Transportation

Paid Parking Works, But Do It Right

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 07, 2010

Once again, the city is floating the idea of putting parking meters on all commercial streets across the city - including, significantly, downtown Ancaster and Locke Street in southwest Hamilton.

This is an excellent idea that is already amply demonstrated to produce beneficial effects for neighbourhoods and local businesses.

Public subsidies to drive like "free" parking are perverse incentives that distort transportation and land use decisions in grossly inefficient ways.

However, the city needs to implement paid parking properly to get the best net benefit.

Market Based Pricing

Use modern payment systems that allow flexible payment options (apparently the machines the city is considering will do this) and charge a variable rate according to time of day to maintain 15 percent vacancy.

The latter is particularly important, as it ensures that people trying to drive to a destination can always find an available spot and reduces the congestion of people "cruising" for an elusive "free" spot.

This arrangement can increase overall business by encouraging motorists to drive in, get what they need, and drive out to make room for someone else.

Local Reinvestment

According to the Spectator article, the Ancaster BIA unanimously supports paid parking there. This is uncommon, as local business owners are more commonly virulently and uncompromisingly opposed to either the loss of any parking or to the imposition of charges on previously "free" parking.

The best way to overcome this political opposition is for the city to commit that all of the money collected in the parking meters will be given to a local community / business association to reinvest in improving the neighbourhood.

Donald Shoup, the UCLA economist whose exhaustive book The High Cost of Free Parking makes a strong, detailed, evidence-based case for eliminating "free" parking, calls these "parking benefit districts" and argues that they allow those people most affected by parking to decide how best to spend the money collected.

By charging motorists to park, neighbouhoods can generate much-needed revenue to improve local infrastructure while at the same time encouraging more compact land use, alternative transportation (on Locke Street, for example, there are always far more people on the street than there are cars parked along its curbs), and better mixing of building uses in a virtuous cycle of improvement and reinvestment.

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 Ward 2 Integrity commissioner (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2010 at 16:58:07

UPDATE: Councillor Bob Bratina's buddies Moody and Vranich are heading to trial this month on corruption charges. There is a media blackout on the proceedings. How convenient!!!!



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By jason (registered) | Posted January 07, 2010 at 17:05:27

my biggest concern is this idea of a parking lot on Locke. Can't we just have ONE small part of Hamilton that actually functions as a real, urban city instead of turning everything into a suburban mall??

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 07, 2010 at 17:58:19

Credit is definitely due to Pearson and Ferguson for their stands on this issue. Never thought I'd see the day when the Ancaster BIA was more progressive than the Locke St. BIA. Perhaps it's time to do some house cleaning there.

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By freeparkingsupporter (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2010 at 17:58:53

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted January 07, 2010 at 18:07:09

Normally the above post wouldn't warrant a response, but I do want to point out that free parking (such as is present for the holidays in Hamilton) generally means the apartment dwellers near the shops who normally park farther away begin to take up those spaces, resulting in less overall parking for consumers.

At least, that's what the business owners I know keep telling me...

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted January 07, 2010 at 18:16:31

Coming from Toronto where one expects to pay for parking and where finding a spot with a meter (instead of having to use expensive lots) makes your day a good one, I've been amazed at Hamiltonians who complain about parking and expect it to be free on main streets. It's about time there were more parking meters here.

[Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-01-07 17:16:50]

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 07, 2010 at 20:14:53

Parking should always be free because it will encourage more people to visit the area. In fact, the city should create more free parking downtown.

Ah, the definition of insanity.

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By gwc (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2010 at 22:16:35

Well after the meter project you all seem to agree with we will see if are so supportive when they grant themselves another pay raise because thats what these idiots will do with the revenue..........

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2010 at 10:03:48

Parking is always free at the malls and power centres. Could be why they are so popular. I hate throwing half a buck into the meter to run into the store, getting caught up in something and coming out to a parking ticket. Never encourages me to go back.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted January 09, 2010 at 10:38:31

Mr Meister wrote:

Parking is always free at the malls and power centres. Could be why they are so popular.

Personally, the parking situation at big malls and power centres is exactly why I hate going. (Eastgate Square in the best example of parking lot chaos IMO.) Between the morons darting around the lots on foot and the ones in cars, I often find its less of a hassle to just walk and carry what I bought from a local shop rather than go to a power centre or mall. Unfortunately, the way things are currently means I don't have a choice in the matter for many items.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted January 09, 2010 at 14:16:54

That buck in the meter probably saves money over time

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2010 at 09:29:25

Personally, the parking situation at big malls and power centres is exactly why I hate going.

Given the choice between weaving through a parking lot to get to the store and strolling down a commercial sidewalk to get to the store, I'll take the latter every time.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 11:48:04

It kills me. People who think nothing of parking at the far end of a mall parking lot and walking the entire length of the mall and back, will whine if they have to park a block away from their chosen destination in an urban shopping district, or God forbid, pop a quarter in a meter.

Hamilton: the only city with low self esteem and and out-sized sense of entitlement.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 06:10:37

Highwater: That last posting was a good one.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 23:22:16

Let's do math!

On MLS, close to Locke: 275 Main W $200,000 for 1450 sq feet lot, 90 Locke $490,000 for 3450 sq ft lot. Both examples are within 3% and average $140/sq ft.

Let's assume the buildings are 50% of the value, unimproved lot the other 50%. The lot is then valued at $70/sq ft. That's $3 mil/acre, sounds large, but this is prime retail.

Assuming parking area = empty lot area for value, the average parking space is 320 sq feet (wikipedia). So using the Locke st business area as our reference, that's $22,400 to buy a parking space.

An investment expecting a 10% ROI, 3% inflation, net 13% gives $2912/year in perpetuity.

Charging M-F 8am-6pm (10 hours), that's 2607 parking hours per year.

So, ballpark $1.12 / hour. Not counting pavement, maintenance and density lowering effects.

At $1/hr that's a deal. If Locke has 100 parking spots at 85% occupancy that's about $220,000 annual revenue, like Donald Shoupe suggests, for the neighbourhood.

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By ana (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2010 at 00:05:05

Can't argue the numbers. I like that last post.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2010 at 08:58:45

I have always said that at 50 cents an hour, parking spaces are cheaper than rent. Better to live in a camper parked at a meter than in an actual apartment!

I'm glad we are on our way to fixing this...

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 12, 2010 at 10:32:53

I found out from Brian McHattie's office that no houses will be demolished for this parking lot. It will be behind one of the commercial buildings on Locke (obviously he can't say which building due to negotiations) and will not be at the streetscape.

In other words, the streetscape and density won't change on Locke or any of it's side streets to accommodate this parking lot.

Of course, the fact that we have no N/S transit routes in Hamilton doesn't help our cause. Someone who lives at Dundurn and York and is elderly or has a pile of kids would need to take the #8 bus downtown and transfer to the #7 just to take a bus to Locke St or Dundurn St. It's amazing that neighbourhoods like this in the heart of the city still have such poor transit options.

To make matters worse, there are no bike lanes connecting the north and south sides of King St and crossing King and Main as an elderly person or with small children is a life-risking feat that most people simply won't do.

Pretty bad when we have such an unbalanced transportation system even in one of the oldest and most densely populated areas of the city.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2010 at 01:42:50

UrbanRenaissance and Ryan your attitudes toward driving and parking are well truly documented by countless posts and articles. The sheer volume at the malls and power centres just shows how much of a minority you really are.

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