No single issue has raised as much concern regarding the proposed site for the new LVEC as the question of parking.
While public transit usage has improved, it remains the case that the great majority of Kingstonians go places by car. If they are to patronize the LVEC, there must be spaces for them to put their cars which are easily accessible, do not require long walks to and from the Venue (especially in Winter), are free or very inexpensive, and are legally designated as parking spaces. If these conditions are not met, there is a grave danger that the LVEC will become a "white elephant" failure, and a catastrophic burden on our tax load for decades to come.
The Task Force which recommended the proposed site reported strong support for a "downtown location", though they fudged their statistical basis for making that claim by including those who preferred the existing Memorial Centre location as among those supporters, despite the fact that the Task Force subsequently rejected the MC site, among other reasons, as being too far from downtown!
Bluntly, our research leads unavoidably to the conclusion that, from the parking and traffic perspective, the Anglin Bay site is just about the worst possible location for an LVEC in Kingston.
The word on the acceptability of this location to hockey fans is not good, whatever those (very few) participants in the Task Force's "public consultations" had to say: directly and indirectly, KCAL has heard strong objections, especially on the part of residents of the North-West area of the city, to having to make their way through Kingston's early 19th-century town plan, full of traffic lights, a lack of left-turn lanes, and one-way streets, to find a parking space in one of the 17 lots identified by City staff as within walking distance of the proposed site. (Reference, not LINK; the document forbids its reproduction without city permission: "City of Kingston Downtown Parking Study", March 2004)
Access is further complicated by the consideration that the location selected is on the shores of a river and a lake: it was, ironically, precisely this "uniquely spectacular setting" (Task Force Report, p. 13) which attracted the Force to the site in the first place. The problem is, however, that the river and lake limit access to the site from fully 270 degrees of the compass, and there is at present only one road, accessible from only one direction, leading to it! Access to even the parking lots is already highly restricted from the entire East side of the Cataraqui, and from the North is choked and convoluted.
Assuming the Task Force's anticipated 2600 cars do manage to make it to the City centre in time for a game or other activity at the LVEC, what can their drivers expect to experience when they get there? Let's embark on an analysis of the parking situation in Kingston's downtown city core to find out:
1. In its original Report, the Task Force laid great stress on the greater efficiency of multiple and already-existing downtown parking lots, as opposed to large on-site lots, from the point of view of efficient post-event dispersion of large volumes of traffic. Quite aside from their ignoring or ignorance of the existing Marina Lands Bylaw No. 96-259, which stipulates that any structure intended for the assembly of persons provide on-site parking of 1 space per 7 seats (See Planning and Zoning Issues), in its enthusiasm for the efficiency of dispersal of patrons, the Task Force overlooked the difficulties attending their arrival. How is the driver of a car heading for an LVEC event to know which of the 17 publicly-available parking sites actually has space free in it for his or her car? Unless the city is prepared to institute an expensive system of advance booking of specific parking spaces (which could run afoul of already-established patterns of parking usage having nothing to do with the LVEC: see below), the prospect for our hypothetical driver is a frustrating, increasingly frantic, search for a space, particularly as the event's starting-time draws near. This, by the way, is when the tempers will begin to fray, the accidents will start to happen, and the resolutions to never go to another damned event at the LVEC will begin to form.
2. The Task Force made much of the notion that London's John Labatt Centre would be a model of the sort of thing they had in mind. Any such comparison is misleading, inaccurate, and disingenuous. The Labatt Centre is contiguously surrounded by 62 parking lots, the majority of which are 1-2 blocks from the Centre, and provide approximately 10,000 spaces surrounding the facility.
Map of parking (and public transit) availability around London's Talbot Street
This is why the Labatt Centre was possible: downtown London was derelict and abandoned at night, and easily convertible to such abundant parking spaces that its Centres' patrons had no problem with competition from the (very few) other night-time activities in the downtown core.
The same is emphatically not true of Kingston. Despite the Force's, and the BIA's, implication that our downtown is desperately in need of economic stimulation [Reference: Task Force Report, pp. 1,15 ; BIA Submission], there have been a series of studies over recent years that not only commend Kingston for its vibrant inner-city vitality, but in one case actually casts doubt on whether the proposed placement of the LVEC would enhance that vitality, and perhaps even damage it. [Reference: "Kingston's downtown lauded by urban planners", Whig-Standard, July 21, 2004]
Downtown businesses, especially restaurants, might find cause for alarm here: how many Friday night Frontenac games, which force restaurant patrons further and further afield for parking, will it take before they start seeking their dinners elsewhere? "Stimulating" the downtown core?.
3. The Task Force, whose competency to make such claims is not clear, identified approximately 7,000 spaces potentially available "within walking distance" of the Anglin Bay site. [Reference: Task Force Report, p. 17]
Let's take a closer look at that analysis.
The Report claims 1,995 spaces are available in City lots. Incredibly, nobody took the trouble to count how many of those spaces are actually empty from 6:30 p.m. on, especially on Friday nights, when the main user of the LVEC, the Frontenacs, will play most of their home games, starting with a warm-up popular with fans at 6:30. Many of the spaces claimed are monthly rentals: is the idea that those who rent them can no longer work late, at least not on nights the LVEC is in use? The vibrancy of the Kingston downtown core consists precisely in that parking spaces are already in significant use, even after working hours.
