Is there a parking train wreck coming our way?

By Pepper Parr

September 16th, 2021



Expect to hear a lot about the planned Holiday Christmas Market that is scheduled for December 9th to December 12th.

It looks a bit like a mad dash to make something happen – a final decision will be made at council on September 21st.

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward once said the only thing that gets more attention than parking is fireworks.
Parking is an issue for some people concerned about how people will move around in the downtown core during one of the busiest times of the year – the Christmas holidays.

For the merchants along Brant and John and Lakeshore it is said that 20% of their business comes through the doors during that season.

For a sector of the economy that has been slapped around by the pandemic every opportunity to get a customer on the streets and through their doors is treasured. Don’t mess with the parking.

During the Standing Committee debate there were a lot of parking related questions. Staff provided some data that Councillor Lisa Kearns didn’t like the look of and she asked for a closer look at the numbers.

Executive Director Heather MacDonald said to the Councillor “a response to your request made at ECIS Committee on Monday for validation of parking utilization data for downtown parking lots during the month of December.

Executive Director and City Planner Heather MacDonald

To provide some context, Transportation staff had been asked by Brian Dean to provide parking utilization data for Lots #1 and #4. Staff provided a response on September 9th which included utilization data for Lot #1. In this response, it was indicated that we did not have access to reliable data for Lot #4 due to technology issues that were being worked on.

A closer look has now been taken and it has been found that BI Dashboard we rely on for this data is reporting “inaccurate data/unable to pull data”. Transportation staff is working with IT and the BI vendor to get this reporting issue resolved as soon as possible; however, in the meantime Transportation staff was able to look into the back-end of the dashboard to the source data and performed a more detailed analysis on parking utilization in lots that would be impacted by the proposed Holiday Market.

We have determined that the metrics conveyed to Brian Dean on September 9th were an underestimate of actual parking lot utilization. Our analysis of the raw data for the month of December (weekday and weekend combined) is summarized below:

Parking Lot                                          2018      2019      2020
Lot 1 – Elizabeth Street                      99%      72%        75%
Lot 5 North – 391 Brant Street         89%       85%        57%
Lot 5 South – 391 Brant Street         80%       86%        65%

**2020 data has not been factored into our commentary below due to pandemic impacts on parking operations

For the purposes of determining effective parking capacity, industry standard is 85% utilization. Once a lot reaches 85% utilization we deem it at capacity. Based on our combined knowledge of parking operations and our “boots on the ground” experience within the lots, our observations would confirm that Lots #1 and #5 are at effective capacity during the month of December. There is no reserve capacity at either of these lots.

The Elizabeth Street Parking Lot

Unfortunately, we cannot report on parking utilization of Lot #4 as the sensors in the lot do not provide reliable data. We are currently working on a deployment strategy to equip each off-street stall with a sensor to rectify this issue. Anecdotally, we know that Lot #4 is at capacity as it is our most heavily utilized surface lot in the Downtown. If parking supply were to be reduced in order to accommodate a Holiday Market, we would need to have those discussions with the Downtown Parking Committee and consider impacts to the businesses Lot #4 serves, as well as the overall parking system.
Councillor Kearns did the necessaries and got back to MacDonald saying: “The response is appreciated and deeply valued in the way in which we use data to inform decisions of Council.

“The purpose of the question was to recognize that the approval of one stakeholder priority would impact another. In this case we know it is a trade-off between parking and an event during what has been proven as a critical economic time for local retailers.

Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns

“I believe that accurate data and transparency are critical in decision making and likely much of my pressing of this was to reconcile what ‘boots on the ground’ know to be true with a transparent discussion of the request. Even more granular, I had requested weekend capacity and see that the capacity number offered is smoothed with the inclusion of weekdays.

“As you can now infer from the updated data, my strong request for a pilot/termed event was anchored in this critical balance and its implications on local business. In the absence of a complete understanding of withdrawing use of a full capacity lot how might we continue to communicate this updated information?

