Sunday, January 20, 2013

Baby Steps

As I mentioned in last week's blog entry about getting to a new bridge, most of our goals as a city council can only be reached in steps.  So  much of what we want to accomplish is big, and costly, and will take time - it's really easy to get frustrated by the seeming impossibility of getting to where we want to go.  We have to remember the words of Lao-Tzu, the Chinese philosopher - "A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step."

We need to approach revitalizing the downtown area the same way.  It's not going to be done by throwing big bucks at things like new building fronts, or putting in paving stones rather than sidewalks, or putting in a different style of street lights, or putting up banners.  None of these things, either individually or together, is going to convince more people to come downtown to shop or dine or get their hair cut.  And doing any or all of these things costs money that has to be taken from somewhere else.

But at last week's council meeting we did vote to take a small, inexpensive step to make it easier for those going downtown to spend more time there.  We passed a motion to make all of the parking meters on Central Avenue two hour, rather than having the mix of one and two hour meters that is the current situation.

This situation came about a couple of years ago when the city spent $700,000 for new parking meters in the downtown - we'll be paying for those meters for the next three years and ten months ($14,600 per month).  The new meters only take loonies and twonies, with the idea that this would increase parking revenues.  We also hired another parking meter person, with the theory being that the increased meter revenues would pay for this person's salary.  At about the same time, the fine for parking at an expired meter went up to $10 (if you pay right away), to discourage people from parking too long.

On Central Avenue, meters were all set for a maximum of one hour.  Even if you put in a twonie, the most time that you could get was one hour.  Part of the reason for this limitation came from businesses in the block where the university is located - students were parking on the street, and taking up spaces for the entire day, preventing customers of those businesses from having easy access.  The hope was that shorter meter times and higher parking fines would discourage this behaviour.

Unfortunately, one hour isn't very long if you're downtown and want to run a number of errands, or have an appointment that runs overtime.  When an accounting firm moved into the Forest Centre, they quickly found that this was a problem for many of their clients, so they made a request to the city to have the allowable time on meters in that block changed to two hours, and this was done.

However, when other businesses on Central made the same request, they were turned down, and told to work through the Business Improvement District, which didn't follow through.  Frustrated, they asked me if there was anything that I could do.

Having been in the situation where I've been meeting someone for coffee, and they had to run out to feed the meter, or were ticked because they put in a twonie (since the meter says that it takes twonies and loonies) but only got one hour of parking, I thought that making all meters on Central two hour meters was the simplest solution that would end some confusion and give people some encouragement to stay downtown.  So I brought forward a motion at council to do just that, and it was passed last week.  One benefit of the new meters is that this will be very easy and low-cost to do, and should be done within a couple of weeks.

Is this the magic bullet for our downtown?  Of course not.  But it's something that was easy, low-cost, and lessens one of the irritants that people run into when they're considering whether to go downtown or elsewhere.

And it was taking a step, not standing in the same place talking about all the things that we could do, but not actually doing anything.  We need to remember that it's the doing, not the talking, that gets things done, even if we're only taking baby steps.

"As I get older, I pay less attention to what men say.  I just watch what they do." - Andrew Carnegie

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