Now that some committee meetings are available for streaming at home, we can hear a lot more of the discussion around topics that go to council, discussion that at times is more important than the Staff Reports that are available in the on-line agendas.
The discussions last week of the new vision for Front Street and the Parkade, is a perfect example. Here are a few things I picked up on.
As much as I like green spaces and innovative park design, I don’t want to see half the Parkade preserved as some sort of elevated park/viewpoint over the Pier Park as Councillor McEvoy suggests. Putting a green roof on the white elephant won’t change it from being a white elephant. Making any long-term investment in “improving” the Parkade would be money wasted, as its very existence will continue to be a blight on our waterfront and limit the potential to convert Front Street into human space. Parks should be on the ground, and putting one up in the air that will limit the economic development adjacent is less than optimal.
To hear Councillor McIntosh still talk about further “beautification” of the Parkade was depressing. Her Twitter feed last week read:
“more customers needed to park on Front St. Parkade. Should park ‘n ride be promoted?”
This creates a strange paradox. The Parkade is underused, on average about 25%, up to 38% at peak times. So it seems Councillor McIntosh is looking for way to promote the use of something, in order to justify not demolishing it because it is underused relative to the expense of repairing and maintaining it. I know Councillor McIntosh is on the record as being a “fan of the Parkade”, but it is time to move on. The Parkade is holding back the development of our waterfront, it is a blight on the face of our City, it limits the development of potentially high-value commercial Real Estate on Front Street…it is time to let it go.
I think Councillor Cote put the right stamp on the discussion: the City needs to start looking forward to when the Parkade is no longer there. That will definitely include making some hard decisions about how to accommodate the parking elsewhere in downtown, which will have to follow some sober discussion about how much parking we need downtown. I suspect a large proportion of the Parade traffic is already park-and-ride folks, but there is no doubt downtown businesses can make a compelling case that parking will need to be found for the 200-odd cars that use the Parkade on the average day. I’m not saying tear it down tomorrow, I’m saying let’s start planning for the day we do tear it down, and in the meantime, let’s not dump any money into it. (It is important to note that the City is not, as of yet, dumping money into the Parkade. It operates much like a utility, and has something like a million dollars in its contingency fund. But major refurbishment will be expensive, and I would like to see our money spent elsewhere).
Councillor Cote also points out the importance of connectivity, between downtown and the waterfront, between the MUCF and the Quay, between the Pier Park and Sapperton Landing. If the council elected in November has one “developing the City vision for their term, I hope this is it.
Finally, it was interesting to hear Councillor Harper express his concern about the zombification of the NFPR. When the UBE went down the drain, TransLink made several announcements that the NFPR did not make sense without a UBE, and as such, the NFPR is not a project they are considering further (see final page of this presentation) . Or maybe they said it isn’t a priority. OR maybe they said no such thing. The message has been a little uncertain. I distinctly remember thinking the NFPR was dead after hearing Sany Zein talk to the Public open house, and to Council. So zombie or not, I think we have to take TransLink on their word, and proceed with building the waterfront we want. We have waited 20 years fro TransLink to build the NFPR, and that waiting has slowed down the growth of our commercial centre. Time to cut the cord.
Finally, I disagree with the idea that we need to get the trucks off Front Street to make it a livable, human space. To do that, we need to get rid of the Parkade. We need to clean up the rail area, we need to build a pedestrian-friendly streetscape on the north side, with adequate green space, and we need to build safe crossings of the rails. Keeping the traffic lanes to two lanes and limiting speed to 30km/h is all the traffic control we need. The rails are not going anywhere, and the park itself pays homage to the working waterfront, slow-moving trucks can be accommodated.
Less trucks might be nice, but it will only open up the road for commuters, who will quickly fill the space, and generally drive faster than trucks. This way, we avoid the other big debate: pushing trucks onto Royal Avenue 24 hours a day. There are more than thousand residents of Royal Avenue who know all too well the number of trucks that ignore the night-time truck-closure of that street. This traffic should remain in the commercial parts of town, where the noise impacts are less personal, and affect property values less