Study says downtown parking adequate in Okotoks

Okotoks: Short-term changes recommended

By: By Jessica Patterson

  |  Posted: Thursday, Feb 20, 2014 06:00 am

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A recent parking study suggests that there is plenty of parking in Okotoks’ downtown, despite increased demand for on-street parking that sees cars lining portions of Elizabeth Street for the whole day.

The final report of a town-commissioned Downtown Parking Study shows about half of the available parking spots in the area are unused during peak hours on weekdays.

“The issue is that you have prime real estate that is not being used,” said Mike Furuya, principal at Bunt & Associates, the consultant hired to conduct the study, told council last week. “Can we squeeze more out of it at the end of the day?”

The study was done between April and September last year and Furuya said it revealed 683 off-street parking stalls and 526 on-street stalls in the downtown area.

He said people prefer to use the on-street parking stalls because they’re closest to front doors, he noted.

The study showed several are hot spots in high demand areas, like Elizabeth Street between Centre and Northridge, which is 85 to 100 per cent occupied all day.

In that area, Furuya said there were 115 to 127 vehicles who were long-stay parkers, in spots that are desirable for high-turnover parking. According to the study, adding up to seven on-street parking stalls and six off-street spaces would mitigate some of that high demand for parking.

Furuya recommended short-term strategies, including removing the painted parking lines on Elizabeth Street, improving signage directing people to existing parking lots, encouraging shared parking between business owners, and increased bylaw enforcement. The study’s long-term recommendation was to find future sites for larger parking facilities.

Community Planner Steve Hanhart said there has always been a two-hour parking limit on Elizabeth Street, in the high-demand areas, even before the town’s redesign 10 years ago.

“The reality though, is that it hasn’t been enforced,” he said. “I think the reason you would start to enforce it is if there’s a significant issue. The study indicates there isn’t.”

Coun. Ed Sands, who also owns a chiropractic office downtown, said though his office is in a parking hot spot, he doesn’t find parking to be a big issue.

“We have a nice-sized parking lot beside the building, and a lot of staff park in the back, fewer now because there’s a big pile of snow taking up four or five spots,” he said.

Sands noted that it’s 250-300 paces from a stall in an average parking spot commercial areas in town, such as Cornerstone to the nearby big box stores.

He said people tend to think parking at the rear of a business is intended for staff only, but he encourages residents to look at parking at the back, on Daggett Street, or parking lots beside buildings.

“Don’t be afraid to check the library parking lot, it’s not just for library parking... if you can stand walking 300 paces across the tracks.”

Jodie Berrington, owner of Okotoks Country Florist, said the parking in front of her premises isn’t as good as it used to be. The florist, who has been in the same location for 25 years, explained that some of her customers are scared to get out of their vehicles because parking is so close to traffic. She said there used to be more space on the street before the Town installed the median.

“We had so much more room,” she said. “I know they were trying to slow down traffic to make it pedestrian friendly, but the sidewalks didn’t need to be so wide, they cut into the space on the street.”

Across the street at Royal LePage Foothills, Associate Broker John Fraser said he doesn’t hear complaints about parking.

“We’re a bit unusual in that we have parking all along the west side of the Royal LePage building,” he said. “The nature of our business is more stop and go, although we have a lot of realtors. I also have parking at the rear, but it is rarely used, which tells me people are able to find something closer without too much trouble.”

Fraser realizes that some businesses have more employees than others which makes parking more of a challenge, he said.

“However, businesses could be encouraged to have staff park in the less-desirable areas to ensure customers have somewhere convenient to park.”

When the Town redesigned Elizabeth and McRae Streets a decade ago, there was extensive public consultation and a downtown beautification committee was struck.

At the time, the Town did a comprehensive parking count before the street improvements.

“There was a real attempt through the design to increase parking as much as we possibly could, and we did dramatically increase parking in the downtown, said Hanhart.”

Fraser was on that committee and said planners took fire hydrants and put them into the centre median.

“(That) freed up quite a few parking stalls on both sides of the street,” Fraser said. “I’m not sure that’s always appreciated, but in my view it was a major improvement.”


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