There was a meeting tonight hosted by the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association, on the topic of… well… a few things.
The main point of discussion was the future of the Front Street Parkade. There have been reports to council talking about longer-term visions for the waterfront, most of which include the partial or complete removal of the Parkade. These are supported by some engineering reports that indicate the maintenance costs for the Parkade are likely to go up significantly in the next few years, and some decisions are going to need to be made about how much to invest. It probably doesn’t help that some uppity bloggers have been calling for the end of the Parkade for a while now…
Naturally, there is a significant number of downtown business owners who see ample, inexpensive parking as fundamental to their business success. When others (be they uppity bloggers, City Staff, or Elected types) start talking about taking away their parking, they get a little itchy.
The BIA also had some gripes about back-in angle parking on Columbia, Bike Lanes, bike lanes, and Pay Parking on Sundays, but those issues seemed to be brushed aside as the conversation centered on the past, present and future of the Parkade.
Present were about a score BIA members, and about the same number of non-BIA types (including downtown residents and uppity bloggers), a few members of the local media, and from the City: Mayor Wright, Councillors Puchmayr, Harper, and MacIntosh, and Jim Lowrie from the City Engineering Department.
The Transportation Committee of the BIA provided a PowerPoint presentation with a lot of words on it (all caps lock), and perhaps I will go through that presentation in detail in a later blog post. Now I want to more talk about the spirit of the room and the nature of the conflict, from an uppity blogger point of view.
If I’m not sure how to summarize what the BIA’s complaints are, it might be because they have not come up with a coherent message. It is clear they do not like that others are suggesting they are going to take away parking. They feel that access to parking, and more specifically, access to the entire Parkade that they (or their ancestral business owners) financed and built, is not only necessary for their businesses, but is vital to the future of the City’s business community.
Arguments that the Parkade is underutilized are countered by the BIA suggesting the Parkade is too expensive and not effectively marketed. Dan O’Hearn from the BIA went so far as to suggest that if the Parkade was put under the control of the Downtown Merchants, it would be filled to capacity providing revenue for the Merchants. This reflected a certain spirit in the room that the Parkade is just poorly managed by the City.
To me, this argument has always sounded like cognitive dissonance, to argue on one hand that every parking spot is needed and that Downtown suffers from a lack of parking, then to argue on the other that the Parkade needs to be more effectively marketed to get people to use it. Are they saying there isn’t a lack of parking Downtown, there is a perceived lack of parking? Or are they saying there are simply not enough parkers downtown? How is either an argument for investing in a mostly-empty Parkade?
Even then, whose responsibility is it to advertise the availability of parking in the Downtown Parkade? The City? The Parking Commission? Dare I say, the BIA?
However, I think the main complaint I heard was that the BIA was not in the loop about what is going on. I heard a lot of people unhappy about not being consulted, and more than a few people worried that the Parkade would be going away this year, with no plan to accommodate the people who currently use the Parkade. It may only be 30% used on most days, but that still represents more than 200 parking spots.
I think this is where there is agreement between the BIA and uppity bloggers like me (and other people who are looking forward to a pedestrian-friendly Front Street connecting Downtown with real human ties to the Waterfront). We agree that there needs to be a plan. I just happen to think we need to look at confirming our current and future parking needs, then planning to accommodate those needs as we develop the Downtown, with the eventual goal being the removal of the eyesore Parkade from our waterfront. The BIA just doesn’t want the Parkade removed until there is a plan in place to accommodate Downtown parking needs. Some might think we are looking for the same thing.
Jim Lowrie and the Councillors at the meeting said as much. The plans they have read regarding eventual Parkade removal have been mid- to long-term planning documents. The City has no intention of removing the Parkade until the BIA and other stakeholders have been consulted, and until there is a comprehensive plan to address the current and future parking needs of Downtown.
So the two sides are not too far apart, and the City is right in the middle. This shouldn’t be to hard, should it?