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A Farewell to Free Parking in Kingston

parking in KingstonThe availability, or lack thereof, of parking in and around the downtown core is a constant sore spot for local residents, shoppers and event-goers. In recent years, we’ve been increasingly circling the block in search of that perfect parking spot thanks to the implementation of the pay and display permit system, new time of day parking restrictions, higher rates and an erosion of previously available on-street spaces.   Regarding the latter, a new proposal that could be implemented as early as this Fall would take restrictions one step further by requiring residents and commuters to purchase monthly permits in order to utilize on-street parking in the Sydenham Ward.  The contentious plan would set aside 15% of on-street parking spaces to casual users, while the remaining allotment would be split between residents of the ward ($30/month), and regular commuters ($68/month).  The distribution of passes and their costs is geared towards encouraging more Kingstonians to utilize public transportation. As expected, the plan has local residents up in arms as it fundamentally changes their ability to rely on parking spaces in front of and around their respective homes, Queen’s University and the city’s two hospitals.  Accordingly, this week’s poll asks:

Are you in favour changes to on-street parking in the Sydenham Ward?

  • Yes. (69%, 107 Votes)
  • No. (24%, 38 Votes)
  • Not sure. (7%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 156

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In his article titled “Six reasons free parking is the dumbest thing you didn’t know you were subsidizing“, Christopher Mims offers the following justification as to why cities must consider fiercely overhauling antiquated on-street parking strategies:

  • Parking spaces are bad for the environment (e.g. heat and runoff).
  • “Free” parking costs you money; parking spaces represent lost tax revenue.
  • Parking is the most voracious devourer of some of the most valuable land in a city.
  • Free parking encourages bad behavior (e.g. drunk driving and circling the block).
  • Cities are missing out on huge revenues by not charging fair market rate for in-demand parking spaces.
  • Smart parking meters can reduce traffic by eliminating the need to circle the block.

As a resident of King’s ward, which gets congested each and every time the doors to the K-Rock Centre open, or the city closes down Princess Street for a festival or parade, I’ve witnessed firsthand the lengths commuters will go to save a buck and park for free on downtown side streets.  On occasion we’ve had concert-goers towed from our private parking spot, and had elderly dinner guests park blocks away due to a lack of on-street parking.  With the advent of the pilot project in Sydenham ward, I can’t help but wonder if free on-street parking in our downtown neighbourhood could also be facing extinction.  While the added revenue is certainly something we could benefit from, is the magnitude really enough to make a dent that tax payers will notice?  Furthermore, how will these sorts of restrictions affect shoppers flocking to a downtown that is increasingly riddled with store closures, and competition from big box stores who offer free parking as far as the eye can see?  Drop off your thoughts on this pilot program, and parking downtown with a comment below.

Thanks to Timothy Vogel for today’s photo, which offers a possible glimpse of the future of parking signs in the Limestone City.

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Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

12 thoughts on “A Farewell to Free Parking in Kingston

  • July 8, 2013 at 10:13 am
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    Hi Harvey,

    Great piece. I think you hit the nail on the head when you pointed out people are determined to save a buck when parking downtown, to a fault. I live downtown on Ontario Street and pay $80 a month for a private parking spot. This is the cost of storing a vehicle in a densely-populated and vibrant area of our community. I don' complain, because owning, operating and parking a vehicle is a choice I make.

    In today's world too many of us see driving as an entitlement. It is not, and you are not entitled to a place to park your car. It would suit us all very well to accept this fact and move on. If you find parking in downtown Kingston too expensive, it's because there is a high demand. This is how the market works.

    I would encourage Kingstonians to use more transit (which I also do). if they did, parking would not be such a premium commodity in the downtown, and it would be a win win for everyone.

    • July 9, 2013 at 1:25 pm
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      Finally. Somebody who gets "it" when it comes to the responsibility of car ownership. Well written and well said KJFO.

    • September 10, 2013 at 9:24 am
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      So what has been the solution in many cities and towns elsewhere around the world ? Rather than increasing parking spaces in densely populated areas, spaces have been eliminated.! Only commercial vehicles, buses and taxies are allowed into these areas. If you want to encourage people to leave their cars behind… consider adopting such schemes as 'Park and Ride' and other innovative bus transportation schemes that will in fact make life easier for the motorist . In other words, eliminate choice and force the issue. This is a concept which has been embraced by many urban planners all over the world. As we write, there are millions of people working and shopping in vibrant downtown centres who arrived there by an efficient transportation network. As others have said, owning a car does not give you the right to park, where and when ever you want. In closing that Heritage Areas are turned into' parking lots' and even Kingston's beautiful parks are blighted by the automobiles .

