We need to hold downtown parking lots to a higher standard

I’m no fan of surface parking lots downtown, but even if we succeed at getting rid of some of them many will remain. We’ll always have a need for parking downtown, and it won’t always be in a closed structure like a parkade. If you believe the mantra that “as goes your downtown, so goes your city” then you should care about these parking lots. Parking lots take up lots of space and directly impact how clean, safe, and vibrant downtown is or is perceived to be. We need to start holding our parking lots downtown to a higher standard.

Example of a bad parking lot

The parking lot on the west side of 103 Street just south of 103 Avenue is one of the worst parking lots downtown. You can see it on maps.edmonton.ca here. Here it is on Google Street View – it has not changed since the imagery was recorded.

There’s a lot to dislike about this parking lot. It is not paved, resulting in a huge mess whenever there’s rain or snow.

Parking Lot

There is no landscaping around the lot. It looks ugly from every angle. The empty wooden box along the sidewalk has potential but instead is an eyesore. There isn’t a clear separation between the parking lot and the sidewalk.

Parking Lot

Parking Lot

There are no cameras in sight, no theft prevention signs anywhere. You don’t get the sense that someone is looking after this parking lot.

Parking Lot

At night, the lot feels incredibly unsafe. It has very poor lighting – the bulk of the light that does exist is actually from the Pattison advertisement.

Parking Lot

Parking Lot

Example of a good parking lot

The parking lot at Jasper Avenue and 99 Street, beside the World Trade Centre building, is one of the best parking lots downtown (except for the fact that it is located on Jasper Avenue, which I really don’t like). You can see it on maps.edmonton.ca here (plus adjacent plots of land). Here it is on Google Street View, and you can see that it has actually been improved since the imagery was recorded. That itself is a positive thing about this parking lot – someone is looking after it!

There are a bunch of things I like about this parking lot. I like that it is paved and that the parking lines are clearly marked.

Parking Lot

I like that there is some landscaping around the parking lot. It makes it look much more attractive, and the transparent fencing results in a nice blend of vehicles and pedestrians on the sidewalk.

Parking Lot

You’ll note on the far wall, the side of the World Trade Centre building, that there are cameras. Activity in this parking lot is being recorded. There are also signs about preventing theft throughout the lot.

Parking Lot

At night, the parking lot is very well lit. There are no dark corners. You feel safe walking in this parking lot at night.

Parking Lot

Parking Lot

Most of downtown Edmonton’s parking lots are bad

The list of positives might actually be longer than the things I have pointed out above, but I think there are a few things that all good parking lots must have:

  • Paved aisles and entryways (at least)
  • Bright, evenly distributed lighting
  • Landscaping and trash receptacles
  • Some separation between cars and pedestrians (a non-opaque fence, for example)
  • Monitoring, by security camera or guard or both

If you walk around downtown, you’ll quickly realize that there are very few parking lots that meet this criteria. Most are gravel lots, with no landscaping, limited lighting, no fencing, and no sense that anyone is looking after them. They are eyesores, and they contribute to the feeling that downtown is dirty and unsafe.

What can we do about it?

I think we need to start holding land owners accountable. If you want to have a surface parking lot on your land, fine, but you have to look after it! Especially if you’re producing revenue from that parking lot. Obviously we as drivers can choose to avoid parking in lots that are not compliant, but I question how effective that would actually be. I think we need the City to start enforcing these things, to make a statement that we care about downtown and that these ugly and unsafe parking lots are not helping. Give land owners 180 days to get compliant, and put up jersey barriers if they don’t.

You can see more photos of these two parking lots here.

What do you think?

20 thoughts on “We need to hold downtown parking lots to a higher standard

  1. I think this falls perfectly in line with tougher rules for owners of all buildings and properties, especially of heritage value and in need of a cleanup. We can encourage development all we want, but without better rules and penalties to keep things in good shape it doesn’t go a long way.

