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Downtown Canmore paid parking key election issue for residents

With paid downtown Canmore parking inevitably coming in 2022, how should the rollout take place, especially after the lessons learned during the first year of paid parking at Quarry Lake and in the Town of Banff?
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RMO FILE PHOTO

CANMORE – As the popularity of Canmore has expanded, so too has the issue of parking in the mountain town.

Anyone driving through the downtown core in peak season knows the difficulty and frustrations in trying to find a parking spot, with many residents avoiding the area altogether in busy summer months.

But with paid downtown parking inevitably coming in 2022, how should the rollout take place, especially after the lessons learned during the first year of paid parking at Quarry Lake?

Candidates who responded to the Outlook all spoke in favour of downtown paid parking, particularly in having visitors pay their fare to help with infrastructure needs, they emphasized the need to lessen the impact on residents.

Mayoral candidate Sean Krausert highlighted areas near downtown should have free residential permits and the downtown core should have a time period for free parking for residents, similar to three hours in Banff.

“In this manner, revenue from parking will mostly be raised from visitors, and the revenue raised will support free public transit,” he said.

Krausert said paid downtown parking can be successful without intercept parking, but it would aid in reducing traffic. The key, though, is having an intercept lot within walking or shuttle distance of downtown.

“Canmore is limited in its ability to provide significant intercept parking within walking distance of the downtown, but the Town should be able to provide intercept parking near entrances into Canmore. We will then need to work with Roam Transit to develop a plan to service those areas.”

Vi Sandford, an incumbent councillor running for mayor, said looking to the lessons learned from the Quarry Lake paid parking program is invaluable for implementing a similar system downtown.

By looking at the Quarry Lake program and the Town of Banff’s paid parking system, she said it can result in a smoother rollout.

She also added how the Town of Canmore negotiated temporary intercept spots in the parking lot behind Home Hardware, while land already owned by the Town near Elevation Place is planned for future intercept parking.

“Protected bike lanes on the Benchlands overpass, red-paved bike lanes, widened pedestrian sidewalks, and fare-free transit options, comprise the multi-pronged approach to ease traffic and congestion around town,” she said.

The third mayoral candidate, Jeff Laidlaw, stressed the different demands of parking in the high tourism season compared to those of less-visited times of the year.

Though the added revenue will help Town coffers, he said decisions need to be based on more than just collecting extra finances and need to prioritize helping locals.

But with space at a premium in the mountain town, he said “if Canmore were able to create an intercept lot, I suspect it would take some experimentation to see what worked.”

The goals would also have to be determined to find the measure of success, he said.

The initial Canmore downtown paid parking program would have featured 30 minutes of free parking, a residential parking pass, four-hour restrictions between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and the availability of a monthly pass.

The two-year hiatus in Canmore along with the lessons from Quarry Lake and the Town of Banff’s downtown paid parking program will allow Town staff time to improve the program.

A staff report to Banff council’s finance and governance committee in March estimated paid parking would bring in net revenue of about $1.1 million a year.

Jason Darrah, the Town of Banff’s director of communications and marketing, said Town staff are still calculating the capital and operating costs before being able to present the net revenue at the end of the year to the incoming council. Early indications, however, show a promising net revenue coming into the municipality.

Banff, however, has sizeable options for intercept parking that are only minutes walking distance from most downtown destinations.

Fenlands recreation centre has 160 stalls and the train station provides 496 stalls for free parking, while Canmore has no one option of similar size.

Darrah noted the Fenlands isn’t typically an intercept lot, but has been one the past two summers due to the recreation centre being closed at times because of COVID-19.

Of course, while intercept parking is in high demand on summer weekends, it is unlikely a lot would be anywhere near capacity in the off-season. But while demand can ebb and flow depending on the number of visitors in town, residents still have to pay for maintenance and infrastructure year-round.

According to the Town of Canmore website, a parkade that would bring an extra 160 parking stalls could sit mostly empty up to seven months of the year and cost about $1 million a year.

Quarry Lake paid parking was a financial success for the Town this past summer. The initial staff estimate had about $80,000 in revenue being brought in after the initial capital costs were factored in.

However, the program raised about $220,000 as paid parking did little to dissuade visitors from enjoying Quarry Lake.

The program provided a free pass per household, allowing some residents the opportunity to visit without paying.

For a program to succeed, council candidate Vijay Domingo said it would have to “be monitored and evolve over time,” but free intercept parking at Elevation Place and paid parking downtown would help ease congestion.

However, a free annual parking pass for each resident that comes with their property tax bill would be a “way of thanking them for their contribution to our community, thereby having visitors provide the largest contribution.”

