Parking isn’t the issue

Last December, Sarah Sawler wrote a story called “The parking myth” for Halifax Magazine. The story questioned the perception that Halifax has a parking problem. Sawler compared Halifax’s numbers (cost and availability) with other cities, talked with businesspeople who make their livings downtown and discussed the issue with an urban-planning expert.
The conclusion, as the headline suggests, was that the parking problem is mostly a misconception. Downtown Councillor Waye Mason summed up: “The attitude in HRM is that there is no parking downtown, ever. But is there really no parking? Or is there just no parking right in front of the restaurant you want to eat lunch at?”
You might be surprised to hear this, but I don’t think this story won us any friends. A vocal minority of readers took vigorous exception. Months have passed, but I still hear from them from time to time. They Tweet, email and post the occasional comment, sharing anecdotes of their parking ordeals.
They tell me about being downtown with no change, when the only parking is metered. They lament tickets for brief stops in loading zones. They share tales of having to park down the street and walk (sometimes up to 15 minutes) to restaurants. They describe the Sisyphean hell of circling the block, over and over again, becoming hopelessly late for important meetings as they search for parking spaces.
If I were the argumentative sort, I could counter with my own anecdotes. I could tell them about going to a concert at JazzFest on a Friday night and getting a free parking space across the street from the entrance. I could talk about showing up downtown an hour before the Pride Parade and easily finding parking just two blocks off Spring Garden Road. I could fill them in about my two meetings downtown this week and how in both cases I found parking on the same block, that cost me a total of 75 cents at the meter.
But my anecdotes won’t win them over, any more than theirs won me over. I will concede, however, that I’ve since become aware of one real parking problem: the dearth of downtown parking for scooters and motorbikes. Columnist Angela Mombourquette discusses that on page 50 of this issue.
Mombourquette’s column made me realize something. Not only is parking not the answer, it’s not even the right question. Halifax is an old city, with a pre-car road network crammed onto a bottleneck-heavy peninsula. Whether we have enough (whatever that means) parking spaces now or not is moot. Cramming more cars downtown isn’t going to do anything to improve this city. As Mombourquette says, the focus should be on making the downtown more welcoming for other modes of transportation and changing the way we think about getting around.
To that end, I’m excited about Halifax Transit’s plans to completely revamp its network and offer a more user-friendly service, with better connections and more reliable service. We’ll have a lot more about those plans in future issues.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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