  2. I completely agree. The lot I (used) to park in on 108st just south of 104 Ave is – mediocre. It has some trees, but no lighting at all. The worst is the surface. It is terrible gravel, completely uneven with huge holes. In the winter, it turns into a huge mess, and they “clear” it by piling all the snow into a few end stalls and half blocking the driving lanes. Combine that with people parking where there isn’t actually a stall (i.e. half in the driving lane) and you end up with a recipe for people getting stuck (i.e. me!)

    I won’t go into the rest of my little anti-Impark rant, but suffice it to say that I have very little respect for most downtown parking lots. (Especially those by the hospital that have no daily limit!!! That’s just evil!)

  3. While I don’t disagree with you that the gist of your argument is sound: some parking lots are good, and some are bad – I think you are not taking into account the business model. How much is the lot on Jasper? $25+/day? How much is the 103/103 lot? $7.50/day? There’s a simple “get what you pay for” argument there…

      1. i don’t think its completely not a factor, you’d also have to consider who the parking is intended for.  that first lot is right beside the grand hotel, not exactly world class hotel.  the other is by the westin and hotel mac…. I think how parking looks is directly impacted by what  business are near by, and as a by-product, what would customer pay to park there. Development costs cut into possible profit, so unless there was a return, i doubt most landowners would be interested in the expense.

        side note: that lot is right next to 2 downtown parkades that service the delta hotel/city centre mall, both much nicer. but these are for people looking to spend money on shopping/stays at a hotel. its simple, the more you spend, the more you should expect from your parking.

        That also said, lots of the downtown lots look like crap.  especially east of china town and north of 104ave.

      2. Some context as it applies to what Karl mentions. I work in the WTC next door to the Jasper ave parking lot cited. To park there for a full day, 9-5, is about $30.  The reason they can charge so much is because of the location  near the hotels and the Shaw (as stated).

        After they installed the cameras a couple of years ago they hiked their rates – a lot.
        When they put up the new fencing last year they hiked the rates – alot.

        I have not seen a visible decline or increase in business around the time of the price increases. Same goes for the ‘quality/value’ of vehicle that parks there.

        The improvements help the aesthetics but they also allow the developer/manager to charge more money.In this location the capital improvements will pay back for themselves due to people wanting to park in that spot.

        The same demand reality doesn’t exist everywhere else.

  4. Great observations, Mack. I agree there will always be a need for downtown parking. As a business owner with clients downtown, it’s frustrating to find short-term parking in order to do business. It isn’t practical to take transit to and from meetings. Well maintained parking lots are not a blight on the city and can offer a positive impression on passersby.

  5. This is a great suggestion and another small park of making a big
    difference to downtown.   Hope City Council is paying attention. 

    [this comment was meant to be individual, not institutional]

  6. I have to agree, I have had a total of 3 engagements downtown in my 15 years living here. I’ve dreaded each one because parking is, for lack of a better word “insane” in the core. I was late for all 3 trying to find adequate parking, and drove around endlessly trying to find a spot that was actually a spot. With no lines or indication as to where parking is legal, I’m afraid to park just anywhere and be towed. Not to mention bigger vehicles taking up 2 spots because there is no lines to direct them. Another issue is the pay machines, half the time certain pay options are broken and if you’ve depended on that one, you are hooped. Find another lot. 

  7. You make a great case Mack, and you are far more civil about it than I ever would be. Edmonton the City should really set some standards for parking lots instead of the willy-nilly anything goes approach we seem to have. As a “fairly new” Edmontonian, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to our City. There is no continuity. We seem to put up things to fit into a space, rather than consider the surroundings. I am sure some regulations for beautification, and more important, safety, would be appreciated by residents and visitors – I’m sure even reasonable parking lot owners would buy into the idea if they were given the nudge or some guidelines. I think it would be very cool if Edmonton could take a lead in parking lots and make them something to proud of instead of utilitarian patches of mud and gravel.

