Kingston Council approves new commuter parking permits for hospital staff

Kingston General Hospital main entrance on Stuart Street. Photo by Lucas Mulder/The Kingstonist.

During its Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 meeting, Kingston City Council approved a plan which will see the City open up additional parking permit options for Kingston’s frontline health-care workers by offering on-street commuter parking permits in the area near Kingston General Hospital (KGH).

According to a report from Paige Agnew, the City’s Commissioner of Growth and Development Services, entitled “Kingston Health Sciences Staff Parking,” the permits will allow for full-day (up to 12 hours) on-street parking across Zones 5, 6, and 7 of On-Street Parking Permit Area B near KGH” — zones which represent the “closest on-street locations to [KGH] for which all-day… parking would be legally permitted.” Agnew noted, “To date, these zones have been reserved for residential permit holders only. The original decision to only offer residential parking permits in these zones was approved by Council in 2014.”

It should be noted the initial report published by the City of Kingston indicated 77 additional spaces would be available across the three zones; however, in communication with Kingstonist, City Staff confirmed the number is in fact 87 new spaces.

Previously, the City offered temporary free on-street permits in Zones 3 and 4 of Area B, but the report stated uptake was “low” for that initial program, “primarily due to the walking distance involved.”

The report broke down the number of spaces available in each zone, and the approximate walking distance and travel time from parking spots to the KGH location, which is as follows:

  • Zone 5 – 1.0 km to 1.2 km – a 13-17 minute walk (33 spaces)
  • Zone 6 – 800 m to 1.1 km – a 10-14 minute walk (26 spaces)
  • Zone 7 – 500 m to 650 m – a 6-9 minute walk (25 spaces on King Street West)

Once the spaces are made available to Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) health-care workers, staff with the City will monitor demand across the three parking areas, “while maximizing availability to commuters.” The report went on to explain that parking across Area B will cost $123 per month in 2024. Communications staff with the City of Kingston confirmed to Kingstonist that the new passes will be issued by the City, not KHSC. An exact time frame for when the new passes will be made available is still being determined; however, staff anticipate the new spots will open early in the new year.

In addition to the new commuter parking permits, Tuesday’s Council meeting also saw members approve a new carpool parking pilot program near KGH. The pilot will see 20 of the 25 time-restricted parking spaces on King Street East (between Maitland and West Streets) reserved for carpool parking permit holders during the day on weekdays.

Agnew wrote, “The intent of the program is to incentivize KGH employees to share rides by offering a reserved on-street parking area near the hospital. If successful, the sharing of 20 parking spaces could service 40+ commuters.”

The report explained that the 20 permits will be administered “similarly to other permits,” with the fee set at $123 per month. “Staff will monitor the demand for these permits and adjust the spaces available accordingly between the range of 15 and 25.” Both recommendations received unanimous support from councillors and passed without any debate from members.

The City of Kingston and parking for hospital staff: an ongoing process

The items approved Tuesday night are the latest in a long line of initiatives the City has put forward in an attempt to make life easier for Kingston’s frontline health-care workers. As previously reported, on December 20, 2022, Kingston City Council passed a motion to waive parking fees for 300 on-street parking permits in the areas around KGH and Hotel Dieu Hospital (HDH) for two months.

That move came after Council previously voted to allow free, unrestricted on-street parking during the initial COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020. That was followed by a vote in April 2021 that saw on-street parking permit fees waived for two months for hospital health care workers, a short-term program which saw 700 permits distributed — though not all employees of KHSC felt the program treated health-care workers fairly. Then, in January 2022, Council once again passed a motion to waive on-street parking fees for two months for hospital health-care employees, for which 300 permits were distributed.

It should be noted that the parking permits being discussed with regard to this Council item were specifically aimed to assist frontline health-care workers, such as nurses, doctors, and technicians, and were not to be used by upper-tier management employees of KHSC.

The temporary permits approved by Council in January 2022 were also distributed in a different manner than usual. “KHSC opted to hold a random draw for frontline staff that were interested in obtaining a permit. It was felt this approach provided for a fair-minded selection of the frontline workers, as there were complaints from staff and the unions about some groups being left out of the previous process,” the report explained.

