Business groups in downtown Vancouver urging city to enable free parking

Oct 30 2020, 12:52 pm

Local business advocacy groups in the downtown Vancouver peninsula are calling on the City of Vancouver to implement reduced-cost or free parking over the interim to help struggling businesses survive through the fall and winter.

Charles Gauthier, the president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, told Daily Hive Urbanized in an interview he would like to see curbside parking rolled back at certain periods, such as free parking after 6 pm.

He says this would follow the measures taken by Granville Island several months ago to offer free parking, as well as the City of White Rock’s recent decision to enable free parking starting November 1 to support waterfront businesses.

“I feel that after all the years the City of Vancouver has benefited financially from what downtown has to offer, delivering so much benefits in terms of driving demand for on-street parking, now that when we could use some help, rolling back when parking is operational would be beneficial,” said Gauthier.

He says parking is one of things the municipal government controls that can directly support businesses, along with this year’s measures of deferring property taxes and implementing queuing areas and the free temporary flexible patio program.

“The ramifications of doing nothing could really damage businesses that need help the most,” he said.

In his initial discussions with city staff, they have indicated such measures would not align with city council’s climate action goals for people to use non-vehicular forms of transportation, such as public transit. But he says this is a problematic position, given that transit ridership is currently down by more than 50%.

“People are unfortunately driving because they don’t feel comfortable using public transit right now,” said Gauthier. “It’s possibly short term, and maybe transit will bounce back in a big way, but over the interim we have to take into account what is occurring, and if other municipalities are doing things to make it more comfortable and to attract customers, I think the city needs to look at how it can help.”

A similar ask has also been requested by the city-established Vancouver Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group (VCLSG), a community-based group that oversees the revitalization of the Chinatown district.

In a letter to city council last month, the group made a number of quick action recommendations to support businesses in Chinatown, which have not only been hammered by COVID-19 but also the longstanding and escalating issues of the Downtown Eastside that have spilled over into the neighbouring area.

VCLSG is asking for reduced curbside street parking rates, and the elimination of rates for the city-owned Chinatown Parkade over a six-month period. They note that with COVID-19’s impact on the economy, parking has been under-utilized, especially at the parkade.

chinatown parkade vancouver

Exterior of the city-owned Chinatown Parkade in Vancouver. (Google Maps)

In response, city staff state their primary objective for metered parking is effective curbside management.

“We acknowledge that the pandemic has had a profound impact on residents and businesses across the city. The City is committed to supporting Vancouver’s economic and community recovery from the COVID-19 crisis through direct initiatives, municipal program delivery, and policy and regulatory levers,” said Alina Cheng, the manager of parking management for the City of Vancouver, in a statement.

The city says various parking regulations help ensure on-street availability of parking in retail districts, serve residential visitors and service providers in denser neighbourhoods, and “minimize unnecessary searching for parking, which contributes to congestion, traffic safety risks, GHG production, and air pollution.”

Free parking across the city was briefly experimented this past spring during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, only to be rescinded after some issues emerged with managing streets. At the time, city staff said there were 80% to 90% less vehicles parked than usual.

Pay parking also typically brings in nearly $100 million to city revenues each year.

Both Gauthier and Michael Tan, a co-chair of the VCLSG, said they have also brought this matter to city council.

In an email to Daily Hive Urbanized, Tan says NPA councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung and Green Party councillor Peter Fry are supportive of the Chinatown group’s requests and will be bringing a motion to city council in a few weeks.

“Both councillors we spoke with were supportive of reducing street parking rates in Chinatown, but flagged as important to balance space for parking and the City’s green agenda. They said they would like to move this proposal forward, pending additional info from staff,” said Tan.

“Chinatown merchants continue to struggle, and most at risk of closing, are the mom and pop stores along with the cultural heritage businesses. If action is not taken immediately, there will be more stores closing, joining the list of Goldstone, Empress Travel, Chinese Art Craft, and more. The intangible cultural heritage of this community is at stake.”

Both councillors already have a separate motion calling on city council to formally request specific federal funding assistance for Chinatown businesses. This was amongst the recommendations by VCLSG in their letter, given that many Chinatown businesses were unable to access the federal government’s assistance programs for various reasons unique to the district.

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