Moncton loves its parking spaces – but at what cost? The constant desire to park exactly next to the establishment one plans to visit has created a downtown without character. With the upcoming opening of the downtown events centre, and a willingness among the city’s leadership to consider change, we have an opportunity to reshape and revitalize our city.
Consider Saint John and its sprawling residential footprint. Moncton, by population, is bigger than Saint John. But when you head to Uptown Saint John, it feels so much busier and dynamic than Moncton. Why? Part of the reason is density – including that city’s approach to parking and development. There is a compact city centre that exudes energy, with bustling shops and restaurants and apartments filled with young families, professionals, and retirees. It’s incredibly pleasant to park underground at Saint John’s Market Square and walk through retail stores and restaurants, cultural institutions and gathering spaces, and on to hotels and the aquatic centre. I’ve enjoyed similar experiences parking and exploring in Halifax, and parking behind Moncton City Hall and using the pedway to visit the library is one of the most-requested outings by our children.
When presented this week with a plea for a change in parking strategy, Moncton councillors and city staff noted a new downtown plan is being prepared. It’s my hope the plan draws on the ‘gender-equal’ approach to decision making that is being used in Sweden and implemented on a national level in Canada. Please, don’t get swayed by the use of the word gender. What’s really being talked about is collecting proper data about patterns of behaviour and using that information to make more efficient choices, rather than just doing things the way they’ve always been done.
Karlskoga is a community in Sweden that reviewed its snow clearing processes and made changes often described as being gender equal. Daycares are now the first areas cleared of snow, followed by the areas with the largest workforce, then schools, then main roads. The municipality found this made the community more accessible to the population. Most days it snows in Moncton, we have less than 5cm accumulate. That’s not much of a deterrent for cars and buses on the roads, but it makes walking, biking, or pushing a stroller difficult. Focusing on pedestrian routes, rather than just main roads, could create a much more equal approach to snow clearing and encourage more downtown traffic overall. Perhaps our desire for as-close-as-possible parking would diminish if the pedestrian routes between businesses, homes, and schools were more easily passable throughout all seasons.
Another option to consider is a move that’s proving popular with former mall parking lots and buildings throughout North America. British Columbia-based urbanism consultant Brent Toderian declares that “just about every shopping centre” is turning underused property (think the now-vacant Sears portion of CF Champlain) into mixed-used developments, with residents and businesses benefiting from the already-established transit routes connected to large malls, while the retail shops benefit from the influx of people.
Another interesting statistic to consider if the goal of reducing surface parking spaces is to increase our economic prosperity: on average, people commuting by bike and walking spend more while downtown than those traveling by car.
It seems as though Moncton currently has a council and staff willing to make changes and stand by decisions on parking that may be unpopular. I am hopeful these community leaders will take this opportunity to set a long term vision that someday wins over the naysayers and creates the downtown core Moncton deserves. Reducing our surface parking while improving pedestrian-focused options is a solid strategy for increasing the economic viability of downtown.