale here was to encourage shopping in the downtown core, personally I find that free parking is in fact driving me away from downtown except for those needs where I simply have no other choice ie: to bank.
Donald Shoup a university professor at UCLA has written a book titled "The High Cost of Free Parking." It is estimated that in most municipalities across North America there is at least 4 parking spots for every 1 car making parking the biggest form of land use in most cities and towns. With so much land consumed for parking we have no business giving it away for FREE no matter what the duration. Think about it! You have a parking space at work, at your church, at the mall, at the theatre, at your doctor's office and yes in downtown Collingwood. Perhaps the number of spaces per car is a lot higher than 4, no one really knows.
While circling around downtown trying to find a place to park, we're burning increasingly expensive fossil fuels, discharging harmful emissions into the air all the while creating additional traffic congestion and wear and tear on our streets. I and I suspect most responsible citizens would gladly spend a few quarters to eliminate such waste and harm to our environment not to mention the lost time searching for a parking space. I for one would gladly PAY for the convenience of being able to find a space quickly when I need it. Spending more time to park compared to the purpose of my trip downtown is just ridiculous especially when the town is loosing some much needed revenue. The added irony also here is that we have an anti-idling bylaw to curb emissions which with the added driving being created by drivers looking for a place to park makes no sense at all.
In Shoup's book he uses Old Towne Pasendena California as an example. The downtown core was suffering with merchants claiming it was due to inadequate parking. The reality was people who worked in the area consumed most of the parking leaving customers to drive around searching for a space to park. Sound familiar? A new policy was adopted whereby parking rates were implemented that would maintain an 85% occupancy rate. Determining the appropriate rate to charge ensures that there is always a 15% vacancy rate with 2 or 3 empty spaces always available per block. Shoup also maintains that if you need to impose a limit on parking, you are simply not charging enough!
The parking revenues collected were not deposited into Pasendena's general municipal coffers but were used to enhance and maintain the downtown core. Once that happened the local business community rallied with improvements of their own resulting in the complete revitalization of the area into a bustling and vibrant economic sector of the city. Maintaining or worse, increasing the amount of parking available only serves to increase "sprawl" thus making public transit and pedestrian travel even more difficult to maximize.
The issue of parking should not be treated as a matter of politics. Town planners receive no formal training with respect to parking yet planning departments in most municipalities dictate to developers the parking capacity they must offer. It's time to stop this free parking boondoggle and I commend the Councillors that voted against it in the first place. The only free space the Town should be considering is parkland which we have far too little of especially along the waterfront.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the high cost of free parking, click on the following link:

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Rick relocated to Collingwood from Toronto in 1985 through a transfer with Goodyear Canada. In 1987 Rick was recruited by a major client of Goodyear’s, managing their Canadian business based in Barrie before moving to Chicago in 1992 as Vice President of Sales & Marketing. Upon returning to Canada in 1996, Rick ran an industrial products manufacturing company in Stratford, Ontario. In 1998 Rick returned to Collingwood with his two children. Rick is a licensed real estate Broker with Royal LePAGE Locations North in Collingwood and holds his MVA designation (Market Value Appraiser-Residential). He is an active volunteer in the community serving several years on the Board of Directors with the Collingwood Chamber of Commerce as Treasurer, 6 years on the Board of Directors for the Southern Georgian Bay Association of REALTORS® of which he is the Past President (2008) and currently serves on a committee with the Ontario Real Estate Association. Rick is a diverse executive manager with extensive experience in strategic planning, manufacturing, finance, human resources and quality assurance management.