Change for the better: new parking fees free up space downtown

By Stefano Grande

Let’s face it: no one wants to pay for parking, and we all want to park near where we shop, dine or visit. This has always been a challenge for great and vibrant downtowns.
Economic gurus Gregory Pierce and Donald Shoup say it best: “Underpriced (free) and overcrowded curb parking creates problems for everyone except a few lucky drivers who find a cheap space; all the other drivers who cruise to find an open space waste time and fuel, congest traffic, and pollute the air. Overpriced and under-occupied parking also creates problems; when curb spaces remain empty, nearby merchants lose potential customers, workers lose jobs, and cities lose tax revenue.”
Downtown Winnipeg, too, is undergoing a revival. The majority of our restaurants and retailers tell us that their customers are having a hard time finding on-street parking around the MTS Centre (the zone where parking hours are being extended, not the entire downtown). In other words, the lack of on-street parking is affecting their customers and business operations. Our goal is to help our businesses succeed, and to learn and borrow from best practices in other downtowns.
There is no doubt that our downtown is becoming more and more vibrant in the evening, even when the Jets are not playing! This is a good problem to have. That’s why on-street parking needs to be better managed today. A common practice in many downtowns and business districts where there are on-street parking challenges is to charge for that premium spot during the hours of parking congestion (in our case – up to 8:30 p.m.).
As Donald Shoup has proven in his research, if this is done correctly (price and hours), every time you come downtown to this area, there should be an on-street spot for you – especially if you want to park on the same block where your favourite restaurant is. In other words, the new parking policy applied encourages those that want to park long-term on the street to move into other locations (parkades or off-street parking lots).
The goal is to help people like you who want to come downtown, but can’t find parking near your favourite restaurant. Remember, this policy is only for the Sports, Hospitality, and Entertainment District (SHED) area.
But, if you want to avoid paying for parking, you can still park on-street a few blocks away, outside of this area. Also, some of our restaurants have free customer parking, surface parking lots, or parkade spots secured for their customers nearby. You can always ask when making a reservation if they have free parking.
In our conversations with our members (four town hall-type meetings), we hear eloquently about the need for other parking solutions, like park and rides, public infrastructure dedicated toward rapid transit, and the importance of walkability and living/working/playing downtown.
They are right – we need more dense mixed developments along our transit routes, which integrate parking, as part of broader transportation goals – and innovative policies like Shoup’s should be assessed and tested.
What we’re hearing from our BIZ members
• If the demand is quantified by Winnipeg Parking Authority (WPA) properly, then these outside-the-box parking solutions are an option (if we can achieve a 15 per cent vacancy of on-street parking as a rule of thumb (Shoup))
• Some BIZ members want the zone extended even further, outside of the SHED, where there are the same challenges
• There is merit to assess if the hours to pay and park on the street can be extended to 10:30 p.m., typically the time events finish downtown
• Ensure all available loading zones not being utilized in the evening are utilized (on-going initiative to convert loading zones)
• A solution also needs to be found for nighttime workers, who rely on street parking too (programs providing businesses with the opportunity to offer their workers off-street parking at a low cost/promoting alternatives such as biking and transit)
• Restaurants and some retailers need assistance in securing off-street parking for their patrons as an additional measure (this has proven to be successful)
• Evening validation programs for our retailers and restaurants in this zone
• Forecast parking growth and ensure developments in the area include coordinated parking solutions as part of their developments, with intergraded transportation options
• Effective rapid transit is seen as a viable long-term solution
• Encourage WPA/City to invest the revenue into furthering these solutions, and other programs to improve our downtown
We’re looking forward to ongoing conversations with our members and the community-at-large in advancing some of these ideas.
Stefano Grande is the executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

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