Downtown Bureau

Downtown Hamilton Has a Glut of Parking, Not a Shortage

With 68% peak usage and falling, the last thing downtown needs is more parking, but that hasn't stopped some of our leaders from deciding we have a shortage.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 21, 2014

A CBC Hamilton article about a proposal by Councillor Jason Farr to sell a public parking lot downtown to a developer includes a bizarre statement by Marty Hazell, the City's Director of Parking and Bylaw Services.

But downtown does have a shortage of parking, Hazell said, and that's "definitely a concern. There are very few underutilized lots downtown."

Wait, what? What kind of nonsense is this?

A Downtown Parking Study Update presented to Council last September found that peak utilization of downtown parking was only 68 percent in 2012. In other words, when our downtown parking lots are at their busiest, they have 32 percent vacancy.

Excessive parking in downtown Hamilton
Excessive parking in downtown Hamilton

That 2012 peak utilization of 68 percent is actually down from 76 percent in 2005. Yes, you read that right: peak parking usage in downtown Hamilton has declined over the past seven years of the study.

Nevertheless, the study, by transportation consultant MMM Group, recommended building two new parking structures downtown, one in the Bay/King area and one in the King William/John area.

This is because the report projects that peak parking utilization in those two areas will increase to 85 percent and 84 percent, respectively, over the next five years.

Urban parking economists generally argue that 85 percent peak occupancy is an ideal utilization rate, because it optimizes the use of spaces while still allowing entry and exit.

In other words, even if peak parking does increase as the MMM Group study expects, it will increase toward the optimum level, not away from it.

Beyond that, even if parking does start to become scarce, the solution is not to add still more of it but rather to adjust demand via pricing.

Right now, parking downtown can be had for as little as $4 a day, which is the same as a two-way bus trip using a Presto card or around three-quarters the cost of two cash fares. Monthly parking costs as little as $50, which is just over half the cost of a monthly HSR pass.

When you can park downtown all day for less than the cost of taking the bus - and when downtown parking is still only two-thirds full at peak capacity - the market problem is an unhealthy glut, not a shortage.

Indeed, so much of the downtown has already been demolished for parking that the real shortage is a lack of actual destinations worth going to.

So how on earth can anyone - least of all a director in the City's Department of Planning and Economic Development - come to the conclusion that we don't have enough parking downtown?

Has Marty Hazell actually walked around the desolate wasteland of asphalt north of King William and east of Hughson? I understand his area of responsibility includes parking, but as a director of planning and economic development, wouldn't he rather see these city blocks filled with, I don't know, buildings rather than half-empty parking lots?

Even a three-storey building would generate ten times as much property tax revenue as a parking lot, not to mention providing homes, offices and amenities that will also generate value, boost the city's economic output and increase the number of people living, working and playing downtown.

It is long past time for our leaders to abandon the persistent suburban mindset that has brutalized and deformed our downtown for the past several decades.

with files from Nicholas Kevlahan

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 08:38:59

Ah, yes: The Beasley Nexus.

James to Ferguson, King William to Cannon.

The area in the city holding the most potential for development and resurgence, one that has, for the most part, lain fallow for about fifty years.

I'm always amazed that it's never discussed, never focused on. Weird, considering how much a game-changer it would be if properly developed.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 09:07:25 in reply to Comment 101435

The Mosque on Cannon wanted to build their expansion on that site and incorporate one of the parking lots, instead the police got the lot for surface parking.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:15:21 in reply to Comment 101438

I may be wrong, but isn't the plan for that site a Forensics Lab?

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By jmorse (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:57:21 in reply to Comment 101444

The mosque is moving to the corner of Hess and York Blvd. Planning is underway for this project, as reported by (http://www.rcdbr.ca/bro/dcn/ "Daily Commercial News")

POLICE SERVICES FACILITY Proj: 9197584-2 Hamilton, Hamilton-Wentworth Reg ON CONTEMPLATED Hamilton Police Services Investigative Service Div Facility, bordered by Wilson St, > Rebecca St, Mary St, Catherine St, L8R
$13,000,000 est
Start: May, 2015 Complete: October, 2016 Note Project planning is underway. Request for Proposals from prime consultants has closed at the owner. Submissions are under review. Further update summer 2014. Project: construction of the Hamilton Police Services Investigative Services Division Facility. The facility is bordered between Wilson St to the North, Rebecca St to the South, Mary St to the East and Catherine St to the West. The facility will be approximately 50,000 sq ft (multi-storey) in size and will house a Forensic Services Branch, Homicide, Investigative Services Division, Technological Crimes, storage (evidence) rooms, locker rooms, meeting rooms as well as hard and soft interview rooms. In addition to the 50,000 sq ft, a separate section of the facility is required for the Police Services Board within the building program. This separate space will include a large boardroom, office space and file storage for the board's administrator. Scope: 50,000 square feet Development: New Category: Defence, law enforcement bldgs Owner City of Hamilton(Purchasing), 120 King St W 9th Flr Ste 900, Hamilton ON L8P 4V2 Phone: 905-546-2773 Fax: 905-546-2327 Email: purchasing@hamilton.ca

First report Wed Mar 19, 2014. This report Tue May 20, 2014.

