Parking changes make saner use of downtown space

Business success plus enhanced shopping – and sports – experience should result

Stefano Grande Downtown
Stefano Grande

Let’s face it. No one wants to pay for parking, and we all want to park near where we shop, dine or visit. This has always been a challenge for great and vibrant downtowns.

Economic gurus, Gregory Pierce and Donald Shoup, say it best: “Under-priced (free) and overcrowded curb parking creates problems for everyone except a few lucky drivers who find a cheap space; all the other drivers who cruise to find an open space waste time and fuel, congest traffic and pollute the air. Overpriced and under-occupied parking also creates problems; when curb spaces remain empty, nearby merchants lose potential customers, workers lose jobs and cities lose tax revenue.”

Downtown Winnipeg is undergoing a revival. The majority of our restaurants and retailers are telling us that their customers are having a hard time finding on-street parking around the MTS Centre (the zone where parking hours are being extended, that is; not the entire downtown).

In other words, the lack of on-street parking is affecting their customers and business operations. Our goal is to help our businesses succeed, and to learn and borrow from best practices practiced in other downtowns.

(An Evaluation of Pricing Parking by Demand, April 2, 2013. <>.)

There is no doubt that our downtown is becoming more and more vibrant in the evening, even when the Jets are not playing! This is a good problem to have. That’s why on-street parking needs to be better managed today.

A common practice in many downtowns and business districts where there are on-street parking challenges is to charge for that premium spot during the hours of parking congestion (in our case – up to 8:30 p.m.). As Donald Shoup has proven in his research, if this is done correctly (price and hours), every time you come downtown to this area, there should be an on-street spot for you – especially if you want to park on the same block where your favourite restaurant is.

In effect, then, our planned new parking policy would encourage those who want to park long-term on the street to go to other locations (parkades or off-street parking lots).

The goal is to help people like you, who want to come downtown, but can’t find parking near your favourite restaurant. Remember, this policy is only for the Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED) area.

If you want to avoid paying for parking, you can still park on-street, but a few blocks away, outside this area. Also, some of our restaurants have free customer parking, surface parking lots or parkade spots secured for their customers nearby. You can always ask when making a reservation if they have free parking.

In our conversations with our members (four town-hall-type meetings), we hear eloquently about the need for other parking solutions, like park-and-rides and public infrastructure dedicated toward rapid transit, and about the importance of walkability and living/working/playing downtown. They are right – we need more dense, mixed developments along our transit routes, which integrate parking as part of broader transportation goals. Innovative policies like Shoup’s should be assessed, and tested.

Additional feedback from our members brought out these thoughts:

  • If the demand has been quantified by Winnipeg Parking Authority properly, then this is an option to consider if we can achieve a 15 per cent vacancy of on-street parking, as a rule of thumb (Shoup).
  • Some BIZ members want the zone extended even further, outside of the SHED, where there are the same challenges
  • It would be worthwhile to assess if the hours to pay and park on the street can be extended to 10:30 p.m., typically the time events finish downtown.
  • Ensure that all available loading zones not being used in the evening are used.
  • A solution, or solutions, must be found for night-time workers who also rely on street parking. (This could include programs that give businesses an opportunity to offer their workers off-street parking at a low cost, and that promote alternatives such as biking and transit.)
  • Restaurants and some retailers also need assistance in securing off-street parking for their patrons, as an additional measure. (This has proven to be successful.)
  • Evening validation programs should be available for our retailers and restaurants in this zone.
  • Parking growth should be forecast, and development projects in the area should include co-ordinated parking solutions with integrated transportation options.
  • Effective rapid transit is seen as a viable long-term solution.
  • Encourage the Winnipeg Parking Authority/city to invest the revenue so as to further these solutions, and other programs that will add to the improvement of our downtown.

We’re looking forward to ongoing conversations with our members and the community-at-large regarding advancing some of these ideas.

Stefano Grande is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

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