Each year, the City of Welland offers free 2 hour parking in the downtown core during the holidays. This week, the new council sat for the first time and agreed to continue offering free parking downtown into the new year. How long this will last is anyone’s guess, but it is definitely good news for local businesses.
It doesn’t seem much to put a loonie in for an hour of parking, but it does factor into people’s decisions on whether or not they’ll be spending time in a given area.
A report by L. Dennis Burns, CAPP and Matthew Q. Inman called Retail Parking Strategies to Support Downtown Revitalization seems to support this.
Photo by Greg Furminger, Welland Tribune
Taking a comprehensive approach to downtown retail parking is important because of the significant differences in the downtown environment compared to “the competition” (e.g., suburban malls or big box stores) The suburban malls and big box stores have several obvious parking advantages over downtowns:
- Plentiful land on which to provide cheap (perceived as free) surface parking
- Simple, easily understood access characterized by direct lines of sight from the parking lot to the store
- Generally high levels of service as expressed through short walking distances, generous parking stall widths, etc.
- Single ownership control of dedicated parking resources
- Increased ability to control employee parking behaviours through direct management
Many downtowns have, in recent years, seen unparalleled success in their revitalization efforts. It is interesting to note this success has not gone unnoticed by the shopping centre industry…
For a downtown to be successful, and to be considered healthy competition, parking and accessibility must be a priority. On-street parking is the most convenient (an obvious) solution. No one is suggesting a free-for-all, where parking is always free with no time limits attached. In fact, that would have the opposite effect on downtown. A two-hour time limit that is currently in place is par for the course of other downtowns across the country. A reasonable fine for those who park after the limit would still bring in revenue. Varied time limits are also an option – perhaps a few 15-minute spots in front of Civic Square for those paying their water bill or returning a book to the Welland Public Library and another few in front of the banks. The library could do well with 1-hour free parking (there is currently a single 5 minute free parking spot designated to the library with all others being ticketed (not metered) spots), and the remainder staying at two-hour spots.
A great local example of this model being wildly successful is the revitalization and improvements to Downtown Port Colborne. Of course there are other factors at play here, but parking can be considered a large part of why their downtown is so successful. Businesses there are booming and crowds gather. It is a wonderful place to be!