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RE: Beach Parking Fees

Last night, I had the opportunity to provide my first formal delegation to City Council. Alongside other engaged residents, I affirmed my support for the parking fees at Lakeside Park and Sunset Beach.

It was a nerve-wracking experience, far afield from my more comfortable work as a researcher behind the scenes, but I'm glad I did it. As I made clear in my delegation, parking fees are a critical ingredient in facilitating alternative transportation, encouraging economic growth, and improving the fiscal health of our growing city.

It's a counter-intuitive case, though. To that end, and informed by the conversations I've had with my own friends and colleagues, I thought it might be useful to post my delegation notes here for consideration:

I’d like to speak in support of the parking fees at Lakeside and Sunset.

Before I do, I want to take a moment to say that I understand the skepticism. For those of you who don’t know me, I come from rural and car-dependent Northern Ontario and, when I moved here seven years ago, the idea that I could find free parking almost anywhere in the city seemed like a miracle. I loved that I could drive downtown to pick up dinner. Or meet my friends at the beach for an hour or two.

In fact, I got so accustomed to it that I once parked for an evening in Toronto, only to find a lofty parking ticket a few hours later.

Despite this, I believe that this city is at a critical inflection point. Its designation as an Urban Growth Centre is just a hint of the talent and economic activity that are flowing into the city. The question, then, is how do we accommodate this growth in a way that maintains the pace that we’d like to see? How do we ensure the students and young families that give our city a chance decide to stay?

In part, this means recognizing that some of the things we’ve enjoyed no longer scale. Those trips downtown, for instance, have turned into loops around the block waiting for a parking space to become available. Those trips to the beach now mean joining the queue of cars slowly making their way into the busy parking lot.

I know a lot of this is already on your radar. The staff report already outlines the importance of these fees to our environmental and fiscal goals. Their arguments are supported by existing academic research, which shows that even marginal fees can have an oversized impact on improving transportation efficiency (Parmar et al. 2020; Aucincloss et al). This is to say nothing of their role in maintaining amenities and infrastructure. Without such fees, those using beach parking are effectively subsidized by the taxes of those who don’t, such as seniors and low-income residents. [Like ordering a salad while out with your steak-eating friends, only to be told afterwards you'll be splitting the bill]

To all of this I’d like to add a third point for consideration that isn’t in the report. Namely that incentivizing alternative transit can actually increase economic activity for small businesses (Arancibia et al 2019). It can help maintain the types of vibrant but manageable neighbourhoods that I think most of us would like to preserve along the waterfront. Neighbourhoods in which you don’t have to navigate a stream of cars just to grab an ice cream across the street. Or where your day at the beach can turn into an impromptu dinner at a local restaurant you never noticed before.

[Note: In a study called 'The Effect of Introducing Parking Policies on Managing Mobility to Beaches in Touristic Coastal Towns,' researchers found that marginal parking fees “resulted in a noteworthy improvement in the quality of life of the local residents and an improved, less intense tourist experience."]

Of course, I respect council’s concerns over affordability and accessibility. Like much of the province, this city is in the middle of an affordability crisis, and removing parking fees can seem like a friendly gesture. But if we want to keep taxes low, and we want to support small businesses, and we want to make sure that every resident can enjoy our amazing beaches, then the evidence is clear and a price on parking is critical.

As I said at the outset, this city s at a turning point. Other cities like Kingston and Kitchener and Ottawa are already taking aggressive action to encourage alternative transportation. The fees being considered today are marginal by comparison, but they go a long way towards ensuring that we don't fall further behind.

I am happy to speak more to the specifics, but for now I will leave you with this quote from noted urbanist Brent Toderian, who says that “parking regulations, [when] connected to larger strategic aspirations, can be a catalyst for positive, forward-thinking growth... They can support healthy, mixed-use communities that require less investment in infrastructure, lessening municipal costs…”

I will leave it there, and I am happy to answer any questions, but thank you very much for your time.

It's hard to replicate the shaky voice and awkward pauses, but these are the suggestions I made last night. There are also a few notes that I couldn't fit into the 5-minute window.

The staff report, for instance, highlights the success of the city's public transit incentive programs, such as the $3 weekend pass for families that was made available May-September 2022. I think there's room to grow the program even further, and provide a more direct connection between Downtown and the lake.

It's also worth noting that, comparatively speaking, the City's $15 annual permit is quite affordable. A standard pass at the University costs $600 - and doesn't even include the summer!

Finally, I was struck by a passage from the Region's Transportation Master Plan, which states that "without significant action, car travel will remain the overwhelming choice of residents - a situation that could have detrimental impacts on the Region's quality of life, social equity, economy, and environment."

If the city is serious about not just meeting but leading the Region's charge, parking programs like this are going to be a key ingredient.

As I said last night, the evidence is clear. Even beyond that, though, it was great to see so many residents - and young residents, especially - show up in support of such a critical program.

There's a long way to go, certainly, but we've taken the first step together.

P.S. Here's a live look at me realizing that delegates have to stand in the middle of everyone.

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