Last weekend I was in a downtown shop and overheard a customer inquiring about parking. This person (who I assumed was from out of town) wanted to know if there was any sort of free parking initiative in downtown Kingston leading up to the holidays. The retailer almost laughed out loud and directed the shopper to the nearest metered lot. This unwelcoming parking issue has deterred a lot of shoppers from spending their money in our downtown core. Their solution? To do their shopping at the mall or the RioCan where there are lots full of free parking to be had. Obviously this mentality raises concerns for the longevity of our downtown businesses – most of which are locally owned and operated.
For those who are able, adding a 1 or 2 minute walk to your plans for the day will open up a large area where downtown parking is free. Free parking can be found north of Princess on streets like Bagot, Sydenham, Ordnance, Bay and Colborne. Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone and isn’t ideal on weekdays due to parking by-laws that require us to move our vehicle to the other side of the street twice a day. That being said, shopping in the west end isn’t always a piece of cake either. Just getting into the parking lot at the Cat Centre during holiday shopping season can be a patience-testing endeavour, followed by the ever frustrating act of circling the lot and following other shoppers to their cars.
More importantly, I think we can all agree that in an ideal world, we would all be able to do our holiday shopping in downtown Kingston. I don’t imagine there is any Kingstonian who doesn’t want a thriving downtown. What if Kingston offered free downtown parking during the holidays?
Many other Ontario cities are doing just that, or a variation on it. From November 24th-December 24th, Hamiltonians enjoy free downtown parking all day, everyday. Barrie gives its downtown shoppers two free hours of parking before they have to feed the meter during the month of December, and Burlington offers three free hours. Not all free parking initiatives are focused on the holidays either. The City of Guelph has free downtown parking year-round to keep its local businesses thriving.
Some will argue that the revenue lost from free parking is enough to quash the idea before it even gets to the table. Free parking could also be taken advantage of and used for the wrong reasons. The intention is to get people downtown to frequent our shops and restaurants, not to visit friends who live in the area. On the other hand, free parking can also entice those who normally hit the big boxes, or even cross the border to do their shopping, to come downtown and give their business to local retailers.
Because of the large population of Kingstonians who live downtown, entirely free parking is likely not an option for our city. Too many folks would see this as an opportunity to leave their cars for hours on end without adding anything to the local economy. Perhaps, though, Kingston would be a good candidate for free short-term parking. Nothing fancy: 1 hour free daily for the month of December. It’s a small gesture that could have a big impact on our downtown businesses. As the mall grows and the rent goes up downtown, we see beloved local shops disappearing. The city needs to step in and give Kingstonians good reason to come downtown again.
Thanks to Brad Herman for today’s photo.