Thursday, June 6, 2013

Paid Parking in Langley

Building walkable neighbourhoods that include a variety of housing options, shops, and services is something that I believe we need to do more of in Langley and the South of Fraser if we want to have an accessible region and “Age-Friendly” communities. As I’ve talked about recently, there are currently only a few walkable areas in Langley including Downtown Langley, Fort Langley, and Aldergrove. In walkable areas like these, and when building new walkable areas, should the private automobile be accommodated?

Unless you happen to be in some very select neighbourhoods in the world, the private automobile has to be accommodated. Back in the mid-20th Century, many communities tried creating pedestrian-only high streets which pretty much killed them overnight. Clearly accommodation must be made for the automobile which inevitably leads to a conversation about parking.

Surface parking lots are a sure-fire way to kill a walkable and accessible community, so how should vehicle parking be accommodated? There are really only two options: on-street curb parking and parking in structures (ie: underground or in a parkade*.) As much as possible, access to structured parking should be from a lane as to not interrupt the public realm. Many of the more residential neighbourhoods in Langley are starting to build this way, but this is not really happening in commercial areas.

Besides shifting parking to on-street or in a structure, a community must evaluate its parking pricing policies. As the saying goes, nothing is free, and that includes parking. If you are not paying for it upfront, you are paying for it with every economic transaction you make. Donald Shoup, a Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, explains this in his seminal work The High Cost of Free Parking which I believe every Business Improvement Association and every municipal councillor should read.

Shoup's basic idea is to put a user-fee on parking. For commercial areas, the price should be such that there is always an available parking spot on each side of a block as well as parking available in structured parking. With modern technology, parking providers can have real-time information on parking demand and can adjust the price of parking in response. For example, it might cost nothing to park on a Sunday morning, but on a Friday night, it might cost $1.00 per hour. With this in mind, time limits on parking can be eliminated too.

Some business owners might think that paid parking will kill their business. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Smart paid parking policy will actually improve business and the economic well-being of commercial areas. The fact is that having no parking available is what drives customers away. For case studies on this, I suggest reading Walkable City by Jeff Speck. Locally, the City of Surrey has recently implemented paid parking in Netwon Town Centre. Businesses were resistant when it was introduced, but now they see the value.

What would this look like in Langley? Well for starters, I would introduce paid parking for on-street parking in Downtown Langley, Fort Langley, and Aldergrove. In Downtown Langley and Fort Langley, I believe a serious conversation needs to happen about building a common structured parking facility. These polices would free up surface parking lots for a higher economic value, help support walkability, and ensure there is always parking available.

*As long as the parkade contains retails on the ground floor.

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