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The grand delusion of the Downtown Parking Master Plan

This week's Market Squared looks at why this week's debate at Committee of the Whole was more fiction than fact.
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We have met the enemy, and it’s the parking space.

The hardest part of trying to rally action in the midst of a crisis these days is getting people’s heads around the idea that there’s no quick fix. For the last year I’ve watched politicians of all stripes, and at all levels of government, flail and scream about how we’re in a housing crisis and we have to do anything – everything! – to solve it.

The problem is that the housing crisis didn’t just happen. It didn’t start in the last few years, it didn’t start with the pandemic, and it didn’t start with increased immigration. It was decades in the making, and the Neros that are now frantically screaming at us to fill buckets with water are many of the same ones who were happily fiddling when the fire only burned some portions of Rome.

But we’re not here to talk about the past, and we’re not really here to talk about housing for that matter.

Much of this week’s committee of the whole meeting focused on the Downtown Parking Master Plan, which contains directions that are supposedly going to increase housing starts by reducing parking minimums. Since that’s the focus, no one has to talk about parking metres, which was a big part of the last master plan that didn’t make it to the finished line.

The issue of paid on-street parking is more or less pushed off again until downtown revitalization is done sometime at the end of this decade, which is fine because no one wants to reintroduce parking metres to downtown streets even though the demands of maintaining parking infrastructure requires it.

In other words, we don’t want to pay for parking, and the City of Guelph doesn’t want to make us, and even the city’s own engagement shows a reticence to make real change on that count.

Three-quarters of respondents, 75 per cent, said that they drive downtown and they don’t see that changing. If they’re driving downtown then they need somewhere to park their car and from all the evidence, both anecdotal and evidence-based, they’re not choosing to pay.

That’s borne out by another number in the city’s findings, 74 per cent of respondents said that they support using tax dollars to fund that complimentary on-street parking. I’m sure no one in that 74 percentile has ever complained vocally about an empty bus that goes past the end of their driveway that they very loudly and begrudgingly pay for.

Transit is the unreported factor in this discussion because despite what our city council thinks about our modal shift and Guelph’s status as being environmentally friendly to excess, this is an extremely car-dependent city. If you never venture beyond the borders of downtown, then maybe you don’t need a car, but if you want to get around town, or out of town, with relative ease, you do.

Earlier this year I delegated to city council on the new fare capping strategy and said that if this was the proverbial silver bullet to get more people on transit, then council should be leaders and lead by making half their weekly trips on the bus and promoting it prominently on social media. Now I’m daring everyone who says that the future of downtown Guelph is parking free to lead in this regard too.

To put it bluntly, I think if Mayor Cam Guthrie and others want a parking revolution, then they should lead the charge and give up their cars.

They're not going to. I know it, you know it, and they know it.

This is called virtue signalling, which notably has a formal definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary; “the act or practice of conspicuously displaying one's awareness of and attentiveness to political issues, matters of social and racial justice, etc., especially instead of taking effective action.”

There has always been far too much virtue signalling from city hall on the subject of traffic and transportation, and that’s the kind way of putting it. At worst, it’s a lie. This idea that our civic leaders want to guide a town full of people fed up with the private automobile to a car-free, pedestrian-friendly future.

No they don’t, and no you don’t. Not a single person reading this, even the tree huggers, want to give up their car. As for our council, if there’s was any real interest in ending the car-centric approach to planning, they would cease the self-sabotage of our transit system.

No more on-demand transit only for holidays!

No more end of service at 6 o’clock on a Sunday.

No more fair capping, because in the past when upper levels of government offered tax credits for transit it’s been based on the number of passes and tickets you buy. Monthly passes effectively no longer exist for Guelph Transit.

Also, the higher frequency on some routes have actually resulted in longer trips because the runs now take 40 minutes instead of 30. So if you get on a bus closer to the beginning of the route and are taking it all the way around to Guelph Central Station your trip is now taking longer. Remember almost all transit only goes in one direction on any route.

In Mayor Guthrie’s St. Crispin Day-esque speech about parking, there was no call to fix the spectacular crappy state of our verified D- transit system, no call to initiate the Link the Watershed plan to get some real region-wide transit going, and no announcement that council should lead the way by making the modal shift themselves and pledging to support transit with their OnYourWay card swipes and not vague platitudes.

Councillor Dan Gibson looked like the proverbial cat who ate the equally proverbial canary in pointing out that seven years ago the plan was to re-introduce paid on-street parking downtown, and now it’s not even a sure thing once construction downtown finishes six years from now.

Me, I would have spewed bird guts at my council colleagues because this is the truth: No one wants to change their driving habits, which means no one wants to change their parking habits, and to pretend otherwise is to either lie to the public or live in a fantasy land. The Downtown Parking Master Plan is delusional, and so is the idea that it can go further.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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