LETTER: We have a parking problem, but it’s not lack of space

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Open houses on the issue start tonight and reader Andre Riopel encourages people to come out and discuss parking reforms

SooToday received the following letter from local advocate Andre Riopel, who is encouraging residents to come out to parking reform open houses happening this week:

Have your say as the city modernizes parking rules.

The city is currently updating its parking rules with several Open Houses planned for this week. CIMA a national engineering consulting firm has been hired to review and update our city’s parking regulations. A summary of their findings is available for review and pubic feedback.

Not surprisingly, the consultant found that our downtown core has an overabundance of parking. A common practice among progressive cities and recommended by the consultant, is to eliminate the rule dictating how much parking is required for each building type. In other words, the amount of parking a landowner or developer requires would be entirely up to them, including the choice to have no parking at all. This gives control to the businesses to decide how much parking they really want.

20231101riopel-mapA second recommendation is to use current technology to monitor parking use in real time. This would allow the use of modern parking apps so consumers can easily see available and cost of parking spots and pay for them with a touch of a button on their cell phone. Enforcement would also easily be done as the app shows if a vehicle occupying a parking spot has paid the fare. The other advantage is that data can be captured on utilization rates and redundant parking can be sold for housing or commercial development. It also allows flexible parking rates so that high demand parking spots become more expensive than underused parking. The same app can also be used by institutions like Algoma U, SAH and Sault College making it so much easier to find and pay for parking.

Another recommendation is for the city to sell (or lease) all its downtown public parking to the Downtown Association. This would be a significant benefit for everyone particularly for the Downtown Association and its merchants. Businesses who currently have private parking could elect to sell their parking to the Association and let them manage those parking spots, thereby reducing their operating costs. The Association would be able to set the parking rates to cover their costs and create a revenue source for events, security, street furniture. etc. again reducing this burden from taxpayers. By controlling all public parking, the Association would be able to re-design and optimize all the parking based on accurate data collection. Downtown businesses could chose to lease permanent space for their customers and employees to provide “free” parking for their customers if they wish to do so.  The option to eliminate parking costs for businesses and developers reduces rent and makes housing more affordable and businesses more competitive.

Parking is a valuable use of land but when it sits empty or under used, it becomes a missed opportunity to provide development land. According to Parking Reform Network (see map above), approximately 39 per cent of the Sault’s downtown land is used for parking. That’s one of the highest percentage in North America. When too much land is dedicated to parking, there is less space for buildings, something that is sorely needed to improve our downtown core. Cities that have prosperous downtowns typically dedicate less than 20 per cent of surface land to parking.

Sault Ste Marie has a parking problem and it’s not a lack of parking but an inefficient use of existing parking. Utilizing best practices and the latest technology, parking reforms would encourage more development in the downtown core while helping drivers find and pay for parking. 

Have your say and attend the upcoming open houses.

André Riopel

Case Road

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