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By easy solution (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 08:47:54

raise taxes on parking lots (give a few year grandfather clause for existing lots to give the owners time to find a real job)

raise meter rates to $3 an hour

the problem will quickly solve itself....

has the york boulevard parking garage ever been full since the day it was built?

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By H1 (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 12:26:00 in reply to Comment 101436

that will work. all the businesses will close and you can build apartments on those sites as well.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 09:20:34

Maybe they intend "shortage" to indicate lack of elevation. Plenty of at-grade.

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By OMG (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:27:04 in reply to Comment 101440

I know an accountant who advised a very large corporation downtown to tear down a perfectly good building because Hamilton's tax structure did not permit them to use the building in an affordable way. It is vacant land now - not even used as a parking lot.
Maybe the City should bite the bullet and build multistory parking garages and just ban other types of lots and tax vacant land at a higher rate downtown.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 15:17:15 in reply to Comment 101449

The problem is too much parking. how does 'build a parking structure' even begin to solve that problem? Even if there is some way that could work, it is the most expensive and backwards way to accomplish a straighforward goal of seeing some surface parking converted to developments.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 23:46:12 in reply to Comment 101470

If you read through the study, the reason the garage is recommended is being a number of lots are poised for development so to meet even base needs the current supply will need to be maintained in some way. It's better to do it earlier to allow for surfaces lots to be redeveloped. Look at Square One in Mississauga, they have two garages and one underground for the lot since 2000 (none were needed when completed) but the developer can now focused on filling in the surface lots with development while meeting their base parking needs.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted May 21, 2014 at 19:29:55 in reply to Comment 101470

If you tax the vacant lots, people wouldn't tear down buildings and the parking would have to go somewhere else. I guess that is the point.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:22:37 in reply to Comment 101440

Yeah because we need better views from our parking spots.

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By johnnyvelvet (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:10:06

In all fairness...within the next year, once the City's Public Health unit is centralized downtown along with the opening of McMaster Family Health centre and McMaster Continuing Ed building...I do fear we will be short of parking spaces downtown.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 14:57:46 in reply to Comment 101442

I have a hard time believing we will go to a utilization rate of 100+ % when the rate has gone from 76 to 68% over the past 9 years. It might go up a tad, but still nowhere near a shortage.

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By oldcoote (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:11:25

The lots are relatively busy (not full) on weekdays 10am to 4pm.

Almost deserted on weeknights and weekends.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:22:12

The Beasley NA is very supportive of this move, as Councillor Farr has been very responsive to a series of position statements we'd made late last year with regards to surface parking lots in Beasley.

Our point was simple: this is the most central, useful and potentially valuable land in the city being used for the most marginal possible uses. There is no shortage of parking in Beasley, or virtually anywhere downtown, and parking is seriously under-priced.

Our key solution was also simple: that there be no new (net) surface parking spaces in Beasley. That means for every surface space approved in a new development, the city should sell off some of their city-owned spaces for other uses, as indicated by the neighbourhood development plans that the City and residents spent years developing.

Councillor Farr's proposal is, in my opinion, elegant and win-win: the city dispenses with a marginal piece of surface parking land with an agreement to have those spots replaced within a development on the site. The site gets a better use than parking, and in the end tax revenues rise from the new development.

I could not understand the gripes from Councillors Ferguson and Clark, other than as veiled politicking in someone else's turf. Residents want an end to the surface parking blight and enjoy new amenities now, not in another 20 years when the city believes it can sell the lots for a tidy sum. Again, this is suburban councillors trying to tell downtowners that we can't have anything nice because it will somehow come at the expense of suburbanites.

Simply not true: no matter where you live, we can all benefit from a situation where net parking spaces downtown are maintained, property tax revenues increase, and residents get a new development in their neighbourhood that will be far better for quality of life than a black-top.

Comment edited by Borrelli on 2014-05-21 10:23:24

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By Dane (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:48:59

Sell the lot but ensure a build schedule that is strictly met

Why not build another garage on one of the other numerous City lots and not let the whims of private interest control something like parking?

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:24:14 in reply to Comment 101446

Why not build another garage

Why not not build another garage since there is no need for one?

