Two hour free parking

October 14, 2008

Blog, Jobs & the Economy

I was downtown on Monday for the Guelph Mercury’s Thanksgiving Day Races and Family Fun Day.  There was a great crowd, of all ages, participating in the fun and games.  

As I was leaving, a woman stopped me to thank me for two hour free parking.  She told me she now shops downtown. 

This reminded me that the one year pilot is coming to an end and Council will need to decide whether to extend the program.

This has not been the first time I have had someone tell me how much they appreciate two hour free parking.  In fact, it happens alot.  Over the last year, the feedback on the street has been immensely positive.  Customers are happy.  Business owners are happy.  Investors are happy. 

But how do you quantify what all this “happiness” means? How do you translate the positive response into a business case?  Because there will be a cost to continue the program. 

On this one, I don’t think we can expect hard numbers.  Our proof is found in the smiles of the people that create economic wealth and jobs in our downtown.

It is true very large cities – like London England – are trying to discourage cars in their downtowns.  They have the urban density, the level of service and, most importantly, a brilliant transit system to support such programs without hurting the economic vitality of their downtowns. Our downtown is not there yet.  Perhaps in 10 to 20 years after we implement our local growth management strategy, grow our transit system and bring 8000 new residents into the downtown, we can follow their example.  We need an economically strong downtown if we are going to be successful in implementing Places to Grow to curb urban sprawl.

If you walk or cycle downtown, you have a vested interest in ensuring it remains strong and can support the businesses and services that you enjoy.  Even if you never go downtown, you still have a vested interest because the future health of our city as a whole will rest significantly on the development of our urban centre.

In the meantime, I think we need to do all we can to ensure the ongoing vibrancy of our downtown.  I believe the pilot program has shown its worth.


About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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4 Comments on “Two hour free parking”

  1. Dan Kupferman Says:

    With all due respect, of course people like two hours of free parking…people appreciate receiving most anything of value for free. The vibrancy of a downtown is no more dependent upon free parking than it is upon free clothing, free meals, or free furniture. I recommend reading “The High Cost of Free Parking” (by Donald Shoup) to get a comprehensive look at the role parking plays in the downtown business model.

  2. Martin Wheelhouse Says:

    The Donald Shoup point is all well and good for large urban centre’s, but it doesn’t ring true for small cities like Guelph. When you’re trying to throw downtown a bone in the face of your Wal-Mart’s and Superstore you have to be a little more forgiving. How is downtown town supposed to thrive when it lacks the selection and convenience a strip mall?

    If you’re worried about the monetary shortfall then perhaps you should tack on a few expenses to these big box store permits that seem to be reluctantly granted every time they come around? It’s better than punishing your residents with higher property taxes.

  3. Barb Minett Says:

    Dear Mayor and Councillors,

    As a business owner in downtown Guelph for 35 years I have heard thousands
    of complaints about the City of Guelph’s downtown on-street parking
    policy. But this year I have heard nothing but kudos for the city’s pilot
    project. Comments like, “Finally, the city has taken this downtown
    seriously.” or “I had just about given up coming downtown but this has
    totally changed my attitude.” are made several times a day. I am sure that
    you all know that people are more likely to complain than to give
    compliments. Let me assure you that it has been a year of
    compliments for the city.

    My own business, The Bookshelf, has suffered deflation of 10 to 15% in
    prices because of the Canadian dollar. This has been difficult – it would
    be like cutting your budgets by 10-15% while trying to give the same level
    of service. So although the price of books is down, our units are up. We
    are selling more books at lower prices. This is most definitely a
    reflection of the increased traffic and I would like to attribute it, at
    least partially, to the 2 hour free parking pilot.

    Barb Minett

  4. Luke Boudreau Says:

    I live near downtown and walk to it as often as possible, but sometimes I am in a rush and need to drive to get things done. When parking was not free, I use to often skip going downtown to shop or do business, not because I could not afford to pay 50 cents, but because I did not have change on me at the time (it is a debit card society).

    Now I go downtown several times per week to spend a substantial amount of $$$ without hesitation. I know there is a financial cost to city coffers with free parking, but going back to paid parking would be a big mistake if we want to continue to have a vibrant downtown in the future. If you look at North American cities that do not invest in Downtown, property values are generally weak as the city tends to be less desirable to live in on the whole. An investment in Downtown is an investment for all of Guelph!!!


    Luke Boudreau

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