“Please expect that I will be asking this question in Council and will exercise the response as further confidence in a termed/phased program. This also guides the importance of completing the Parking Needs Assessment study given that I expect Lot 4 would have 100% capacity and the pressure will continue to mount on the east side municipal parking needs.

Can you see the train wreck coming our way?

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4 comments to Is there a parking train wreck coming our way?

  • Penny Hersh

    Once again, someone seems to have come up with a “bright” idea that will cripple the traffic and parking situation in Burlington( in December). that will negatively impact the downtown businesses.

    I have a question that I would really like an answer to. What are the feelings of the downtown merchants?

    Personally, I have not heard anything that indicates strongly one way or the other the feelings of these merchants. The idea that people will frequent other stores while attending this proposed market is ludicrous, especially if there is music and the possibility of being able to have alcohol while wandering about. People can make some bad decisions when drinking.

    If the council decides to allow this event, I will not be frequenting this market. One reason we are in the throws of a 4th wave of Covid 19 that according to Dr. Tam will be around for a long time and even though it would be held outdoors people will be massing together to see what is being offered without masks and with the false sense of security that they have been double vaccinated. However, has the person standing beside them been vaccinated?

    How will event organizers or security be able to control entry to this market? What are the Provincial guidelines on how many people can be in one area at this point in time? Are people going to have to stand in line and wait to be admitted if indeed there is a central point of entry?

    It seems that council needs to be reminded that the downtown merchants asked that the Santa Claus Run be moved to November instead of December, because of the impact on the businesses downtown, and this is a half day event.

    I feel strongly about supporting the downtown businesses.

    Again so many questions, so few answers that can impact the downtown. If this council feels it is such a great idea why not share the wealth – move this event to another Ward in the City – perhaps Aldershot?

    • David Barker

      Penny, why are you always so negative?

      I believe the hope is to attract more people to the downtown core than otherwise might be there. That would provide both market participants and store owners a greater opportunity to attract custom. The market and the stores are not mutually exclusive. Yes, they are competitors to a degree, but they can also help each other.

      Maybe we have not heard from the BDBA because this has only been sketched out and they are waiting to judge on a detailed plan.

      Your comments and concerns about COVID are of course personal and so are totally valid from your perspective. But I’m a bit confused. You have concerns about being outside with people around, but are willing to go inside into a store to make a purchase to show your support. Seems a bit contradictory.

      Editorial observation: On the matter of a possible Holiday Market patterned after what the Germans have done so well serving the interests of the downtown merchants. I was in town covering the Food Truck Festival which had a very nice turnout. As I was driving about the city I noticed there were very few people at the patios on Brant and John – I counted four. The Food Truck event had taken all the business. The likelihood of a Holiday market doing that is very high. And I’m not convinced that Burlington can host something anywhere near what the Germans have achieved.

      • David Barker

        Dear Editor.

        “The Food Truck event had taken all the business”. Are you sure of that? Did you canvass the patio operators or is it your assumption that the business went to the food trucks?

        I’m not saying that is not what happened, I’m question your reporting? Are you stating fact or surmised opinion ?

        Mr. O’Dowd’s more recent follow up report seems to suggest the BDBA is supportive of the Market event. His report also suggests that many individual business owners are also supportive and will participate in it. And some maybe not in favour. So a split decision in the absence of a BDBA polling of its members.

        Mr. O’Dowd reports at least one business owner had no knowledge of this initiative. No knowledge of the initiative? Living under a rock it would seem. Ms Hersh may not be as in touch with the mood of the BDBA and its members as she might think.

  • Davis Barker

    How about initiating for the holiday period complimentary shuttle bus transportation to the downtown from the Burlington Go Station multi-level parking lot. Maybe also from the parking lots at the Beach. I would have thought in December they may not be used much.

    The organizers of this event, the BDBA, and Council need to start thinking more expansively. Let’s start discouraging driving right into the downtown by providing, free, efficient, convenient shuttle transportation from adjacent locations.

    Editor’s note: This event is not being organized by the BDBA. They have been squeezed out – which is another story in itself.