Karen Marra, an incumbent councillor, echoed the need for residents to have a free period each day to allow them to visit the downtown and have it be extended in the winter during the off-season.

“I believe the paid parking will work there will be some learning and adjusting in its implementation to make it work successfully,” she said. “There are some options to explore, providing more parking spots within walking distance to downtown, and to create intercept parking that could be coordinated with Roam transit stops.”

Looking to the success of Banff’s program, particularly the three free hours of downtown parking for residents, would help locals not feel the burden of the cost, said Christoph Braier.

He added the Town should also look at the possibility of putting a parking garage in the existing free parking lot between 8th and 7th streets, and having storefronts on the main level along with community gardens, restaurants and green spaces on the top level.

“Any open spaces left in Canmore should be used for housing, business or green space, certainly not surface parking.”

Incumbent councillor Joanna McCallum said Town staff have already put a considerable amount of work into finding additional parking, such as securing the Home Hardware parking lot for short-term intercept use, but it is key to look to the lessons from Quarry Lake and the Town of Banff when implementing it in 2022.

She said Town staff have addressed many concerns, as heard at the April 5 council meeting and again on Oct. 5, in improving the yet-to-be-launched paid parking program in the downtown core.

But with the demands of parking continuing to be high, despite the ongoing shift to multi-modal transit, “we will continue to actively look for solutions” since short-term intercept parking isn’t a long-term answer, she said.

Jeff Hilstad said the lessons from Quarry Lake and Banff’s downtown paid parking program will aid in implementing downtown Canmore paid parking, but care should be made to help residents.

He said residents should be accommodated through an appropriate residential parking permit to avoid parking spillover into residential neighbourhoods, while a free parking limit for residents would help as well as a paid monthly pass for downtown workers.

“I believe that the downtown paid visitor parking program can be successful without intercept parking, but would be more effective with additional intercept parking made available. Council continues to explore options for creating additional intercept parking and I am confident that additional intercept lots can be created,” he said.

“We may need to explore creative solutions such as intercept parking lots further from downtown that can have dedicated shuttles to bring people to downtown, or that can be integrated into Canmore local Roam Transit.”

The Town’s 2018 parking management plan recommended additional remote or intercept parking, while also improving cycling and walking options to help push the more active modes of transit.

The plan estimated intercept parking could reduce the parking demand by 10 to 30 per cent, but for it to succeed, a greater shift towards active and public transit is required, Rob Seeley said.

He said the downtown sector has worked with the Town in aiding the eventual implementation of the program, especially with it delayed for two years to lessen the financial impact felt by businesses.

But while paid parking can bring frustrations, the Town has the fare-free public transit option to remove barriers to using Roam Transit.

“Fare free transit and multi-modal improvements to shift driving behaviour will help reduce vehicle travel to the downtown core,” Seeley said.

Canmore-born candidate Tanya Foubert suggested paid parking is the path forward, particularly given the success of Quarry Lake and the Banff program. But a license plate registration could allow for all-day free parking for downtown workers.

Though it could take longer than the initial first year to create, it would have less of financial burden on residents in the long-term, she said.

A greater look at how public transit, parking and the proposed high-speed railway fit in with the long-term vision of the community would be needed to ensure intercept parking was placed in the right spot. She said a master plan for the visitor information centre lands, including the Wapati Campground, is worth analyzing.

“That entire area is owned by the province, which has in the past been working on a master plan for the lands,” she said. “It is adjacent to the Legacy Trail and railway, and there is even more provincial land in the highway right of way nearby. The visitor information centre parking lot is already inadequate, with visitors parking along Palliser Trail to take the overflow.

“This is the perfect location for our future transit/parking hub and we should be lobbying the province on what is the future of those lands now.”

Longtime resident and downtown business owner Jeff Mah had a similar concept in providing free downtown parking for residents – through a local parking pass – to help local businesses and without charging locals to park.

The local parking pass, he said, would help with enforcement for any potential spillover into residential neighbourhoods, while education and signage would be important.

Mah suggested the lands between the Trans-Canada Highway and Palliser Trail developments with a Roam Transit shuttle connecting to the downtown could provide intercept parking, while discussing options with school lots for summer and weekend use is worth exploring.

“Even without an intercept parking lot, the downtown paid parking program moves us in the right direction and raises funds for Town initiatives such as affordable housing, etc. We can also incentivize visitors whereby they receive a parking discount if they provide receipts proving they shopped local.”

Council candidates Wade Graham and Jyn San Miguel did not respond before the Outlook’s publication.