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June 26, 2022

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A new space age: Vancouver eyes changing downtown parking strategies

New approach may include encouraging alternative transportation

By , Columbian staff writer
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Parked cars line the streets of the Waterfront Vancouver on Tuesday morning. City staff are discussing updating Vancouver's downtown parking plan, which hasn't been altered since 2006.
Parked cars line the streets of the Waterfront Vancouver on Tuesday morning. City staff are discussing updating Vancouver's downtown parking plan, which hasn't been altered since 2006. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The city of Vancouver is considering changing its downtown parking strategies, possibly putting less emphasis on cars in favor of foot traffic and multimodal access.

City officials and staff met with a parking consultant Monday to discuss Vancouver’s current parking plan, developed in 2006. That plan doesn’t meet the demands of new developments and the influx of people living and working downtown, said Patrick Quinton, Vancouver’s economic development director.

Rick Williams, the city’s parking management consultant, said parking is expensive to create and maintain — it can cost between $45,000 and $65,000 to build a structured parking stall. For this reason, he said, the city must prioritize how to elevate alternative modes of transportation that will bring people into downtown.

“You need to do as much as you can with the parking you have,” Williams said.

Increasing the number of commuters who use public transit, bike or walk will create greater parking capacity downtown, according to Williams. He said each space that is freed up by alternative means of travel creates enough capacity for up to five customer trips a day.

Vancouver has around 12,730 off-street parking stalls scattered around downtown, most in commercial districts, according to a 2020 study. About 13 percent of the off-street spaces are residential; the remaining locations serve industrial, institutional or mixed-use purposes.

Williams said there are parking myths to consider when crafting a new parking plan: that the city can never have enough parking, that customers won’t walk or pay for parking, and that parking garages are money-making hubs.

Among them all, he said, it’s vital to understand that adding stalls doesn’t foster a buzz surrounding businesses and isn’t a major driver of economic growth. Yet this is the thinking from which Vancouver’s current parking plan stems, Williams said.

Instead, he said, the city must craft a strategy that addresses equity, climate action and economic growth. He said commuting without a personal vehicle is at the core of the city’s parking management and economic growth. The city will also need to calibrate parking prices according to the growing demand.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said she loves seeing people spending hours downtown visiting the farmers market, shops and waterfront during the weekend. However, this results in a low turnover of free weekend parking.

“Now we’re absolutely swamped, but (spots) are not turning over and people are driving away,” she said.

Williams said the cornerstone of parking management is practicing reasonable enforcement, which may have to be highlighted to address the issue.

The mayor also addressed the increasing friction regarding commercial, residential and employee parking as people transition from working remotely to visiting their office. Major developments, such as the Interstate 5 Bridge project, pose other implications for downtown transit and parking.

Councilor Kim Harless noted that some private parking lots are not available to visitors when demand is high. She said the city should consider how those lots can be utilized. Williams suggested that the city should establish a business relationship with the private owners who could advertise the empty space and when it can be used.

City staff say it will take six to eight months to draft a new parking plan, which will involve departmental and public outreach. Quinton said the city aims to have a new parking plan by early 2023.

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