Downtown Victoria has a great reputation as a compact, walkable city. It’s a wonderful place to bike to work or explore from your hotel, which is great.
What isn’t great is the lack of a plan from the City for addressing a growing shortage of parking. The City continues to own and run its trusty parkades and surface lots and to put a priority on preserving on-street parking in the city centre. What has been lost is parking on private property. There have been 1,800 parking stalls lost to development in the last decade. Another 400 will be lost over the next few years.
Having more residents in the condos that now occupy these lots means downtown business have more potential customers within walking distance. But the building boom has also directly contributed to a drastic reduction in parking stalls.
This is not news to Victoria City Council, which in March urgently approved 38 temporary spots in Old Town. That decision was certainly welcome, but Victoria’s business community needs to know there is a multi-year strategy — not just one-off serendipitous solutions. And yes, we understand that, in an ideal world, this problem would have a regional solution since most of the cars arriving downtown come from outside the city. But we can’t wait for that.
We’re not looking for a miracle, we just need to know there is a plan.
After all, other modes of transportation have the ear of the city’s planning department and decision makers. People who once felt intimidated riding a bike downtown are on their way to enjoying a much friendlier cycling experience thanks to the City’s approach of making biking accessible for all ages and abilities.
That same principle of accessibility needs to be applied to people who drive downtown by necessity or choice, as well as to the many delivery vehicles that supply businesses, offices and homes.
Can the City assure us that, after every private lot is built on, downtown will still be accessible for all ages and abilities?
Does the City have any idea how many vehicles are expected on our streets in the near future? Will the number increase or decrease, and by how much? Are there plans for more park and rides in concert with B.C. Transit?
Has the City considered making public parking a requirement of new development? How about leasing city-owned land to a private firm to run as a public service? Such a partnership makes sense to us as it keeps valuable real estate in the public realm while embracing the efficiencies of private business.
The future of parking is a public concern. We can’t afford to disrupt our region’s economy by discouraging those consumers, employers and employees who need to drive downtown. At least until we figure out a real alternative to cars and delivery vehicles.
Catherine Holt is CEO of The Chamber (Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce).