Seeking a balance to Kelowna parking demand conflicts

Seeking a balance to Kelowna parking demand conflicts

City looks at use of modern technology to help deal with parking space demand conflicts.

It’s a problem cities throughout the industrialized world grapple with—parking.

As growth leads to more cars on the road, municipalities are finding it harder and harder to come up with places for those cars to park. And Kelowna is no different.

While the scale of the problem may be smaller in Kelowna than in bigger cities, growth here in the last 20 years has fueled a race for space of sorts—parking space.

“It’s a case of managing it as the city grows,” says Derek Edstrom, the city’s acting director of real estate building services and the man who recently took on the job of parking management for the city.

For Edstrom, parking has taken on more significance in recent weeks as the city outlined a series of plans it wants to implement in the fall aimed at addressing some of Kelowna’s most pressing parking issues.

The moves include:

• the introduction of a $30 annual fee for drivers who live on streets in areas where there are time limits on parking and who want to park on the street

• tougher enforcement measures such as towing vehicles that get more than four parking tickets in a year and increased enforcement in timed areas

• more creative moves like giving up vehicle parking spaces downtown to accommodate bicycle parking

• wider sidewalks and skinnier streets downtown

• the ongoing promotion of public transit to get more people out of their cars and onto buses.

For the city, dealing with parking has to be a multi-pronged approach.

But, according to Edstrom, one of the most effective measures in changing parking behaviour has been to hit offenders in the pocketbook.

A few years ago, the city changed its policy about paying parking tickets.

Where the old plan offered someone with a ticket a huge reduction in the fine if he or she paid the ticket within 10 days—$30 reduced to $5—the new plan introduced July 2010 reverses that and gives only a $5 reduction if paid within 14 days. If a ticket is not paid within 28 days, $5 is added.

“We have seen a huge reduction in the number of tickets issued as a result,” he said.

Following the introduction of the new system, the number of parking tickets the city issued per month dropped to between 300 and 400 from previously just under 1,300.

“It has changed parking behaviour,” says Edstrom.

The city plans to follow that move with stepped up enforcement, especially in the area around Kelowna General Hospital, with bylaw enforcement officers patrolling from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday, instead of the current 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The move is one of many the city is either implementing or considering as a result of meetings with residents and officials from the hospital as it tries to deal with an area that has seen parking problems for years.

Other initiatives have been made to deal with the issue, such as the construction of two parkades at the hospital, increased surface parking and the use of a lot a few blocks away for staff parking.

But, as city council was told last week, there are still many hospital employees who park on streets around KGH and move their cars every few hours to avoid a ticket.

City property manager Ron Forbes said some hospital staff will move their vehicles on coffee and lunch breaks, doing a type of parking shuffle because of the two-hour time restriction on parking in the area.

For the city, in managing public parking around a facility such as the hospital, there has to be a balance between the parking needs of the hospital staff and visitors, and the desire of residents in the area to keep their streets clear of cars and trucks driven by outsiders and left on the street all day.

On one hand, it says, the hospital is a valuable community resource, one that provides a great service to the community and not only employs thousands of people but is used by the public every day.

On the other hand, the residential streets around KGH need to be respected as just that—residential streets. Still, public streets are public, not the personal property of homes or business on them, the city has reminded local residents in recent weeks.

So, instead of making streets around KGH for residential parking only, the city plans to introduce an annual $30 fee to allow residents to park on the street outside their homes.

Currently, free parking passes are available but there is concern, both from the city and residents, that the current system is open to abuse. Anyone can get a pass simply by showing a paper with a local address printed on it.

Passes can also be passed from person to person.

The new system would be tied to licence places and the information would appear on the city’s “autoview” machines, used to identify illegal parking.

The machines are part of a move away from old technology when it comes to parking in favour of newer but more expensive technology.

In other parts of the city, such as downtown, Kelowna is moving to what is known as the “pay and display” system, where centralized machines are located on a street and drivers park, go to the machine to buy a picket and display it in the window of their vehicle.

But while the way parking is managed has changed with advances in technology, so has the cost.

Where a parking meter costs $600, a pay and display machine costs $10,000. It, however, allows for more ways to control parking, both from the point of view of drivers and city enforcement.

The technology exists today to have parking controlled by cellphones, where a driver pulls in to a space, keys a stall identification number and vehicle licence number into a phone app and pays for parking via the phone.

The information is sent to a handheld device operated by a bylaw enforcement officer so the officer knows the space is paid for.

In some cases, drivers can even be alerted when they are away from the car that the time is about to run out and be given the choice to pay for more parking time via the phone.

While such a system is not here yet, it is the future when it comes to parking management.

But in the case of Kelowna, parking is not just an issue concerning residential areas.

A prime concern for city officials is creating a turnover of available parking spaces downtown to help businesses located there.

While there are two city parkades located downtown, short-term parking on the street is what many businesses, especially retail, rely on to keep their customers coming back.

Studies have shown that parking, and the availability of it, does influence shopping decisions.

The city, as part of its long-range parking plans, is looking at more spaces downtown and possibly construction of another parkade.

But such structures are very expensive and land has to be available in a location that makes it feasible, and most importantly, useable.

Despite its close proximity to Bernard Avenue, the Chapman Parkade, when it was first built, was not heavily used by drivers because some felt it was too far to walk to their destinations.

Over time, that has changed as both the Chapman Parkade and the Library Parkade are now well used, according to the city.

“Our advice to people is if they are going to be more than two hours, park in a parkade or a parking lot,” says Forbes.

“If they are going to be there for a shorter time, park at a meter.”

In Kelowna, the issue of parking is not about vehicles.

The city, in addition to promoting its transit system as a way of getting people out of their cars and easing the need for more parking, is also advancing the idea of what it called active transportation, the use of cycling and walking and other “people-powered” transportation instead of driving.

To further that objective, the city has invested heavily in trails and cycling routes in recent years and its a move Kelowna’s mayor says appears to be paying off.

Mayor Walter Gray said the most recent example was a request from a local coffee shop owner to give up two street parking spaces outside his business to have them dedicated to bicycle parking.

“By putting it out on the street (rather than on the sidewalk), we are making a statement that fits with the city’s strategy of active transportation,” said Gray.

The coffee shop owner, Giovanni Lauretta of Giobean Espresso on Water Street, said the idea of the bicycle parking came from his customers. “I would love to see this all over the city,” he said.

Adding he does not consider the bike parking to be only for his business, but rather open to anyone downtown looking for a safe spot to park a bicycle, he said in other cities—typically in Europe where bicycle commuting is more common— the sight of street-side cycle parking is not uncommon.

Last week, the city converted two car parking spaces that were controlled by meters into space for 24 bicycles.

There is no charge for the spaces and the conversion is a pilot project over the summer.

The bike racks and pillars separating the space from the road can easily be removed and Lauretta said he can see it being retuned to vehicle parking in the cold winter months.

“It just makes so much sense,” he says, adding credit for the move belongs to the city for agreeing to do it.

“I tell my customers who thanks me, go thank the (city) council.”

The area, close to Prospera Place, is another one where parking is an issue.

With events taking place at the arena all year long, including Kelowna Rockets hockey games, the city is considering extending the current two-hour time restriction for street parking to three hours to accommodate games.

The move is yet another attempt to address parking needs in the area while trying to maintain that ever tricky balance.

 

awaters@kelownacapnews.com

Kelowna Capital News