You’ve heard the grumbling—or you’ve grumbled it yourself: “Downtown parking is a major pain!” The prices seem to have skyrocketed. The stock of stalls feels like a shadow of its former self. And if things couldn’t get worse, we now have to memorize Rogers Place’s schedule if we plan to use metered parking after 6 p.m. But how much of our Downtown parking woes are warranted? What’s hyperbole and what’s myth? And to what extent does our “suffering” have to do with being spoiled with abundant and cheap parking for so long in this city?
The reality is our parking woes are blown out of proportion. Although the construction boom of the last few years has gobbled up a few parking lots, there are still 9,000 parking stalls within a five-minute walk of the Ice District—enough drivers to populate half the seats on game day—plus 9,000 more just five-minutes further. These stalls can be hard to come by at ofce hours, but during evenings and weekends the mostly sit empty. That is, until the arena opened. Now we’re seeing lots function the full day.
When it comes to prices, it’s true that the evening rate can be as high as $36, or as low as $9, according to Parking Panda (an app that lets you reserve your spot ahead). But keep in mind that it was subsidized by abundance for a long time. In 2010, according to Colliers International, Edmonton had the lowest parking rates of Canada’s six metropolises, with a median price of $14 per day (compared to Calgary’s $22 and Toronto’s $23). That’s been on a steady rise—but so has our Downtown skyline. And if people find alternative ways to get downtown then the prices around Rogers Place may soften.
Also: there’s Uber. And Pogo Carshare. And TappCar. It’s actually a great time to leave your car behind for these services. Taking all alternatives into consideration, the City of Edmonton predicts a Rogers Place event only needs about 6,000 stalls.
“But why would I trust the City after they botched the arena by not building a parkade?” you ask. There’s some truth to this: underground parking for 2,000 vehicles will gradually be made available until completion in 2019, and certainly the City did people with disabilities no favours without this. If the City is unprepared, it’s because WAM and Katz Group built Rogers Place at a staggering speed to beat the end of the Oilers lease at Rexall Place. However, the temporary gravel lot north of the arena is a proximal and temporary solution. But we should not get comfortable with it—the biggest impediment to our revitalizing core would be placating more surface parking at the expense of more retail, residences and Downtown vibrancy.
That said, street parking is important for street retail. Small businesses rely on it for turnover, which is why DECL is opposed to allowing five-hour limits during events. In a lot of ways, our parking woes are symptomatic of Downtown—and Edmonton— being very much in a “teenage” stage of development. Mass transit is not fully developed, bike lanes aren’t installed yet and ongoing construction hoarding (see p. 16) is frustrating to say the least. But it will pass, and at the other end of this is a matured Downtown that we’ll be happier to spend time in—no matter how we get there.