Dealing With Limited Parking In Downtown Neighborhoods

There have been a couple of stories in the local news recently about residents of neighbourhoods in and around downtown having issues with the availability of on-street parking in their neighbourhoods. The problem arises when those who don’t live in the neighborhood choose to park there, maybe to visit a business on a nearby street, in other cases to avoid paying higher parking costs closer to downtown, leaving fewer spots behind for the people who actually live in the neighborhood.

I’m not completely unsympathetic to the concerns of the local resident in this case, but my general response to any story like this is always along the lines of “you don’t own the street in front of your house, so it is what it is.” Like it or not, roads are public property. That you live on a particular street doesn’t give you any more right to park in that spot than me. Parking a block away from you home may not be the most convenient option but it’s something that, for the vast majority of people, isn’t exactly the end of the world either.

In an effort to address this issue though, Councillor Andrew Knack has tossed out the idea of having home owners pay a monthly fee of to rent the spot in front of their house in neighbourhoods where parking availability is a concern; an idea that could be modeled on what is already in place in parts of Toronto. In theory it’s not a bad idea, and absolutely could address the problem, I’m not sure how it would work if put into practice though.

How would a driver know that they can’t park in a particular spot? Signing would be one option, but with one homeowner renting their spot and their neighbor not there would likely need to be a lot of signs in order to clearly delineate where parking is and isn’t allowed. This would add a lot of clutter to the street and wouldn’t look particularly good. A less visually intrusive option would be to paint the curb of rented spaces. A system which would work fine until it snowed, so from April to October (maybe) every year. Practically I just don’t see how this would work.

That said, the idea of having people pay to park isn’t necessarily the wrong way to solve the problem, maybe we’re just looking at asking the wrong people to pay. What if instead of asking residents to pay a monthly fee to rent the spot in front of their house, we asked those who are visiting the neighborhood to pay to park and allowed residents to park for free like they do now, whether that be right in front of their house or a block or two away.

In the past having people pay for on-street parking meant installing parking meters. They do their job, but parking meters are about as attractive as the signing mentioned earlier, in other words, they’re ugly. But with the new electronic parking meter system that the City will be rolling out shortly, only a single pay centre, something smaller than a community mailbox, would be required on each block. Most people would even know that it was there, so visually it’s a better option.

And if a parking spot that was previously free (no parking is truly free but that’s a topic for another day) was no longer free, some drivers would likely choose to park closer to their ultimate destination since they have to pay either way. This would not only increase the availability of parking but could also reduce the number of drivers cruising through the neighborhood in search of that free parking spot. And even if nobody chose to park anywhere else, at least some revenue could be brought in, revenue that could be redirected back into the neighborhood being impacted.

Maybe some sections of sidewalk are in need of repair. Or there is an intersection where a minor redesign could improve safety. And if for some reason the community didn’t want to spend the money on a road project, perhaps the money could be used to develop a community garden or buy a new piece of playground equipment. Regardless of the final use, at least the resident who might not be able to park in front of who know that the person who is parked there is helping to fund some sort of improvement in the neighborhood.

And in this case, that likely as close to a win as the community is going to get.