Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Parking should be part of downtown experience

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A persistent issue that I hear about in downtown Winnipeg is parking. Never mind that there are 35,000 spots downtown and Winnipeg has lower rates than most other Canadian cities, it's still a favourite topic.

But as progressive cities are finding out, this does not have to be the case.

Dennis Burns from Carl Walker and Associates recently spoke of the real challenges of downtowns. He spoke of how an effective downtown parking strategy can turn downtown challenges into opportunities, creating more reasons for people to come downtown, while having a positive experience.

With 25 years of experience, Burns has visited more than 25 cities. His knowledge of how to develop downtowns and parking is unsurpassed.

His message to developers, realtors, students, business owners and government staff was simple: focus on building an incredible pedestrian-oriented downtown, and develop more reasons for people to come to and enjoy our downtown. We are a car-oriented culture. As such, parking needs to be planned to add value to revitalization efforts (as do other options for people to access the downtown). Parking can be a tool to stimulate the desired development. And a Parking Authority is the best mechanism to get there.

Burns noted some cities in the U.S. have moved away from managing parking to privatizing it, and are now regretting it because they no longer control this essential building block for downtown redevelopment.

Successful downtowns build strategic mixed-use commercial buildings in which parking supports housing and office uses, as well as storefront retail. Having a parkade for office workers sit empty when they go home is wasting resources. By integrating uses as part of the development, the parkade can be used at different periods of the day. The goal is to use this strategy to work with developers to rid the downtown of surface parking lots.

Burns said that our city has one of the best urban parking programs in North America, but we need to plan for the future. Other cities with similar assets partner with and leverage private sector developers to help with the high cost of building parking garages for downtown projects. He identified this as an economic engine that could spark development leading to more spin-offs.

He also noted that our city has relaxed zoning parking regulations. He said to address the eventual need for parking, cash in lieu of parking has been a successful tool used in cities like Calgary, where the city plays a role in coordinating the need for parking from multi-developers.

The supply of parking spaces at the curbside isn't going to increase; it's obvious that all the roads are built and on-street parking spaces will only become hotter commodities as downtown Winnipeg grows and matures. Paying for parking at meters forces us to share the space and ensure that there is an opportunity for everyone to get a spot, but the supply of parking spaces will only grow if we build it into parkades and development projects.

So let's have another look at where we want to go, how we want to park, and how to make all of that sustainable. Let's focus on building an incredible, accessible downtown with businesses that people enjoy visiting, and plan our parking facilities to make it easier.

Stefano Grande is the executive director of the Downtown BIZ.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2009 A12

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