With the downtown parking study in hand, District of Squamish staff will now scope the study’s recommendations and later bring forward a parking management plan.
At a Sept. 12 committee of the whole meeting, Squamish council members were presented with findings from the downtown parking study conducted by consultant firm Morrison Hershfield.
Council directed staff to scope the study’s recommendations and formulate a Phase Parking Management Implementation Plan, which will consider “on-street paid parking and paid parking at tourism-focused locations,” reads the report.
One of the key, but unsurprising trends presented by Andres Baez, a senior transportation engineer with Morrison Hershfield, was the increase in commercial parking occupancy in the last five years in downtown Squamish.
On weekdays, the occupancy has jumped from 57% to 69% and on weekends, it has jumped from 60% to 79%. Baez said 85% is considered the industry threshold for parking capacity, and anything above is overcapacity.
“It shows that should this trend continue, the downtown core would definitely experience on-street peak parking overcapacity conditions specifically in the downtown core within the next five years based on the development that is happening right now,” Baez said.
He said that residential parking occupancy has grown but is not predicted to be overcapacity within the same region in the next five years.
“It’s great … to have the numbers to start to engage our community in this conversation around how we better manage the parking and the expectations around parking, especially in the downtown core,” said Coun. Jenna Stoner.
The study laid out how the District could go about implementing paid parking in the downtown core with a variety of pay structures and models based on seasons and time of day and also considered resident-exempt permit programs. The staff report noted that a tourism-focused paid parking program is already in development. However, the director of major projects for the District, Dave Marrow, could not yet elaborate on where those tourism-focused paid parking areas might be.
It recommended that the pay parking zone include Cleveland Avenue from Indian Spice Cuisine to Howe Sound Inn & Brewing as well as Second Avenue from Joe Pesto’s to the Squamish Public Library, plus several cross streets between the two.
There were some questions from council members about whether this study grasped the whole picture, as it did not account for parking spots on private lands, which could reduce local parking if future developments go through.
As such, Mayor Armand Hurford said the study likely had the “lightest load” of challenges the District may face.
“It just highlights that we have work to do and rather urgently,” he summarized.
Coun. Lauren Greenlaw questioned if the parking figures presented would soon be lower after new developments.
Several council members also spoke about how switching from free parking to paid parking will take a mentality shift from residents, but hope to engage with them in this process.
“This is not necessarily a revenue-generating project or ambition, but it is going to be something that’s going to allow us to pay for things we know that we really need, like transit expansion,” said Stoner.
“But also engaging our community on where they might want to see those dollars go. There’s a huge gap there and I think that this is just one fair way to create more equity within our community.”
“Parking is sort of like ice cream,” Coun. Andrew Hamilton said while explaining some of the challenges of free parking.
“If the District were to give ice cream away for free, it would be pretty hard to run an ice cream shop in town. If the District required every commercial entity to give ice cream away for free, it would be impossible to run an ice cream shop in town.”