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 12:16:05 in reply to Comment 101448

When you go through the parking study, the problem is that there are very high demand areas where the major employment areas are (i.e. King/Bay/York/James around Jackson Square) while the lower demand areas (towards Wellington) end up skewing the utilization rates.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 15:29:48 in reply to Comment 101452

Actually you are wrong, the study specifically calls out parking lots around King/Bay and John/King William as the areas that according to their forecasting may reach 85% utilization in the future ( page 10-11 ). Both of those are in the 'high demand' areas you speak of. The study makes the claim that these areas will reach "practical capacity", by which it means 85% capacity, even though that is said to be the ideal utilization rate.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted May 22, 2014 at 00:08:06 in reply to Comment 101471

Look at figure 11 & 12 and read the forecasting section.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 21, 2014 at 12:25:44 in reply to Comment 101452

According to the study, even the high-demand areas will only reach 85% peak utilization in five years. 85% utilization isn't excessive, it's ideal - and even the busiest spots only reach that level during peak workday times. The rest of the day they are empty and desolate, which is by itself a major waste of prime downtown land and also indicates that downtown is operating as a glorified business park rather than a mixed urban centre.

If and when parking ever does significantly exceed 85% utilization, the sensible market-based response is to raise prices and make alternatives to driving more accessible and appealing.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted May 22, 2014 at 00:10:48 in reply to Comment 101453

Did you look at their 10-year forecasts which shows the utilization at much higher rates because of the loss of supply to development? I'm in not way arguing we need to keep surface lots, but the reality is there will always be a need for parking in some form. I'd much rather see the City build a public garage underneath a new municipal or private city to meet that need, continue to collect revenue to fund other initiatives and open up their land and private lots for future development.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 22, 2014 at 09:48:54 in reply to Comment 101513

It is certainly possible that if Hamilton downtown really sees a boom in development the demand for parking will eventually rise. But with the lowest parking rates of any downtown in the country (and a monthly rate just over half a bus pass) and low occupancy even at these low prices it is clear we have had a parking glut for decades (and a correspondingly under performing downtown).

Keeping all those surface lots actually helps reduce development because keeping land as surface parking has very low carrying costs which encourages owners (including apparently the City, according to Councillor Clark) to act as long-term land speculators rather than developers.

If the demand for parking eventually rises (and supply drops), the price should rise to the point where underground parking or parking garages make sense. That is simple economics. The only parking allowed should be street parking, parking garages, underground parking, or possibly parking behind the building. And we should reduce or eliminate parking requirements for new development (which increases the cost). Some American cities now have maximum parking requirements, not minimum requirements. There is no need to "protect" surface parking which has done so much to stunt Hamilton's downtown economy.

And, as they've seen in Vancouver, massive development, if it is mixed use and supported by good non-driving options, can even lead to a reduction in demand for parking. The lesson from Vancouver is more residents, more businesses and more attractions (and fewer surface parking lots) can actually reduce the demand for parking.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:41:10

Mayor Fred Eisenberger wants to give downtown a boost by creating a pedestrian mall on both sides of Gore Park, detouring all but bus traffic off King Street East between Catharine and James streets.

"This is an issue whose time has come," Eisenberger declared yesterday.

The mayor told council's public works committee: "I'd like to start the public debate. We need to take large, dramatic steps to make things happen."

Hamilton Spectator, October 2 2007

ottawacommunitynews.com/news-story/2139852-eisenberger-pushes-for-downtown-pedestrian-mall

A small step will have to do for the time being. In an election year, better than expected.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 12:37:04 in reply to Comment 101450

cool.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 13:00:47

" when our downtown parking lots are at their busiest, they have 32 percent vacancy"

A result of smaller car models, from what my Ward 8 city atlas tells me.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 15:07:09

Uh-oh. Is that push back I'm beginning to feel? Seems to be a lot of it outside of downtown of late.

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By erskinec (registered) - website | Posted May 21, 2014 at 19:21:01

May concern with cutting back on city own parking is that it may make it more profitable for private parking and thus encourage its expansion.

Question, what ever happen to the parking lot on Jackson street. I thought the City banned the owner from using it as a parking lot, but I see cars there all the time. Is there a loop hole that says that if you don't charge for parking then people can still park?

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 23:13:39 in reply to Comment 101498

The owner has blocked the area of the former building so no cars can park in that footprint. That "footprint" seems to be shrinking, though.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted May 24, 2014 at 20:20:26

What if the HSR was subsidized through taxes and people that normally would have driven downtown and paid for parking took the bus instead? People may be more inclined to take public transit and we wouldn't need all these parking lots. Plus less cars, less congestion, less pollution. win win win

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By James B (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2015 at 17:39:15

I'd like to know what lots in the King and Bay area have 32% vacancy. Not any of the lots that I park at when I go to work.

Actually, I might be more interested in transit, if it was more convenient to get from my house to work. Unfortunately, the HSR thinks that service every 30 to 40 minutes is acceptable for someone living south of Limeridge. Lets look at fixing the timing of routes and get service to other areas instead of trying to speed up the already speedy B Line bus route through light rail transit.

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