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Auditorium Expansion: Seriously. Where will they park?


On Monday night, I will appear before City Council though to recommend they not support the motion presented to them (see p. 5 of 8)–at least not as is. What follows is a part two of why I make this recommendation. Here is part one. If you would like to attend in support that would be great. And if you would like to speak, you can still do so.

John Gazzola shares his concerns

Before getting into the meat of my post, I wanted to share Councillor John Gazzola’s opinion column in today’s Record. He outlines his reasons for taking a closer look at the Aud project. While I think the financial concerns he raises are valid factors in the decision, I do not share them. For the most part, I am satisfied with the financing arrangement between the city and the Rangers. My only concern is that it might not be enough and maybe it needs to be larger to help address parking issues.

I appreciate that Councillor Gazzola recognizes the importance of parking issues and their major negative impact on the surrounding neighbourhood. I was very happy to see him say, “Viable [parking] alternatives need to be determined prior to proceeding with the project.” Exactly!

How much parking is needed?

According to the consultants study, found in the report provided for the committee meeting on November 7, the 1000 seat addition is estimated to require parking for 385 more vehicles. They did a survey to calculate these results. While I would prefer to see the survey done over 3 or more games to enhance the validity of the results, let’s work with the consultant’s number.

How much parking is available?

On the night of the survey, the game generated a demand for parking by 2270 vehicles. This is considered typical though a normal Friday night could see between 2200 and 2300 spots needed.

The study reports that there are 3126 parking spots onsite and on streets within the study area. I’m not seeing how that number was determined but let’s run with it. Normal demand calculated based on the survey results indicates that normally 2260 spots are needed. Subtract the demand from availability and we’re told that there are 866 spaces available for additional vehicles to park–with all of these spaces on surrounding residential streets. So even if nothing is done to reduce demand for parking, the consultant concludes that the study area has enough capacity to meet the 385 additional spaces needed by expanded auditorium.

Where are those 866 spaces?

It’s at this point that the study starts to suffer from closer examination. Here is where poor assumptions are the problem.

I didn’t see anything in the study that showed where those additional spaces were. So I asked.

I was forwarded a response from the consultant that said, “In terms of unused parking, it would occur on streets further removed from the Aud towards the edges of the study area.” That answer is so vague that I have to wonder if he knows where these additional vehicles would be expected to park.

Study area for  parking required by expansion of Aud

I asked this question because looking at the study area, I was skeptical if anyone driving to a Rangers game would park where the available spaces are. I’m especially skeptical that many people will park on the other side of Ottawa Street. Those that do are unlikely to park any further away than Sheldon eliminating more available spaces. My guesstimate is that eliminates 250 spaces. So 866 available spaces becomes, 616 for 385 vehicles.

I have a safety concern about expecting people to park on the far side of Ottawa Street. People parking in that neighbourhood are not going to walk to Weber to use the pedestrian crossing. They will cross at McKenzie or maybe the entrance to parking off Ottawa Street. Does the city want more pedestrians crossing that busy four lane road when it is at its busiest? In the winter?

Additionally, there are spaces in the study bounded by Weber, Cameron, Samuel and Stirling that are unlikely to ever be used by people going to the Aud. Let’s say that’s another 100 spaces that aren’t realistically available. Suddenly, 866 available spaces becomes 516 for 385 vehicles.

On the other hand, the study does not include areas where people are likely to park. Such as Dumfries and Melrose on the other side of Krug and Glendale, Merner, Lydia and Simeon between Cameron and Krug. My guesstimate is that these areas would provide 150 additional available spaces. So we’re now dealing with 666 spaces for 385 vehicles.

Still more than enough, correct? Not so fast. Here’s where errors in the report come into play.

Parking study contains errors

In Section 2.2 titled Off-Site Parking, it identifies two streets that have additional restrictions. Dumfries is said to be only one-sided parking January to March. And McKenzie between Ottawa and Shelbourne is only one hour parking. I learned that Dumfries only has one-sided parking year round as the map indicates. But the map appears to include the block of one-hour parking on McKenzie which could reduce available parking by 15 spaces. So we’re down to 651 spaces for 385 vehicles.

Borden North

But I knew that there was at least one other street with additional parking restrictions between January and March. I’m walking, biking or driving on Borden N. between King E. and Weber E just about every day so I knew without double checking that it too had winter restrictions. I brought this to the attention of staff who let the consultant know. I was told “that block” had 8 – 10 spaces and didn’t make a difference in the study results. That couldn’t possibly be true which is what I responded. There are at least 26 spaces along those three blocks. I think the consultant may have been referring to the 8-10 spaces between Crescent and King E. that is permanently one-sided parking (contrary to the map). So we’re now down to 625 spaces for 385 vehicles.

I had wondered if this error meant that other additional restrictions added after the parking problems that resulted from the 2008 expansion had been missed. The consultant said they did not believe they had missed any others.

Melrose

But there is at least one other significant error in the report. I was walking to a meeting with a client near Frederick Mall and I took Melrose between Stirling and Krug. The maps shows this stretch to be two-sided parking but I saw signs saying it too has additional parking restrictions that limits parking to one side between January and March. By my count last evening, this stretch holds about 40 vehicles on one side. Taking those away in winter means that we’re now down to 585 spaces for 385 vehicles.

