Popularity is a double edged sword, especially when success as a tourism-based economy depends on people coming to our valley.
How do they get here and where do they park? These two questions are a rabbit hole into which elected officials, community groups, businesses and municipal governments can pour unlimited time and resources.
Canmore and Banff were not designed in their early stages, more than 100 years ago, with the millions of visitors, cars, trucks, RVs and buses that crowd our towns’ roadways.
The streets and roadways were perfectly functional when traffic and visitation was limited by who could actually manage to travel across long distances to reach the remote Rocky Mountains of Canada. There was no public transit and nobody thought about including space for cyclists in their planning processes.
But we know for a fact the Bow Valley sees more than four million visitors travel through the east gates of Banff National Park each year and many of them spend time in our communities, enjoying the many sights, sounds and experiences this destination provides.
How we manage this inflow and outflow of people and their modes of transportation in Canmore and Banff has reached a point where doing nothing to manage the issue is untenable for residents and elected officials.
Managing parking in this valley has become a priority, but unsurpisingly our communities lack consensus about what tools would be effective and appropriate.
Yet officials with both municipalities, transportation engineers and some elected officials have all weighed in that something has to change and the recommended route is to establish paid parking in both communities.
Banff, despite going to a plebiscite in the last municipal election, is well on its way toward bringing paid parking back. While 54 per cent of the community at the ballot box voted to not support implementing paid parking at any time, council and administration have brought paid parking back to the table. They have even budgeted $25,000 to engage the community on the issue and try to gain more support for the proposed parking management system.
In Canmore, while council supported administration’s recommendation to establish free transit and paid parking this year, only half the plan has reached fruition. While local transit is free, the major changes to how parking is managed in the community’s downtown core won’t change until next year once council understands the budget implications.
Paid parking on its own is not a solution to the traffic and congestion issues Banff and Canmore are experiencing during the busiest times of the year. Paid parking is one tool amongst several that should be incorporated together to change behaviours and manage our transportation systems.
Of course anytime bureaucrats or politicians try to change our behaviours it is uncomfortable and there is resistance. But while there is resistance to the concept of paid parking, there are many in this valley who have expressed their frustration with the issue and demand solutions. A common and frustrating refrain for those whose job it is to lead – fix this problem, but we don’t want to pay for it.
Roadways and transportation systems are built for the masses, but our frustrations are individual. As our communities in the valley begin to take this path towards using more tools to manage traffic and parking, we might all want to keep that in mind.
Especially when the intention of the recently elected UCP government is to double tourism spending in the province to $20 billion a year. People need to park before they can spend their money and if we struggle with volumes now, imagine what it would be like doubled.