  • July 8, 2013 at 7:14 pm
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    This is just another tax for the residents and a new source of revenue through more parking tickets.

    • July 9, 2013 at 3:01 pm
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      There a couple problems with your comment.

      First, permits would actually cut down on the number of tickets issued in the downtown by assigning parking privileges to parking spaces. This would decrease the number of people using a space when they shouldn't be, the very reason parking tickets are issued.

      Second, this IS a revenue source, as you say. But it is one for the city, meaning taxpayers. That's you. Don't complain.

      So, this is not a tax, but a common sense pricing system that is long overdue in light of the impact free parking has on municipal coffers.

      While your argument might be popular around around the dinner table, it's very simplistic. Painfully common too, I'll add.

      But remember, taxes are paid regardless of your use of a particular service, whether it be roadways, healthcare, the public school system or the catholic school system. A per-use cost is quite different, passing all spending on to the actual consumer of a product. In this case, that product is space for parking.

      As detailed in the article, free parking creates the biggest cost to residents (taxpayers), whereas increased prices puts money in taxpayer pockets. One of the benefits of charging for parking, in particular, is that those on the low end of the income scale, who can't afford a vehicle, are not left subsidizing parking for those who can afford a vehicle, and who choose to park in densely populated areas.

      I hope this helps.

  • July 9, 2013 at 8:18 am
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    Any change from the status quo is often difficult to make, especially when these types of changes did not evolve with the city as it has grown and as the nature of our downtown has grown. If you have some time on your hands take a look at "The High Cost of Free Parking" by Donald Shoup. It's long, but it is also thorough.

    I understand that the correlation between this and store closures downtown would seem scary, but I hesitate to think they are connected – or would be the sole reason. Business closure and empty storefronts in Downtown Kingston is not a new thing. What I do hope, is that revenues from this parking plan are directed to the improvements that would make non-car based travel more attractive to residents.

    • July 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm
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      @RchrdAlln parking, or lack thereof, is certainly not the sole reason for store closures downtown. I would argue that impacts some, but not all stores. I think an important question to ask folks is: if you were given the choice over downtown Kingston or a Big Box outlet for the same chain store/product, which would you choose? All things being equal of course, save for parking.

  • July 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm
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    Quite simply, for better or for worse, the less free parking, the more it takes more away from downtown business.. I have talked to many that miss the 1 hour free time in municipal lots (chown, etc.) and it's a factor in consumer activity downtown. I support greening our community but I thing a it's a few years too soon to do away with the idea of free parking downtown.. a few years from now may be better..

  • July 13, 2013 at 11:02 am
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    Parking is one of the factors that may factor in if i shop downtown or elsewhere. Truth is you can not convert everyone to walk, ride the bus, walk or take a taxi downtown for various reasons. Regarding entitlement to parking: If you want customers to visit downtown merchants you do not make it more difficult. So you do not drive. Not everyone shares the same opinion. I personally hate parking downtown due to the over zealous parking enforcement that writes tickets prematurely. I still have a copy from officer Ward # 00588 that wrote a ticket with 11 minutes reaming. This individual knowingly wrote this socket in advance. Ticket was written at 16:20 and this officer put a note at the bottom Note: EXP PND 1880 0431PM 1590 IF. — I did get fined for parking at expired meter. I did go to City Hall to have it cancelled only because i still had two minutes left on my pay and display. Unfortunately I noticed it too late otherwise i would of taken this officer to court for falsifying a document He/she did have to certify that the information was correct. I did have a person in law enforcement say that this is illegal. This happened over 3 years ago and i still keep this ticket as proof of what happens with some tickets. It is things like this that drive me away from downtown even though i would love to support downtown. You may disagree but this is my opinion and experience

  • July 13, 2013 at 11:08 am
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    By the way. How does free parking encourage drunk driving? No logic here. I doubt it also encourage circling the block as you probably want to be closer to you destination so you do not have to put in more money.

  • September 10, 2013 at 3:39 pm
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    Public transit, cycling and walking are not just choices about the environment, they are choices about cost, safety and convenience and, in some cases, physical mobility.

    Primary reasons I rarely shop in Kingston's downtown anymore:
    – high cost of parking, especially on Saturdays, which should be free just like Sundays are
    – lack of available spaces
    – poor transit system (though I have noticed a few recent improvements)

    By contrast, I happily shop in downtown Brockville or downtown Perth, despite how congested these areas can be during weekends and summer peak seasons, because both locations offer free parking for 1-2 hours all day on weekends and they have spaces located in close proximity to my destinations.

    Notably, Kingston's downtown is not the only location for independent retailers and restaurants. There are many options in the central or western end that aren't 'big boxes' or franchises but offer convenient, free parking for customers. Support your local vendors city-wide!

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