Parking plan targets downtown Nanaimo parkades

NANAIMO – A new parking strategy proposes higher meter rates and the elimination of free parking in popular downtown areas.

Free parking could get tougher to find in downtown Nanaimo.

City staff members are pitching an $875,000 multi-year parking shift, from higher meter rates to the elimination of free two-hour parking in popular downtown areas, like Commercial Street.

The plan, made public for the first time last week, is a “major undertaking” aimed at boosting parking revenue, managing traffic, filling parkades and speeding up turnover on busy streets, according to Rod Davidson, the city’s parking services manager.

The City of Nanaimo has been looking to manage its traffic congestion hot spots, including the downtown core which has seen congestion on streets where parking is free and high use of residential streets by those parking and walking to work, according to a report.

The result is dissatisfied residents and merchants who see little turnover of traffic on streets in front of their establishments. In the Old City Quarter,  businesses have complained of drivers abusing the two-hour free spaces, with some vehicles left for six hours at a time, Davidson said.

Under the proposed plan, more on-street spaces would be made available by making it “cheaper and more economical” for drivers to use parkades for long-term stays, he said.

Five hundred new meters would be installed in areas that previously allowed two-hours free, from the Old City Quarter to pockets of downtown, like Commercial Street, Cameron Road and Museum Way.

On-street rates will also increase for the first time since 2004, rising from 50 cents an hour to $1.25. It will cost 75 cents for two hours in a parkade and $1 every hour afterwards.

For one year the city will also try free weekend parking at its Bastion Street parkade.

“We are trying to come up with some sort of solution where we can have free – as in open – spaces in our busiest streets,” Davidson said. “What’s considered best practice is your on-street parking, where everyone wants to park is more expensive than off-street parking.”

The proposed changes would take place over three years, generating an expected $872,500 increase in annual revenue for the city.

Rates would increase this year, generating more than $300,000 annually to support program initiatives, maintenance and repairs while other initiatives would happen over 2015 and 2016, like new meters and resident-exempt parking restrictions in downtown neighbourhoods.

In addition to the new plan, the city has also budgeted $97,000 this year for new licence reading technology Davidson says will help enforce time-restricted zones without the need to hire more staff. Machines could also be retrofitted so people punch in licence plate numbers instead of having to place permits under windshields.

John Cooper, president of the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association and chairman of the organizations’ parking committee, said the proposed strategy moves the city in the right direction and supports the goal of seeing convenient parking.

The plan has received informal support from the city’s transportation committee and is expected to go to council this year.