Note: I haven’t noticed any other errors on the map but I did not take the time to check them all.

Still more than enough, correct? Not so fast. Here’s where additional vehicles could create demand for new additional parking restrictions–at least in the winter when emergency vehicle access is critical to saving lives.

385 more vehicles on residential streets create new problems

I don’t need a crystal ball to know that adding 385 vehicles parking on residential streets will create problems. We’ve been there, done that and not so long ago. The additional winter restrictions on Melrose and Borden happened due to issues resulting from an increased need for parking after the 2008 expansion. That was only three years ago but if the motion before council on Monday passes as is, we’re doomed to make the same mistake.

Here are some of the issues that I foresee that should be proactively addressed before moving ahead with the project.

I expect that you’ll see more parking on streets such as Glendale and Randerson that will mean two-sided parking becomes one-sided parking at least in winter.  Both are already tight without snowbanks and cars on both sides. I can’t believe that Liberty still has two-sided parking as it tight too–and an access road to Griffin. Losing this available parking (maybe 100 spots) would mean we’re down to 485 spaces for 385 vehicles.

But if my prediction of parking on Melrose and Dumfries on the far side of Krug Street comes true, it’d probably bring with it an extension of the additional restrictions found closer to the Aud. Take away 75 (half of the spaces given earlier) and we’re down to 415 spaces for 385 vehicles. Just barely enough and only if cars are parked without too much space between them. And at the cost of turning the surrounding neighbourhoods into parking lots and making it difficult to do things such as have a get together on a Friday night if your guests require parking.

Still think we have enough parking to proceed with expansion without having an answer to “where will they park?”

My father’s two cents worth

I would be remiss if I didn’t share my father’s primary concern.

Parking on East Ave. now ends at about Cameron. More traffic and more parking on East Ave. further narrows a four lane road to two and will make the backlog that already exists at the Krug Street intersection at the end of the game worse. That will see more cars using Merner to avoid the jam. Impatient drivers anxious to get home quickly are not always safest drivers and there is likely to be accidents as a result.

I support this project. But what’s the rush?

I support the project. I’m not trying to throw up roadblocks. But given the parking problems experienced in 2008, I think that it’s important to be proactive and have a plan in place to avoid parking and traffic concerns before construction begins.

I’ve been told we need to make a decision now because the Rangers are ready to proceed and need to move ahead if they are going to meet their tight timeline.

What’s the rush? Wouldn’t it be better to wait a year and make sure we get all aspects of the project right first? And the first time instead of being reactive again? If we were building a larger arena, it wouldn’t be ready for next season. Ranger fans would have used the Aud as is for 2 or more seasons I expect.

For most of us, the details of this project were only learned two months ago and it was only a week ago that we learned how the arena’s neigbhours’ concerns would be addressed. The continued absence of a solid plan for parking or alternate transportation means it is still as much of a concern as it was at the neighbourhood meeting.

Planning has been a critical aspect of this project. Great care has been taken to determine which option to pursue to get more fans to see games, an architect needs to plan how the expansion is to occur, thought has even been given to how the Rangers home schedule can be modified to accommodate the timeline.

All I’m asking is that the same care and attention be given to another critical aspect of the project–parking and traffic–before we proceed. Residents knew they lived near a great facility that hosts events for thousands of people but they didn’t think their street (increasingly far from the Aud) would be turned into parking lots. Their concerns should be a part of a process by a city that values being open and transparent and engaging its citizens in decision-making.

If I was putting a building on the site that required, 385 parking spots, I’m sure I would be expected to provide a certain number of those spaces and indicate that space exists for the rest. I’m looking for this project to be treated the same way.

But maybe we don’t need to wait a year. Maybe enough solid plans could be put in place before construction begins. Maybe we could have a decision-point closer to the start of construction where we determine if parking and traffic have been adequately addressed to proceed in time for the 2012-2012 season. I don’t know if it is realistic but I’m open to that possibility.

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6 comments on “Auditorium Expansion: Seriously. Where will they park?

  1. Re “need” for parking. Folks in wheelchairs, scooters, the elderly and disAbled using walkers, canes to get around need parking. Nobody else *needs* parking. What we do need is public transit. Good public transit.

    How much transit infrastructure could be built with that $10 M borrowed by the city?

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective. While you are certainly right in theory, the reality in Kitchener and area is that people expect to be able to drive to the game and see the building from their parking spot.

      Public transit is definitely part of the solution–especially once the LRT is rolling AND there is an iExpress bus running north/south on Ottawa Street. But that’s at least five years after the expansion opens. However, a shuttle from the iXpress stations at Charles & Ottawa could be a part of getting people used to the idea of taking transit, the shuttle to the terminal also helps as would an arrangement to allow ticket holders to ride on the GRT for free.

  2. Excellent post. Good luck at City Council. Look forward to update tomorrow.

  3. Great post James, would be interesting to hear your 5 cents worth on “Upgrade the Aud v Build New Downtown Arena especially on the issue of parking and access.!!!

    • Thanks for your support John!

      The Rangers study indicated that a new arena was not affordable at this time. If government money is needed, it isn’t. But a new bigger arena should be built on or near the LRT line. In the core is fine if there’s place for it but not necessarily the core.

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