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Quarry Lake paid parking program shows early success

“The fees are set not necessarily to target a revenue but to manage the demand. … The net revenues are a result of designing a program to manage demand spillover and while strong, there are some seasonal factors that might’ve contributed to it so I think we’ll sit back, review the data, review the feedback and try to address the concerns about cost that we heard while still rolling out a program next season that will meet the primary goals.”
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Two women paddle board at Quarry Lake in Canmore on Saturday (May 22). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – The early results of the Quarry Lake paid parking program show it as a potential money maker for the Town.

The preliminary numbers show net revenue of about $220,000 was pumped into Town coffers, nearly more than triple the projected $80,000 first thought when the program began.

Originally designed to help curtail the overwhelming demand for the popular Quarry Lake swimming hole and dog park, the first-year program brought in revenue of $292,000 after being projected at $180,000 after people continued to flock to the area.

The incurred expenses were roughly $70,000, which was nearly a third less than the projected $100,000.

“This, in my opinion, has been a very successful initiative for an initial trial year and look forward to see how it may be modified for future years,” said Mayor John Borrowman, who noted there was initial confusion and complaints when it was first launched but issues were reduced as the summer went along.

“We’ll be learning from this first summer’s operation and fully expected we would get this report and there will be tweaks made to the program.”

Andy Esarte, the Town’s manager of engineering, said staff are continuing to review all data and information collected as they head into the second year of running the paid parking program.

“The fees are set not necessarily to target a revenue but to manage the demand. … The net revenues are a result of designing a program to manage demand spillover and while strong, there are some seasonal factors that might’ve contributed to it so I think we’ll sit back, review the data, review the feedback and try to address the concerns about cost that we heard while still rolling out a program next season that will meet the primary goals.”

Esarte said the municipality should anticipate lower revenue in future years, but also expect lower operating expenses as projected net revenue could bring in as much as $200,000 annually.

He noted there were about 15,000 transactions this year at the parking lot.

Statistics kept by the town found that on busy days such as holidays and weekends, 87 per cent of people using Quarry Lake parking were visitors, while it was reduced to 68 per cent on quieter days.

However, Esarte added additional years of data are needed for a better understanding.

The payment data highlighted Saturdays and Sundays were the busiest and the hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. were the most active, he said.

It was the first year for paid parking at Quarry Lake, with the aim to have out-of-town visitors pay a share to enjoy the popular lake and dog park. Households in Canmore can receive a permit to avoid having to pay, which saw about 4,000 issued.

Town staff are continuing to look at possible ways to help multiple people who live in the same household potentially access free passes. Permit revenue this year was a little less than $8,000, Esarte said.

“We’re still gathering info and that’s something we certainly heard,” Esarte said. “You’d have situations where you may have four or five roommates and they all want to use Quarry Lake or families would have children returning home from being at school and wanting to have passes, so we have that on the list to look at with flexibility and these unique cases to have more flexibility.”

After approval in 2018, the Integrated Parking Management Plan emphasized the need for paid parking and free public transit to help with the growing congestion and increased demand for parking.

The purpose of the Quarry Lake fee is designed to assist with infrastructure costs.

A 2020 online survey, which had 1,708 participants provide responses, found locals did not want to pay to park, more spaces needed for the dog park, additional parking enforcement and parking permits to cover the Peaks of Grassi and Rundleview areas.

The rate of $20 covers four hours during peak season and $10 in the off-peak times, with paid hours running from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

While it aids the bottom line of ratepayers and the municipality, the initial pilot program has been controversial in its exclusion of nearby residents in the MD of Bighorn.

Though council and Town staff have been supportive of adding Bow Valley residents to enjoy the popular lake, a decision was pushed back until at least 2022.

The Town of Canmore and MD of Bighorn have a six-year agreement for using recreational services that was signed in 2020, which allows Bighorn residents to use Elevation Place and the Canmore Recreation Centre. The MD of Bighorn pays about $110,000 to use the two facilities.

Downtown Canmore is also anticipated to have paid parking in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic shifted it to 2022 due to it possible impacting the tourism industry.

A seasonal bus for a three-year pilot route will also be added and have four stops, including Grassi Lakes and the Canmore Nordic Centre. The cost for the project was $1.16 million, with $885,000 coming from grants and the remaining $275,000 from the Town’s general capital reserve.

Esarte said an electric bus has been purchased for $1.04 million along with the charger installation, while infrastructure needs and crossings on Highway 742 will be $120,000. Construction will take place this fall.

The estimated operating costs are $150,000 per year, but provincial grants will cover 80 per cent of the capital costs and half the operating costs. The province, however, asked the route not to come into effect until 2023 once the parking and bus facility is complete at Grassi Lakes.

Council previously approved residents living within 500 metres of Quarry Lake will get up to three street parking permits per household.

“It’s an interesting pilot and I’m glad we moved forward with it,” Coun. Joanna McCallum said.