As for how successful the temporary measures have been, Agnew noted that following the most recent direction by Council in December 2022 to waive on-street parking permit fees for hospital health-care workers, KHSC was given 300 temporary permits with designated areas assigned to each. These permits were issued in early 2023 as follows (see graphics below for the locations of each area):

  • 100 permits were released for Area A
  • 170 permits were released for Area B
  • 30 permits were released for Area C

The report went to on state, “KHSC leadership opted to conduct a staff lottery” for distribution of the permits and “advised they would be targeting frontline staff as outlined in the Council motion,” with distribution to begin February 1, 2023. The permits were valid for all of February and March 2023.

The report then broke down the results of that initiative, as provided by KHSC, noting that the 300 total permits were used as follows:

  • 231 were used by hospital staff
  • 219 permit offers were declined
  • 54 permits that were initially accepted were never picked up

“Approximately 70 of the permits were distributed to frontline health-care [workers], primarily nurses, with the remaining balance distributed to other frontline workers and a few administrative personnel,” the report added, noting that management staff were not included in the draw. “The feedback received from those that declined the permits was that the parking locations offered were too far to walk, especially given the time of year, with snowbanks allegedly rendering some spaces inaccessible, and that the permits would have been better received in warmer months.”

Long-term solutions a long time coming

When councillors approved the latest round of temporary measures last December, members also voted to direct staff to report back to Council by the third quarter of 2023, with additional information on long-term parking options, “to ease the concerns of hospital employees in relation to parking, such as, but not limited to, more park-and-rides and more long-term parking.”

Agnew explained, “Consideration has been given to providing long-term parking solutions over the years, including investigating the construction or expansion of parking garages around the hospitals, creating long-stay on-street parking, and providing park-and-ride options.”

Given that KHSC serves an estimated 500,000 patients annually, according to the staff report, many people are forced to drive significant distances to make their appointments. The report added, “At peak times, parking remains a challenge due to space availability, both on-site and on the street, particularly at the KGH site. For this reason, staff recommend that the current supply of on-street parking spaces and spaces in the lots adjacent to KGH remain metered with time limits to ensure adequate turnover and availability is maintained.”

The report continued went on to note that City staff were focused on parking availability around KGH and the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario, adding that the Hotel Dieu site has “adequate parking, barring those exceedingly rare circumstances, particularly during the tourist season” when the Chown and Hanson Memorial Parking Garages are full at the same time.

The report also contained an overview of the current park-and-ride options in partnership with Kingston Transit, before concluding discussion on park-and-ride options by noting staff have explored options for additional park-and-ride locations: “one of interest is located on Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard, near King Street West.”

Agnew added, “Staff have met with the owner of the parking lot, Corrections Canada, to enquire about utilizing the property for parking and are currently awaiting a response. If a positive response is received, an analysis of its feasibility will be conducted.”

The report also said staff are continuing to move on the “conversion of transient parking,” as the City recently converted the metered parking spaces on Court Street (across from the Frontenac County Courthouse) from a three-hour time limit to full day (12-hour) parking, “to provide an additional long-stay option for transient parkers attending KGH.”

“Additionally, converting the parking alignment on Court Street from parallel to angle parking will create 25 additional spaces,” the report added. “This work is anticipated to be completed in 2024.”

As for a potential new parking garage near KGH, Agnew reported a 2004 consultation commissioned by the City identified the Cricket Field as the most feasible option for an underground parking garage. “In a recent conversation with the same consultant, it was suggested that without a more thorough review, we should estimate about $50K per space above ground and about $100K per space below ground.”

However, Agnew’s report went on to note that a 2010 staff report to the Environment, Infrastructure, and Transportation Policies (EITP) Committee said a parking garage project was “no longer a priority for KGH” and was “deferred to long-term strategy for further consideration.”

Agnew added, “As the Province does not provide funding to hospitals for the construction of parking facilities, the construction of a garage in the KHSC area would be a longer-term project that would require potential partnerships to be formed amongst all of the major institutional partners in the area.”

Members of the public can find the agenda from the December 5, 2023 meeting of Kingston City Council on the City of Kingston’s council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

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