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Course charted for parking in the downtown through release of new ‘strategy’

The report suggested a meter rate increase from $1.25 an hour to $1.50 would save each dwelling unit in the city an estimated $50 per year on average in property taxes. — The Nelson Daily photo

The new city parking strategy has been released and what it doesn’t contain is almost as interesting as what it does.

The Downtown Parking Strategy has been in the works since 2016 — as part of Development Services’ annual work plan — with an eye toward simultaneously improving parking accessibility in the downtown and surrounding areas and discouraging usage, nudging people toward transit.

The new strategy, officially released in a council regular business meeting March 9, tried to chart a map toward sorting out the knot that is parking in downtown Nelson, highlighting key areas such as financial sustainability, free versus metered parking and downtown residential parking.

With a slate of new recommendations now approved to be implemented over the next three years, what won’t be included immediately is a change or increase to senior’s parking rates, a rise in metered parking rates and an adjustment to the paid parking times.

The strategy pulls heavily on a 2016 traffic study to craft its recommendations. According to data from occupancy studies from 2016, the strategy noted free parking near downtown was over-subscribed and paid parking options in the downtown were underutilized.

“It certainly does speak to people’s willingness to …go out of their way to get free parking,” said city planner Alex Thumm, the author of the strategy. “It is certainly not unique to Nelson, but what is unique to Nelson is a bit more of the topography (and the railway tracks).”

The strategy broke down its recommendations into several areas:

Meter and signage changes

The report stated that the mixed meter durations in the downtown should continue to be mixed durations — mostly two-hour with some one-hour meters on Baker Street, some 15-minute meters in select high-turnover locations and four-hour and all-day meters on the periphery of the downtown.

The city will also be considering the creation of all-day commuter parking meters on underutilized areas in the city such as Lake Street, while balancing with two-hour or even 15-minute meters for adjacent businesses.

  • Four-hour meters on Hall Street between Front and Lake Streets.
  • On the Josephine Street right-of-way between Front Street and the rail tracks, “consult with adjacent businesses on their desired maximum metered parking duration.”
  • Creating angled parking on the north side of Lakeside Drive and charging the city’s daily commuter parking rate.
  • Consider one-way streets for the 300 and 400 blocks of Victoria and the 500 to 800 blocks of Silica.
  • Formalize the free parking areas of east side of 300 Cedar (resident and paid all-day commuter parking) and north side of 100 Vernon (paid all-day commuter parking).

The city parking strategy considers making a one-way street on the 300 and 400 blocks of Victoria and (above photo) 500 to 800 blocks of Silica.

Maximize current parking assets

  • Work with owners of private parking lots to make use of stalls during off-use hours (i.e. during evenings and weekends) by encouraging shared spaces with other individuals and/or businesses. Encourage residents and property owners to participate in peer-to-peer parking space sharing.
  • Carve out new parking where possible. Significantly increase bicycle parking and consider dedicating a strategically-placed parking stall for a large bike rack
  • Continue implementing angled parking where feasible. Over-length vehicles must be parked in parallel spaces.
  • Consider lowering the downtown speed limit to 30 km/h in order to ensure angled parking is considered safe by residents. “Lowering speed limits significantly improves pedestrian and cyclist safety. Someone hit by a car driving at 40 km/h has a 30 per cent likelihood of dying, but at 30 km/h, this reduces to 10 per cent.”
  • Prioritise public parking over private parking by continuing to restrict new driveway accesses (curb cuts) when they would eliminate publicly-accessible street parking.
  • Consider a council policy restricting licences for private use of street parking. For long-term leases, require consultation with adjacent businesses prior to approving a long-term lease.

Financial sustainability

  • Encourage transit use over vehicle trips into the downtown by implementing a parking pricing strategy that is more favourable to transit. “Transit trips are currently $2.25 per direction, while parking is $1.25 per hour. For two people to come downtown by bus, it would cost $9 in cash fares round-trip. That price is nearly double the all-day parking rate of $5.”
  • The report recommended that if transit fares were to increase, parking meter rates should increase accordingly.
  • The report suggested a summer pilot project for free transit on routes that run entirely within city limits (routes 1, 2 and 3) could be considered — the cost shouldered from parking revenue. Bus runs not regularly at-capacity would be considered for the free transit pilot.
  • In order to free up parking for customers, businesses could consider “incentivising their employees to not park downtown, using free or subsidized transit passes.

