Nowhere to park

Shean Higgins admits to racking up close to $4,000 in parking tickets in the past year or so.
But Higgins, the owner of Tidehouse Brewing Company on Salter Street, believes he has little choice, blaming what he sees as a dire parking situation in the downtown due to the many construction projects.
“Every corner of the downtown looks like a war zone,” he says. “I’m down there by 7:30 a.m., and I see all the available spots taken by work trucks that are required to be there.”
Higgins said he’s seen up to 15 to 20 spots taken up in some streets by contractors just in case they need to bring large pieces of equipment, but: “most of the time, it’s just pick-up trucks because they don’t want to circle the block six, seven, eight times.”
Higgins says the lack of parking has impacted his bottom line in several ways. Many customers have contacted him via phone and text to tell him their plans to go to his business were dashed because they either couldn’t find a parking spot or fear getting ticketed.
“It’s so common, we don’t even respond anymore,” he says.
And Higgins himself, as one of only two employees, has enough troubles with parking while making deliveries and running work-related errands.
“If that customer has to circle around the block seven or eight times, it’s annoying for him,” he said.  “But if I circle seven or eight times like that customer … [for every errand], I’m not going to get anything done.”
As a result, Higgins parks in loading zones and no-parking spots, often leading to tickets. As the parking tickets add up, they take a toll on the bottom line. “I could have fought some of them, no problem, but I don’t have the time,” he says.  “I need my van, so I went ahead and paid.”
Information provided by HRM shows there are 5,199 on-street parking spaces and another 2,681 off-street spaces (which would include locations such as the MetroPark complex on Granville Street) within the city’s five business districts: downtown Dartmouth, downtown Halifax, Spring Garden Road, the North End and Quinpool Road. (That doesn’t include privately-owned parking or residential and monthly parking)
Erin DiCarlo, senior communications advisor for HRM, says those numbers are based on an inventory taken in 2016. The number of spaces available fluctuates in part because of the many construction projects in the city.
“Unfortunately, parking interruptions are unavoidable, at times, but we try to keep them to a minimum and maintain as many spaces as possible,” DiCarlo says. “The number of parking spaces that are currently offered reflects the on-street availability. Although there may be a desire to increase metered spaces, this is not always possible as space is limited.”
But Higgins believes the problem is there are “no boots on the ground.” In other words, nobody from the city is actively working on ways to deal with the issue.
Higgins and Downtown Halifax executive director Paul MacKinnon took a recent stroll along Salter and Barrington streets to identify space for possible new parking spots. “We were able to point out nine spaces in a 1.5-block radius that could have been metered parking,” he says.
While the city’s response was to add those new spaces, Higgins believes he shouldn’t need to be the “squeaky wheel” that gets the city to act.
Jeremy Fowler of Lower Sackville is another businessperson struggling with easy access to parking.  Fowler, a locksmith, has many clients in the city, especially in the downtown core.
“It’s nothing for me to go around the block 10 or 15 times before I’m close enough so I won’t have to lug all my tools,” he says.
Fowler also admits to parking in loading zones and “hoping for the best,” pointing out that “people like me rely on being close to your job.” And Fowler isn’t optimistic a solution is coming.
“We could do with two full parking structures in the downtown,” he says. “The question is, where are you going to build them? There’s no available land, especially in the downtown core.  I don’t see any remedy other than tearing down one of the old buildings and building a new structure.”
MacKinnon puts a more positive spin on the city’s efforts. He agrees the many construction projects have greatly affected parking in the downtown, and he says one of the issues is an apparent lack of information from the city about exactly how many meters exist, or how often each meter is occupied.
“We still need to figure out, what is the magic number of availability,” he says. “Our sense is more parking is available this summer than last summer.”
MacKinnon adds out that griping about parking is common in any downtown.  He was pleased with HRM’s response to the request to add more metered spaces along Salter Street.
As well, MacKinnon praises new technology such as the HotSpot app, which allows customers to pay for parking with their credit or debit card.  The app notifies customers when the meter is about to expire and gives a refund for unused time.
MacKinnon says it’s improved the experience of many people visiting the downtown, as they no longer “have to fish for change” to be able to park there.
Phil Curley, the CEO of HotSpot, based in Fredericton, wouldn’t reveal specific user numbers for Halifax, but says roughly 40,000 people in Atlantic Canada use the app in cities across the region.
Curley says the technology is helping to eliminate many of the barriers to coming downtown.  “Everybody does complain about parking… but we don’t have a parking issue, we have a perception issue,” Curley said.
And another barrier may be toppled for Haligonians. Curley noted that Moncton customers can get real-time notification of where they can find vacant parking spaces suggests that could come soon to Halifax. “We suspect Halifax will upgrade its infrastructure… and that could be part,” he says.
DiCarlo tells Halifax Magazine that the city does indeed plan to remove meters with multi-space pay stations, which will allow customers to pay by credit card or cash, as well as through the Hot Spot app. But she adds: “Since there will no longer be any meters, we won’t be implementing any technology that would report vacant ones.”
However, at least one Halifax resident claims he’s been able to find good parking for years. Ken Michelin says that “almost without fail,” he’s found free parking on various side streets off Barrington, such as Green, Kent, and Smith streets.
“It took me about 10 minutes to get to work from there,” he says. “I think folks don’t know where to look, to be honest.”
He admits parking in private lots if no free spots are handy. But he’s never paid any tickets as they aren’t enforceable by the city.
But back at Tidehouse, Higgins hasn’t had similar luck.  He says that other workers from nearby businesses have taken more drastic measures; namely setting up their own pylons to ensure nobody else takes their spot while running errands.
“I wasn’t smart; I paid $4,000 in fines,” he says. “Next time, I’ll have to break the law, so I won’t have to break the law.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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