Tuesday, July 21, 2009


It seems to be a prevalent view among City of Waterloo staff that the way to meet environmental goals is to reduce parking in uptown. They want less parking overall, including less convenient parking and less free parking. They think parking reductions will encourage people to "walk, bike, and rollerblade" as well as to take transit. Increasingly, they seem to think that a well-planned urban core is one that has few cars. This has permeated all the recent planning documents - even the draft urban design guidelines, which makes repeated mention of reducing uptown parking.

I have spent a fair bit of time trying to justify their point of view, but I just can't do it, because:

1. There's plenty of free parking at the new Wal-Mart, at the malls, and at the big box store complexes. Reducing parking only in uptown just encourages more people to drive to the outskirts to shop.

2. Economic viability is what makes uptown work. There are some of us (myself included) who live close enough to Waterloo Square to carry groceries home. Most people will not shop at a grocery store unless they can park close by. When we lose street parking on King between William and Erb (the core of our uptown) due to the LRT, it's not clear what will happen to businesses there. Will anyone go to lunch at the restaurants in that area if they have to walk several blocks from parking? Will they continue to shop at great Waterloo institutions like Words Worth Books and Ontario Seed?

Street festivals are an important part of uptown Waterloo's success. In a recent survey I did of uptown shoppers, employees and employers, the latter group cited festivals as a major way of attracting business. They said that even if people didn't shop at their store on the day of the festival, they saw stores and came back later. We are not going to attract families from the suburbs to our festivals if there is nowhere for them to park. They are not going to have a positive feeling about uptown if they end up driving around looking for a spot.

3. At the moment, residential projects are booming in uptown. For a healthy uptown, we need a balance of residential, commercial (shopping/restaurant), and employee growth. The expansion of uptown office space is being curtailed by the lack of parking - and that's before further parking reductions are implemented (due to LRT, the new hotel on Willis, the Balsillie School, etc). Uptown's big employers - such as SunLife, KPMG, Allen Square, and the Bauer Lofts - are all having problems because of the parking crunch. There's plenty of employee parking in the industrial parks - which, by the way, encourages companies to locate in places not well served by public transit.

4. When you walk around the uptown core, it's apparent that there is heavy use by seniors and by people with small children in strollers. Many of these people can't get out without cars, and can't walk from far-flung parking lots. Uptown is ringed by eight senior facilities/residences. Residents at Water Park, a primarily senior comlex of two large buildings, tend to be drivers. They are close enough to uptown to walk in good weather, but that's only a small part of the year. We have an aging demographic and seniors must be accommodated.

5. City and region staff who work in uptown have great parking: some underground and some in a convenient, dedicated lot behind their building. If they want to benefit the environment by reducing car use, they should start by shutting their own lots, charging employees hefty fees to park there, or forcing employees to walk several blocks from parking. Once they have done that they can start to talk about imposing parking restrictions on other employees and shoppers.

Staff likes to quote a parking study done a few years ago that found that there was excess parking in uptown. However, (1) much of that parking was inconvenient, such as at the station lot on Regina, and (2) the situation has changed completely since the new public square was built, reducing parking, while parking demand has increased. Both sides of the Waterloo Square parking lot are now regularly jammed, as is street parking. We need at least two multi-story parking structures immediately: one in the Waterloo Square lot near Erb, and one on King Street north of Erb. It would greatly reduce the pressure on uptown if SunLife could be prevailed upon to build a parking structure on their land at Union and King.

Waterloo Park is also being targeted as a car-free zone: the draft Waterloo Park Master Plan proposes closing all the parking lots in the park. Just walk around the park on any given day, and you'll see that many of the regulars have babies in strollers, are elderly people, or are picnicking. In many cases, those people will not be able to use the park when the lots are closed.

Conclusion: Start with Carrots
Parking strategy is truly the dog the wags the tail of uptown development. It threatens to drag us down, and that's a pity because it's so wrong-headed. You shouldn't use the stick before you use the carrot. We still have a long way to go in improvements such as:

* Providing bike lanes and bike parking.
* Creating safe pedestrian crossings (especially Caroline from Willis to Alexandra; Albert between Erb and Dupont; and the difficult Erb-Caroline intersection).
* Removing snow/ice from transit stops and sidewalks so that they meet accessibility standards. (A person with a walker cannot walk from Water Park to uptown in the winter.) Winter walking is treacherous on many sidewalks, such as on Caroline alongside the city lots from Alexandra to Father David Bauer Drive.
* Joining up our trail system (it falls into a black hole in uptown, picking up at Erb-Caroline to the north and Park-Allen to the south).
* Creating a proper walking/biking path along the railway tracks and connecting it to paths into Kitchener.
* Working on innovative approaches such as a cheap shuttle bus that runs through the uptown core.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for calling us a great institution! We agree with some of your observations as well
Take Care,
Words Worth Folks

Yappa said...

Good to hear from you, Words Worth folks!

Years ago you guys brought together a bunch of us in a book club... gradually everybody dropped off but two of us, and we two joined with two others, and the four of us are still going strong at http://kwbookclub.blogspot.com/.