The report claims 859 metered on-street parking spots. Again, incredibly, nobody went out to check how many of those spaces were free around 6:30-7:30 p.m. We did. On Friday, May 7, 2004, from 7:15-7:30 p.m. our researcher reported, of the 859 spaces, only 30 were empty at that time.
The list of parking spaces claimed by the Task Force further includes 2,433 private parking spaces in 25 lots, including Block D, which has just been approved for development, and is located 13 blocks from the proposed site (!). What could the members of the Task Force have possibly been thinking? That owners/tenants of private parking spaces would meekly slink elsewhere when the clarion call of civic booster-ism required?
The Anglin on-site parking lot could be eventually incorporated into the LVEC (though it is currently actually zoned residential, and that zoning will not be changed without a fight); however, the 860 parking spaces proposed to be built in the North Block by Kincore are a net increase of only 560 spaces, as the garage will replace the existing 300 already on the site: practically no increase whatever, when you consider that the Anglin Lot is supposed to become on-site parking for the LVEC, and where did the Task Force suppose the cars on that fully-occupied lot will end up going?
Finally, there was a proposed development of the North Block outlined this Winter, at a cost of $100,000 to Kingston taxpayers, and the assumption was that it was that development which would necessitate the construction of a parking garage there, because all the other parking spaces in the North Block were to become residential/retail/tourist welcome/bus station facilities.
The further suggestions that parking potential for the LVEC existed at RMC, Fort Henry, and the Woollen Mill are too preposterous to be considered here.
4. Consider: The "City of Kingston Downtown Parking Study" of March 2004, on which the Task Force based their Pollyanna assumption that up to 7500 people could find parking in existing locations, lists 17 public sites.
Of these, 10 have under 75 spaces, and 5 under 50. The largest by far (the Chown garage, at 438 spaces) is 9 blocks from the site; as anyone who has made the mistake of parking in the Chown garage for a Sunday-afternoon concert at the Grand would confirm, getting out can take almost as long as the concert itself. In fact, this is precisely the problem with using multi-storey garages for events at which thousands of people want to get home at the same time. Yet the largest concentration of spaces identified by the Report were in the Chown, Hanson, Sheraton, and Robert Bruce garages, totalling 884 of the claimed 1,995 spaces: so much for "efficient dispersal".
Finally, analysis of the Study reveals that, not counting the Anglin lot itself, the average distance of all parking lots from the proposed site is 6 blocks, and the average distance of those lots/garages over 100 cars capacity is 5 blocks: not an inviting prospect on a cold night in February, especially when compared, say, with the 1-2 blocks which patrons of the John Labatt Centre face.
5. At general public and Council meetings, the concern of local residents that in response to these pressures, patrons of the LVEC would seek on-street parking in their neighbourhoods, clogging access to their homes, blocking driveways, creating unwonted traffic in quiet residential neighbourhoods, and limiting access by fire, ambulance, and police services, were consistently dismissed. No plausible reasons were offered why the residents' concerns were unfounded, beyond vague assurances that real tough by-laws would be enacted, and the streets would be swarming with vigilante parking cops. As if. City Councillors may be trusting of the reasonableness and self-discipline of human nature, but the residents of King's Town are not, and in the event the LVEC is constructed on this site, the residents will be proven correct, as every reader of this paragraph knows full well.
In sum, there is not sufficient parking in the downtown core to support the addition of a 7,500 capacity LVEC anywhere in it. Worse, even without the addition of an LVEC, Kingston is heading for a downtown parking crisis, with the impending closure of the Market Square lot, the development of Block D, and the hoped-for development of the North Block. With the addition of an LVEC in a downtown location, it will be necessary to build numerous parking garages: the problem with this solution is that if the parking spaces in the garages are to be adequate to both current and additional LVEC demands on them, then they will have significant excess capacity for most days and nights of the year. That, in turn, will result in expensive parking, to recover the costs of the garages, plus their maintenance and staffing, probably by means of charging a premium night-time rate for LVEC-users.
The price of a seat at a Frontenacs game is going up: add to that a high price for parking, and you have a formula for a very costly failure. The "visionaries" amongst us should get down off their stilts and accept the fact that Kingston is not a very prosperous city, with average annual household incomes ranging 15% less than those for Southern Ontario cities as a whole.
It is not KCAL's responsibility or purview to locate a more suitable site for an LVEC. However, consider the following features that would recommend the Memorial Centre from a traffic and parking perspective:
This does not include the advantages that it is already owned by the City, has a local population who have long been used to large-scale events, is clean and does not require environmental remediation, plus could allow for an LVEC to be built beside the existing one, which latter could then become one of the additional, recreational ice pads identified as needed by the Task Force. But as these matters do not relate to parking or traffic, they shall not be dwelt on here.
Parking and Traffic issues, FAQ
Links to parking maps:
Images will open in new windows, which may later be closed to return here.
Parking map, 35% (82KB, 764 X 590 pixels)
Parking map, 70% (255KB, 1529 X 1180 pixels)
Parking map, full size (464KB, 2184 X 1626 pixels)
Last updated 30.9.2004