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Get your motor running

But don’t count on parking your scooter downtown

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Angela Mombourquette is a Halifax writer and editor. In 2012, she was awarded the George Cadogan Outstanding Columnist prize from the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. @angmombo

Angela Mombourquette is a Halifax writer and editor. In 2012, she was awarded the George Cadogan Outstanding Columnist prize from the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. @angmombo

Hey students, welcome to Halifax.

You’ve probably heard some cool things about our city already: big party town, good arts scene, and the odd hurricane.

It’s also a city that’s still experiencing growing pains after emerging just two years ago from a dozen years of neglect and stagnation, thanks to a former mayor who seemed to have a deathly fear of any kind of progress or change.

The good news is, it’s a brave new world, mayor-wise and change-wise. Look at all those cranes in the air! Look at that giant hole on Argyle Street! Look at all the progress that’s been made on making Halifax an environmentally friendly, people-friendly, non-car-centric transportation hub!

Well, I guess we can’t have everything at once. I should probably warn you that it’s actually pretty tough to get around Halifax by bus, especially to and from the far reaches of the municipality.

And nobody, especially a poor student like you, wants to pay the costs of commuting by car.

You may think, “No problem! I’ll just get a motorcycle, or better yet, a scooter, and I’ll zip around the city without a care in the world.” Parking will be a breeze. You’ll just whip the kickstand out in one of those conveniently located, bargain-priced downtown parking spots that progressive cities proudly flaunt to encourage the use of more efficient transportation. Obviously it shouldn’t cost as much to park a bike as it does to park a big four-wheeled vehicle, right?

Sorry to get your hopes up. As a fellow scooter driver, I can tell you that there are few spots designated for motorcycle and scooter parking in downtown Halifax. And by few, I mean two. Each of these 90-minute parking spots is the same size as a single-car space—able to accommodate three or four bikes each. Clearly, it’s not a priority for our government.

But it wasn’t always thus. Back in 2005, Council asked staff to investigate free parking for motorcycles and scooters, in line with what was happening in Toronto at the time. It was also suggested that more than one small vehicle (a small car and a motorcycle, or more than one motorcycle or scooter) could be allowed to share a single parking space.

HRM’s department of Transportation and Public Works supported, in theory, the concept of encouraging free parking for motorcycles, but the staff report didn’t recommend it in practice, because it “could create a public relation problem and a hostile enforcement environment.”

A few years later, then-Councillor Sue Uteck (who still tools around on an awesome Big Ruckus) did convince HRM to institute a pilot project that would create free downtown parking spots for motorcycles and scooters. The current spots on Grafton Street and Spring Garden Road were created then, along with one on Argyle that has since disappeared because of the convention centre construction.

And thanks to Uteck’s initiative, the Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s university campuses now have designated motorcycle and scooter spots. They’re not free, but they cost less than car spots.

According to Uteck, who no longer sits on Council, the hope was that the pilot would lead to a plan to create more free parking and small metered spaces just for motorcycles downtown. “It doesn’t make sense for a bike to take up a whole parking space,” she says, “but it’s not Halifax’s priority, even though there are more scooters and motorcycles on the road in this region now than ever before.”

But there may be a glimmer of hope. HRM has a “Regional Parking Strategy Functional Plan” that was devised in 2008 to provide direction for parking initiatives over the next 25 years. One of the plan’s yet-unimplemented recommendations was to “encourage the use of more efficient vehicles such as hybrids and motorcycles …[through] preferential pricing.” It also recommended that motorcycles be allowed to share metered spaces with other vehicles.

HRM spokesperson Jennifer Stairs says the strategy is currently being reviewed to determine what the new priorities will be for the next five years. “I get the sense that motorcycles may not be on their top priorities,” she admits, “but it doesn’t mean that it won’t kind of shuffle them a little bit higher in the queue.” She expects the review to finish in October.

Perhaps, then, it might not hurt to let your councillor know if you happen to care about this issue. Meanwhile, your scooter-parking options remain more or less the same as those available to car drivers.

Just keep in mind that there are a lot of legal gray areas. Scooter riders tend to be ingenious when it comes to getting around the rules, but take note of the many Parking Enforcement Officers walking around in their smart uniforms and eye-catching safety vests. The interpretation of those gray areas usually left to their discretion. Helpfully, the folks at HRM have information on how to contest a ticket at halifax.ca/ParkingEnforcement/Dispute.php.

So good luck with that, new resident scooter rider! We’ll be a big city some day. Sorry about the growing pains.

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