City parkade

  • Make payment more user-friendly through technology.
  • Install secured bicycle parking and electric vehicle charging.

Downtown residential streets

  • Start charging a $40 annual fee ($3.33 per month) for residential parking permits to cover administration costs and to make a small contribution to road maintenance costs.
  • Consider the introduction of up to two permits for a dwelling unit with no off-street parking. The proposed permit cost is $180 per year ($15 per month).
  • Consider replacing free commuter parking in the residential zone by gradually piloting a restricted number of commuter permits for residential blocks at $50 per month ($2.50 per weekday). The permits would be valid only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, on select blocks.
  • Residential permits will be free for electric vehicles until the year 2025.
  • Permit-eligible households could also purchase a motorcycle/scooter permit for $10 per year.
  • Allow residents to park in front of their own driveway by parking parallel to the curb or street, only if the licence plate is registered to that address.
  • Amend the two-hour parking restriction to allow for two hours of free parking only once per day in any two-hour zone, closing the loophole that allows drivers to move a few metres every two hours to avoid a ticket.
  • Exclude new multi-unit buildings with six or more units from being eligible for residential parking permits.
  • Make trailers, recreational vehicles and other vehicles longer than 6.5 metres ineligible for street parking permits.
  • Introduce winter-only parking permits for households whose off-street parking is often not accessible during the winter months due to snow and ice.
  • Establish a clear opt-in/opt-out mechanism to change the parking restrictions on a given block. • Consider adopting a policy to guide requests to install accessible parking signage in front of individual homes who may need it.

Veterans and seniors parking

Unlike many other cities, the report noted, Nelson offers a discounted seniors parking permit for $90 per year.

It was recommended to continue to “direct veterans to the seniors parking permit program, if they are eligible, because it already offers significant savings to seniors who drive downtown regularly, and not to introduce any additional fee waivers.”

Tradesperson and commercial delivery

For tradespeople and commercial delivery vehicles, the meter hood rate would stay at $20, but the pre-purchased dashboard permit rate will drop from $20 to $10 per day, valid for the entire day.

Parking fines

The report recommended increasing the minimum parking fines for the two lowest fine categories, bumping the category one ticket (including expired meter) from $10 to $15 for early payment, from $25 to $35 for standard payment and from $50 to $70 for late payment.

The category two rates (including exceed two hours in two-hour zone) would bump from $15/$35/$70 to $20/$50/$80.

On the way

Ongoing consideration under the strategy includes shifting meter rate times from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to later hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

The change could be considered “if a new timeframe would better align with the busiest times in downtown Nelson when paid parking may help to free up parking availability for consumers,” Thumm noted in the strategy.

“Evidence currently suggests that there is more parking demand between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. than 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.”

As well, there will be ongoing consideration for an increase to the parking rates to offset “rising infrastructure costs, inflation, managing increasing demand, residents’ appetite for shifting infrastructure costs from general revenue to parking and balance with transit fares.”

Thumm said, based on previous years’ parking revenue, a meter rate increase from $1.25 an hour to $1.50 would save each dwelling unit in the city an estimated $50 per year on average in property taxes.

Legalize downtown

Most of the buildings that make Nelson successful are not allowed today and are considered legal nonconforming.

A typical two-storey building on Baker Street would require between 15 and 22 spaces, which would take up over half the lot.

Many heritage homes in the downtown area sit on hard-to-access lots due to our steep streets and, in some cases, the required parking would cost tens of thousands of dollars to create if the houses were to be rebuilt today — even then, many residents couldn’t even access their parking in the winter because it would be off of the lane.

  • In the lead up to an outright elimination of parking requirements in order to “legalize downtown,” ensure that any future redevelopment can lower parking requirements by offsetting the transportation demand that it generates.
  • Double the existing bicycle parking requirements for new developments from 0.5 spaces to one space per dwelling unit.
  • Require less parking for rental apartments than for condos.
  • Regularly reconsider minimum parking dimensions. The current length of a conforming parking stall is six metres.
  • On any lot where three or more parking spaces are required, allow up to 50% of spaces to be “small-car only.”
  • Decrease the length of a “small-car only” space from 5.3 metres to 4.8 metres.

Source: City of Nelson Downtown Parking Strategy