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Sidney needs to stop hysteria about losing parking spots: advocate

Eric Diller says community needs to see true cost of parking in debate over bicycling lanes
Former councillor candidate Eric Diller, who has been involved with the Parking Reform Network and Better Transit Alliance, says less parking offers economic, ecological and quality-of-life advantages. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Former Sidney council candidate Eric Diller - who has been studying transportation issues both locally and abroad - offers this mnemonic to individuals, who are concerned about the loss of free on-street parking in Sidney: RESPOnD

“The R is relax, ” he said. “Stop boosting supply (of parking) by relaxing or removing off-street parking requirements,” he said. “The E is engage with people to ease their fears and offer them value that the better managed curb will give them.

The S stands for share, encourage businesses open more parking to the public, while the P stands for price, that is charging the right rate for each place and time when it comes to parking, he said. “On” refers to the point that parking needs strong enforcement, while D stands for demand management, especially in areas where transit is plentiful.

Diller offers this appeal after Sidney forwarded the draft active transportation plan for public input late last year. The plan proposes 20 improvements for local sidewalks and nine for cycling over 10 years totaling between $7 and $9 million — improvements that could help fight climate change, but also cause conflict over parking.

Proposals for Beacon and Bevan Avenue could see the loss of up 150 on-street parking spots that are currently free for two hours, many of them in the commercial core of the community. The plan also proposes improvements to 12 local intersections totaling $250,000 to $300,000 over the the same time frame.

None of these proposals — especially proposed bikes lanes on Beacon and Bevan Avenue — are anywhere close to realization, yet members of council and the public, mostly through social media, have already painted dark scenarios of futue conflicts.

RELATED: Sidney’s draft active transportation plan could disrupt parking

Diller takes a more relaxed perspective.

“If we want to recognize the goals of our Official Community Plan, we need to start looking at parking differently,” he said.

A review of conflicts over bicycling lanes in other communities reveal them as proxy wars between groups that try to protect the historically privileged status of the automobile in the urban environment versus those who challenge it.

Diller finds agreement with this interpretation.

”They (favouring the automobile) actually view it as a rights issue,” he said. “Because they experience (Sidney) largely as driver of a vehicle, they kind of make the equation that because they have a right to be in a place, they have the right to park their car in a place.”

But this mobility right may extend to people, but not to machinery. Automobile advocates may also offer the what-about argument that impediments to automobile traffic hurt people with disabilities or lower incomes, he said.

“There is reams of evidence that says people with disabilities and people (with) lower incomes drive a whole lot less than rich people,” he said. “But these people, they didn’t care about the poor people or people with disabilities when it came to affordable housing or better transit or better pay, but all of the sudden, they care about whether parking is provided.”

Diller readily acknowledges that he drives and that he is happy when he parks for free.

“But if I somebody were to ask me to pay money to the town to park, I would weigh that balance,” he said. “I would say, ‘is it worth it to drive, is it worth it not to drive.’”

He added later that he never struggled to find parking in Sidney.

RELATED: Sidney sends draft active transportation plan to public for feedback

Earlier, Diller lamented what can be described as a sky-is-falling attitude around the loss of parking caused by cycling lanes.

When he asked about this, Diller said people with that attitude are afraid of losing their own parking. Studies have shown that people who own single family homes with garages will actually fill them with items other than their vehicles, then park their vehicles on the street on the false premise that it is free, he said.

“So the reason why they are really get up in arms about that is because their parking spot on the street might get taken away if these bike lanes go,” he said.

When asked about the concerns of downtown merchants, Diller said Beacon and Bevan are probably wide enough to reconcile the parking needs of merchants and the safety needs of cyclists, adding that any future conversations would have to involve engineering.

He also pointed to the possibility of creating what he called a parking benefit district, whereby merchants and residents would have a say about how to spend the money generated from parking.

“They can spend money on anything they want, whether it would be fancier sidewalks or electrical wires underground or even really mundane like more frequent street cleanings.”

This last point highlights one of Diller’s broader calls — the need for greater transparency around the true cost of parking in the community in terms of operating parking lots and parking enforcement.

Many community members overstate the value that they place on free parking, while failing to acknowledge the real and hidden costs of parking.

“And I’m not saying that municipalities shouldn’t invest in parking,” he said. “There is a certain argument to have parking provided by the town because it is the largest landowner in Sidney. It makes sense for them to do that. But I do not believe that they should be doing it at a negative cost.”

Parking also has an ecological cost.

“Parking lots and parking spaces tend to capture a lot of run-off and included in that run-off is a lot of oil from cars, as well as the asphalt itself. It puts a load on our stormwater system but it also introduces a lot of oil into the natural environment that drips out of cars.”

Diller also points to the quality-of-life benefits of having less parking.

“The big one is related to the active transportation study,” he said. “As soon as we price parking, people are going to think a lot more about whether they really need to take a trip with a car.”

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