Downtown On-Street Parking: Reduce or Encourage?

Dundas Street West
Dundas Street West

For years, urban planners (and dwellers alike) have been tackling the issue of motor vehicles and their relevance in the downtown core.  On-street parking is a designated space for parking on most city streets and requires payment from the drivers.  In congested urban areas, parking of motor vehicles is time consuming and sometimes expensive.  For drivers however, the convenience of parking on a street and going about their errands/activities in the downtown core is a blessing.  In the cases of the “off-the-path” neighbourhoods, their Business Improvement Associations claim that on-street parking is a vital factor in their businesses surviving, as most of their visitors drive there to shop.  While others argue that by encouraging more on-street parking, it will attract more cars in an already congested downtown area, and promote driving, rather than the other more eco-friendly modes of transportation.

At its meeting on September 26 and 27, 2007, Toronto City Council adopted a report from Toronto and East York Community Council, which amended parking restrictions on Dundas Street West to permit peak period parking (in the non-peak direction only). Peak period left turns from Dundas Street West were also restricted.  City Council also requested the Executive Director of Economic Development, Culture and Tourism to report on the impact that these changes in parking restrictions may have on the economic viability of the area.  Representatives of the Dundas Street West BIA approached the ward Councillor in 2006 about the feasibility of increasing parking availability in the area by permitting parking during peak periods in the non-peak direction on Dundas Street West.  The proposed changes in parking regulations appeared to have broad-based community support.  Over 750 signatures were collected in support of the proposal, and several business owners attended Community Council meetings to speak in favour of the changes.  However, in response to concerns raised by the TTC about the potential impact the proposed changes in parking restrictions would have on streetcar travel times along Dundas Street West, peak period left turns from Dundas Street West were also restricted, and the Director, Transportation Services and the General Manager of the TTC were requested to report in September 2008 on the impact of the changes to TTC service on Dundas Street West.

The Dundas Street West issue has re-sparked this age-old urban planning issue.  Some argue that by encouraging more on-street parking, it would in turn promote the city’s economy by way of accessibility into the city and the 200+ neighbourhoods.  They argue too that by encouraging more on-street parking, it would revitalize neighbourhoods that aren’t easily accessible by TTC.  However, others argue that by reducing these on-street parking, it would promote a more transit-friendly city, where in turn, promote a more “green Toronto”.  They say that it would also provide the TTC an easier way to wade through traffic in the already congested downtown core.

What do you think about Toronto’s downtown on-street parking?  Will more on-street parking help our city’s economy, provide accessibility into the downtown core and revitalize Toronto’s sometimes unknown neighbourhoods?  Or would reducing on-street parking ease the congested downtown streets, provide TTC a “better way” to maneuver and promote a “green Toronto”?

facts

The city of Toronto is planning on cutting down the number of parking spots on Dundas Street West to make way for streetcars.  With better access, the TTC claims, streetcar traffic could speed up by as much as 40%.  While the Dundas Street West BIA claims that during a 1-year trail period of encouraging more on-street parking in the area, their commercial vacancy rate dropped from 19 to 12%.

A 2008 study commissioned by Metrolinx’s Smart Commute report stated that in the GTA: 48% of residents were drivers, 28% were transit users, 12% were walkers and 7% were cyclists.  Another report according to a University of Toronto 2001 transportation study claimed that over half of the 4.7 million trips made every 24 hours by Toronto residents are in a car, and about the same percentage applies to the five million trips into the city each day.

“We have no Green P or private parking lots in the area.  It’s a very traditionally Portuguese area and although a lot of the Portuguese are moving out of the city now they still come back here for their typical food and services.”  Sylvia Draper-Fernandez, Dundas West BIA chairman.

“We’re working with the city and evaluating the options but we have said if it has an adverse affect on the TTC, which of course the residents are effected because they’re the ones who use it, then we’ll consider taking the parking off Dundas.”  Councillor Adam Giambrone, TTC chairman.

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encourage

The concerns that exist about the potential loss of trade to competing, more transit accessible neighbourhoods have sound foundation.  On-street parking is a key factor in promoting businesses in cities, particularly in Toronto, as our city consists of nearly 200+ distinct neighbourhoods.  As a type of shared parking, on-street parking is an efficient means for allowing multiple users to utilize the same space at different times to reach multiple destinations.  On-street parking provides easy access to businesses located on city streets and occupies less land per space than off-street parking which requires access lanes in addition to parking spaces.  This is especially true for the disabled, as most rely on their specially-outfitted cars to maneuver around the city, rather than utilizing transit downtown (as streetcars are not wheelchair accessible).  By encouraging on-street parking, out-of-town visitors are then more likely to travel to Toronto, stay downtown while having the convenience of traveling and experiencing the different neighbourhoods in Toronto.  For pedestrians, on-street parking creates a barrier between moving traffic and individuals walking on the sidewalks, providing a measure of safety and reducing the level of perceived noise.  Further, depending upon how on-street parking is situated on a street, it can also serve as a traffic calming device, thereby reducing accidents or at least making them less severe.

For TTC to declare that on-street parking (ie. on Dundas Street West) causes “major” transit delays, is unfounded.  They somehow forget to mention that this so-called “delay” on Dundas Street West was only a mere 1 minute.  Surely, in this economy, we as a city can handle a 1-minute transit delay when it comes to a whole neighbourhood’s economy being dependent on their visitors’ on-street parking options.

reduce

This debate is very well founded and responses vary based on what role you play in the situation (i.e. if you are a pedestrian, driver, cyclist etc).  There is no denying that the downtown core is congested at the best of times, and on-street parking doesn’t help alleviate any of that congestion.  Street parking comes with its own set of problems.  First, figuring out where you can and cannot park.  The array of signs on these streets can be very misleading and confusing, especially to those that aren’t familiar with the downtown environment.  Which results in more people getting tickets for illegally parking and worse, having their cars towed.  Secondly, street parking offers very limited availability.  Finding street parking can be a chore and results in people circling the same block over and over again in hopes of getting “lucky”.  Then comes the element of actually parking.  Can we say parallel parking?  The amount of time wasted, and congestion caused by someone attempting to parallel park their car on a two lane street is something in itself. This situation not only causes delays to regular traffic, but it also translates to exceeding delays with the street cars that don’t have the ability to “maneuver” around these vehicles.  Lastly, the point of safety has been mentioned and how having cars on the street creates a barrier between the running traffic and the pedestrian.  The point that many people forget to make is how safe are the cars that are parked on the street?  Many times you return to your vehicle only to realize that someone has either scratched or worse, dinged your car.

Having parking structures is a great solution to these problems.  There is no confusion of whether you can park there.  They are legal and are relatively secure, comparatively speaking to the street situation.  It even takes all the guess work and hassle out of parking downtown.  Lastly, the capacity of these parking lots is twice that of any street.  Thus resulting in more people having the ability to visit these 200+ neighbourhoods and actually being able to enjoy them without having to worry that your time is running out, or that you have to put more money on the meter.

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2 Comments

  1. i say get a bike and just cycle around the city…hmm winter it might be tad rough..but u can park anywhere

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