A woman plugs a Main Street parking meter in Whitehorse on July 23. Council voted to adopt its new 22-recommendation parking plan at its July 22 meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Council passes parking plan

Council adopts parking document, but members have concerns with some recommendations

The City of Whitehorse has a new plan in place that could impact where and how people park, and possibly commute, in the years to come.

Council voted to adopt the new downtown parking plan, including 22 recommendations, at its July 22 meeting, though some members made it clear that while they support the direction of the overall document, they do not support all of the recommendations.

The individual recommendations, such as changes to parking rates and fines, will come forward individually at a later date. Then council can decide whether to move ahead with individual changes.

Coun. Samson Hartland pointing out a structured parking garage for the city was not among the shorter term recommendations.

The plan has a long-term (in more than eight years) recommendation that would consider “structured public parking to the periphery of the downtown core” only if parking demand exceeds supply.

Hartland said members of the business community have been calling for a parking structure in the city for more than 30 years and the original discussion around the creation of the parking reserve had been for the funding of a structure.

He described a structure as “an important initiative we can not lose sight of.”

Mike Gau, the city’s director of development services, said the plan looks to exhaust other methods first before incurring a major capital investment like building a parking garage.

Short-term recommendations (up to four years) propose changes in fees and fines and technological changes to allow for cashless and app-based payments while medium-term efforts (eyed for between four and eight years) largely focus on getting residents to use more active and alternative forms of transportation — cycling, walking and transit use — to alleviate the demand for downtown parking. It also suggests looking at the possibility of using the parking reserve for sustainable transportation initiatives that would reduce parking demand.

Coun. Steve Roddick argued there’s a need to look at the parking reserve fund now rather than almost a decade away. Acting city manager Valerie Braga explained the city will look at all its reserves after it completes its asset management plan.

Roddick also spoke out against a large parking structure being built by the city, pointing to the capital and operating costs involved and noting there is nothing to stop a private developer from pursuing their own initiative if there is a business case for it.

City staff confirmed there are currently available spots in the city’s three parking lots in the downtown core and that’s typically the case in any given month.

Coun. Dan Boyd, meanwhile, took issue with the proposal to set parking fees to market rates. He said there could be an argument for a slight increase to rates, but putting it to what the market will bear may go too far given that the city has the only parking supply.

Roddick countered Boyd’s arguments by saying parking is an issue of land and how land is used, describing it as “prime real estate”.

He also argued city council members should also lead by example and pay for parking, pointing out members get a parking pass. As both Curtis and Coun. Laura Cabott clarified the parking pass is for a portion of Steele Street only. Council members must pay for parking anywhere else.

Along with the parts of the plan discussed by council are recommendations for the long-term that would keep up on autonomous technology in vehicles and how that may impact roadways and driving habits.

Other recommendations to be explored include the use of handheld devices for parking enforcement; a pilot project to expand commuter parking options; modifying monthly passes for city parking lots to daily passes to encourage other travel options; looking at the city’s role in charging stations for electric vehicles; reviewing zoning requirements for parking; and incorporating other city plans into parking.

Medium-term efforts would consider parking signs for the downtown; and exploring a first-hour free program for those parking on roads parallel to Main Street due to the high demand for Main Street parking.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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