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"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paving and parking

As it turned out, I was able to attend only one of the three committees meeting on Monday; the Civic Works Committee managed didn’t finish until after 8 p.m. By then, the public participation meeting taking place several blocks away on a Public Nuisance by-law was nearly finished, or so I concluded from the postings on Twitter.

Social media is great! Despite being unable to personally witness the presentations at the convention centre, I had access to a running account of what the public was saying as they were saying it, and from a number of different perspectives, too. I wasn’t surprised by the outcome, a deferral to a later meeting.  It’s not a good idea to make decisions hard on the heels of a passionate debate. Forming a by-law that has implications for people’s rights to get together requires some very thoughtful reflection.

Meanwhile, there were some fireworks at the Civic Works Committee as well. Since the mayor, who is currently in France, was not in attendance, more responsibility devolved to the committee chair, Harold Usher, while member Steve Orser did his best to challenge and deride his authority. Member Sandy White had little to contribute and took off early, leaving Councillors Joni Baechler and Paul VanMeerbergen to make up a divided foursome, a condition that easily results in tied votes.

The shave and pave on Dundas

When in 2010 London won the right to host the 2013 skating championships, Baechler has used every opportunity to urge planning and engineering staff to look for opportunities to schedule civic works in such a way to get maximum impact for the event. She wants the city to look its best when a lot of visitors are expected. With three years head notice, there had been time in which to rearrange some works to get the best looking bang for the buck by focussing efforts on the areas to be showcased, in this case, the downtown. And with a Downtown Master Plan in the works, this was a perfect opportunity to do the job right.

So you can imagine her disappointment and anger when the staff report on Dundas Street came forward as a shave and pave of parts of the street, some lighting and additional street furniture. The bigger plans for a total transformation of the streetscape would have to wait for another 5-7 years, when the infrastructure upgrades would require a major overhaul of the street.

Staff pointed out that there was nothing in the budget for doing that now. Besides, it takes a lot of coordination with London Hydro; that takes a couple of years to plan. They couldn’t possibly get that done before the championships.

Baechler wasn’t buying that. She had been advocating for this for the past two years, and this was the best they could do? She wondered if it made sense to spend $400,000 on a shave and pave, only to redo everything a few years later.

Sense or not, that was what would happen. There wasn’t enough time to do the engineering and the money wasn’t there. Putting in new whole new road costs thousands of dollars per meter. They would need $8-10M for that.

In the end, the committee recommended that the work on the Downtown Master Plan commence in 2-3 years. Only Usher disagreed, stating that he had never seen a shave and pave that would be replaced in three years. More like five, in his experience.

Downtown Parking

For more than 15 years, on street parking in downtown London has remained constant at $1.25 per hour.

It’s a nice little revenue stream for the city. While it doesn’t bring in a ton of money, it certainly pays better than the cost of enforcement and maintenance. And since council is searching in every nook and cranny for something that will help avoid tax increases, it was bound to give some consideration to adding a few pennies to the rates, especially since it has been losing parking violation revenues by allowing overnight parking for three months in the summer.

One thing that has helped is the introduction of pay and display parking downtown. No longer can the driver enjoy the thrill of finding a parking spot with still a half hour of parking left on the meter. Only the city gets lucky.

Also lucrative, and very popular, is the pay and display that has been introduced on parts of Richmond Street outside of rush hours, both daytime and evening. It’s also popular with the merchants nearby.
Staff reminded the Civic Works Committee of this while it was questioning the value of increasing parking rates, arguing that doing so would probably discourage people from going downtown at all.

But still, as the members were also reminded, they had already approved of a 25 cent increase during the budget discussions. How soon they forget! Staff had gone ahead and prepared the necessary by-law. Additionally, they had included extending paid parking downtown from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., a maximum of $4.50, since that provision had been included in the budget that council had passed. It only required the finality of a by-law to put into place.

It was clear that some members were already getting cold feet.

Janette McDonald of Downtown London was there to protest. Increasing the parking rates would just make downtown uncompetitive; people would just head out to the malls on the outskirts if they had to pay more and for longer. It would be very hard on the restaurants near the John Labatt Centre or Grand Theatre.

It’s a funny thing; people are willing to pay a couple of hundred dollars for a nice meal with drinks, they even expect to add a gratuity of 15 or 20 per cent. But don’t ask them to pay a few dollars for the convenience of having their own private vehicle, for which they paid $30,000 or more, parked nearby on prime real estate. They will pay $1.37 per litre to get it to move, and $80 or more per month to insure it, but paid parking? It’s just not right.

There was especially strong resistance to any extension of paid parking to the evening hours. Exasperated, Baechler suggested that there be no charge for evening parking but, to cover the shortfall created by the budget, the daytime rates be increased by 50 cents.

Orser had a condition; he could support it as long as there was no increase in his neck of the woods; he wouldn’t support an increase in Old East.

“We have to find the money if we’re going offset taxes,” Baechler informed him. “We’ve already given over $6M in investment in the Old East.” She was referring to the grants and incentives for various initiatives in that area. Besides, they were already charged 50 cents less at parking meters than elsewhere in the city.

That said, she couldn’t get a seconder for her motion.

In the end, Orser managed to get a majority to agree to exempt Old East from any rate increases. This accomplished, he was happy to agree to a 50 cent increase elsewhere in the city. The idea of extending paid parking to the evening hours was abandoned. White and VanMeerbergen voted against any increase although neither had suggestions about where the revenue would come from.

Yet people pay much more for off street parking in the evening. They are happy to pay $5.00 or more in a public lot. And if you land in a private lot managed by Impark, you’ll be lucky to get away with paying  $10 or $15.

All in all the measure is expected to raise another quarter of a million dollars. Just enough to cover the raises for himself and other councillors that the mayor is proposing.


Mike Sloan said...

Dirty little secret: parking enforcement officers rarely, if ever, ticket in the old east business district.

Don McLeod said...

The ultimate solution is "Free Public Transporation". More to come!

Anonymous said...

Gina, since when have we been able to put a penny in a parking? It's been several years since I've known of a convience store that would trade one-hundred pennies for 3 quarters, a dime and knickle...just enough for busfare, a phonecall and a popsicle.