Waye Mason recently had a run-in with an angry constituent. The man was furious because he received a parking ticket for sitting in a no-parking zone for 20 minutes. His argument? He should have got a break, because everyone knows there’s no downtown parking.

“The attitude in HRM is that there is no parking downtown, ever,” says Mason. “But is there really no parking? Or is there just no parking right in front of the restaurant you want to eat lunch at?”

The reality is, there’s plenty of parking in downtown Halifax—for those who are willing to park off the street. Earlier this year, Mason worked with the Spring Garden Area Business Association and the Downtown Halifax Business Commission to gather the data that proves it.

They conducted the survey in May. The team contacted all of the off-street parking owners and determined that on average, there were 796 off-street stalls available at lunchtime, all within a five-minute walk to Grand Parade. And that doesn’t include the Casino parking or the parking lot on the far side of Bishop’s Landing (those lots fall just outside the five-minute mark). Those two parking lots alone represent an extra 600 or 700 spots. They also found 350 more available spots within five minutes of Spring Garden. According to their survey, there were 7,449 parking spaces downtown. 1,380 of those were still free at lunchtime.

Mason also went on a walk-about with members of the Argyle Entertainment District, the Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association, the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, and the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. During their walk, they examined the on-street parking, identified issues and assessed whether or not the city is using the available space as efficiently as possible. Mason wrote a memo on May 29, 2013 that states they found about 15 headless parking metres, and a few areas where loading and parking areas could be altered. But, according to the memo, “overall, most blocks were well covered, with just a few places where changes could be considered.”

For many Haligonians it’s not just about availability, it’s also about the cost. But not only does downtown Halifax offer free, on-street parking after 6:00 p.m. and on weekends, there are also opportunities to validate your parking at local retailers. For example, customers who spend more than $20 at Pete’s Frootique on Dresden Row can park free in the City Centre Atlantic parkade for up to two hours.

But when Halifax is compared to London, Ontario, it still doesn’t compare favorably in terms of cost. According to London’s Visitor’s Guide to City Parking, London’s parking lot rates are fairly consistent at $2 an hour, but the daily rates are lower than they are in Halifax. In London, a full eight hours of parking ranges from $4 to $7 total. But in Halifax, although $2 an hour is fairly typical, drivers pay that $2 per hour up to a set daily maximum. At the Scotia Square parkade, that daily maximum is $20, the Salter Street maximum is $16, and the City Centre Atlantic maximum is $15. So while short-term parking is comparable, Haligonians who want to park for a full eight hours will typically pay around $5 more per day than London residents.

Ahsan Habib is an assistant professor at Dalhousie’s School of Planning. He compared Halifax’s parking challenges to Hamilton, Ontario’s. “Hamilton is doing a better job than Halifax in terms of bringing people into town by transit,” he explains. “Hamilton has a very good downtown terminal, and that makes it easier to bring a lot of people in. But they also have much less on-street parking availability than we have in Halifax.” He adds that Halifax’s transit system has good coverage, but only a few of the routes are direct, so they can’t compete with a car in travel time. Which means that there are still a lot of people who want parking when they go downtown.

He also compares Halifax to Toronto. “Halifax has very liberal parking rates and free parking availabilities, particularly around the Common,” he says. “It’s unthinkable in most capital regions.”

Downtown businessman Carman Pirie says he’s never heard a single complaint from a client. He’s a principal at Kula Partners, an inbound marketing and web design agency that lives on Grafton Street. He echoes Mason’s statement that people seem to want it all when it comes to parking. “People seem to want Halifax to feel more like Annapolis Royal, and I just don’t see that as a reality for a modern city,” he says. “Halifax is often called the largest small town in the world. I think there’s something to that in a charming, nice way. But maybe that extends to our views on parking. I don’t dispute that a retail business would find the public opinion on parking challenging.”

Mason says that although there’s no shortage of parking, a true problem has been created for the city because of the public’s perception of downtown parking availability. “Even the restaurateurs are telling their patrons, the public…that there is no parking,” he explains. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. All of those empty parking stalls should be filled with happy customers going to restaurants and stores. But they’re not, and that’s partly because people have been scared off from downtown.”

But Mason has plans to address the misconception. Over the last few months, there have been new signs popping up downtown, pointing the way to off-street parking. He’s also investigating ways to work with businesses to recreate something similar to what Pete’s Frootique is offering. “We’re looking at whether or not we can sell parking passes to stores,” he says. “For example, you could go downtown, shop at Biscuit, and buy a $100 dress. Biscuit would give you a parking pass, and you would get an hour or two of parking. We’re going to work towards something like that.”

Mason says if people want more parking, they need to use the lots that already exist. “There are simply no more downtown streets that we can safely add on-street parking to,” he explains. “In order to justify spending more money on more parking, we need to see more cars in the parking lots we already have.”

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