  8. Like many cities Edmonton chooses to penalize property owners by way of increased property taxes for each and every improvement they make. The “Bad property” owners as you put it are rewarded for running down their infrastructure. The same applies to homes and other residences. The system itself needs a whole new method of valuing properties.
    e.g. Two identical houses, one run down and the other one maintained. Which one do you think gets the higher assessment?
    You’re in the right coral Mack , but you are ropeing the wrong horse.

    1. I think this is really more of the issue regarding all buildings/developments. there should be more done to encourage people owning/managing property to maintain and/or upgrade the property, other than cost savings from efficiencies or the ability to charge more.  While those 2 benefits are common in re-developing large structures, the
      amount saved by the “average joe” (in houses/personal property) is often negligible, or only a
      benefit is in the long term. A tax system or fines associated for run down
      properties would encourage beautification in the city, and hopefully a
      sense in pride would develop as well.

      Parking lots don’t usually see those benefits as well, as the business model is typically “the more space you have, the more you can sell”. Really any upgrade to the lot would involve a costs passed on to the customer in terms of higher rates, and in the case of parking next to the grand hotel, people probably just won’t pay it and look for cheaper parking.

      i imagine there would be a large complaint to charging anything extra for anyone, so maybe a tax discount would make more sense. also, i use too many /’s.

  9. Nice article. I would guess that some of the cameras are as much a deterrent as they are actual cameras. And I would also argue that we can’t rely on the laws of supply and demand, as many people who park downtown don’t get to choose which lot they park in. A number of the grubby lots probably have the provincial government as their largest customers.

  10. The gravel downtown parking lots really take away from downtown.  I think that, to help these owners bring their lots up to standard, that the city could offer a one-time special to assist the lot-owners to pave and landscape their lots, starting in May 2012.  The City has really improved with the graffiti removal, and the cigarette disposal cylinders on Jasper.  Now it’s time to improve the look of downtown’s unimproved properties.

  11. As mentioned by others, the City should offer some incentive to pave these lots, and they’re in a position to do so; they’re the largest paver in the city! They could probably pave those lots a lot cheaper than anyone else could, so why don’t they just do it on the condition that the lot owners/Impark do the other stuff (trees, barriers, lighting, etc)? Seems like give and take to me

  12. I remember discussing this issue at the community league level with then Councillor Michael Phair about enforcing the landscape and other urban design bylaws for surface parking lots in the downtown…maybe circa 2003 or so. I believe Council made a motion at that time to follow up, but am not sure how much was accomplished. I believe bylaw enforcement for this type of thing is either understaffed or a low priority. I agree, we need to make this an issue again. Landowners with surface parking lots enjoy low taxes and high revenues. They need to bring their parking lots to a minimum standard (example by Mack here) while they exist.

  13. As far as I’m concerned, surface parking lots need to be taxed at the highest possible rate (presumably equivalent to the tax assessed to a fully developed multi-story residential or commercial building), and then tax reductions applied as that potential is approached.  Paving and lighting a surface lot should only provide the first level of tax reduction.  Putting up a single or two storey structure, as is proposed for the prime location of the old bank on Jasper (either 101 St, or 100, I forget) should also be discouraged through the tax system; it makes Edmonton look bush league.  Remember the tax “incentive” provided to the luggage store on the north side of Jasper between 100 and 100A St.?  Remember the tax concessions provided to Triple 5 when they promised significantly more than the 5 storey tower (Delta Hotel) we got with Eaton Centre (now City Centre Mall West)?

    I feel absolutely NO obligation to provide parking for everyone who commutes to downtown for work.  If the parking isn’t there, or is prohibitively expensive, that should create pressure for safe, clean, and efficient public transit, OR a market for downtown residential building that would suit the lawyers, etc. 

    While we’re at it, why not provide tax reductions for those who build commercial or residential buildings with multiple storefronts on the ground floor?  That makes downtown vibrant and livable; check out Montreal if you don’t think this can be done in a northern climate.  What we don’t need is more single-tenant edifaces like the BMO building: when closed, that streetscape is a wasteland.

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