BANFF – Any discussion of implementing visitor-paid parking at the Bear Street parkade will have to wait until service review at the earliest.
Banff council pumped the brakes on further discussion after a new report on commuter strategies in the townsite was presented at its Monday (Aug. 14) meeting.
Mayor Corrie DiManno said the information was valuable to have, but a more fulsome picture of the possible ramifications would first have to be discussed and analyzed.
“It’s really good to have some current data on this topic and to refresh our data to understand the bigger picture, but I still think there’s so many questions we still have that I would be hesitant to move forward with looking at visitor-paid parking in the Bear Street parkade,” she said.
DiManno noted if the switch were made, she would prefer to understand how it may impact Roam transit routes and methods to get more people to use public transit.
She noted statistics in the staff report highlighted 40 per cent of locals use personal vehicles to get downtown, according to the 2021 federal census, compared to 39 per cent who walk and eight per cent who use public transit.
“I look at these numbers we still have quite a few Banffites who are commuting to the downtown core, so I think there’s a bit of a sense we also need to get our house in order before we start making a major behaviour shift for commuters,” she said.
“Obviously these stalls are super precious to us in the summertime. We know they’re at capacity this summer. We want to make sure those are being used by the folks who truly need them, so I agree philosophically trying to ensure the best use is being done with those stalls but I just don’t have the full picture of how turning something like VPP (visitor-paid parkings) in Bear Street parkade on what downstream effects that will have.”
According to the 2017 Banff census, 94 per cent of Banff residents work in the townsite. Of those, 45 per cent walk, 30 per cent own a vehicle and 17 per cent cycle in the summer. During the winter, that goes to 46 per cent walking, 41 per cent owning a motor vehicle and six per cent taking public transit.
The 2021 federal census has 69 per cent of Canmore residents using vehicles to get to work, while 13 per cent walk and seven per cent take a bicycle, according to the report.
Darren Enns, the Town’s director of planning and environment, said the Town has had a research request with Service Alberta for about four years to provide data that would help in analyzing licence plates that enter Banff with an Alberta plate. However, until it receives approval, they’re only able to get information on Banff and Canmore drivers.
Surveys completed by Town staff used licence plate recognition and looked at the Bear Street parkade – with 199 spots – between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. for incoming and outgoing vehicles from June 21 to July 20, except for July 18. Any vehicle staying less than three hours was considered to be finishing an errand.
It found 20 per cent of the spots were taken up by vehicles from Banff or Canmore, with the remainder coming from outside the Bow Valley.
Surveys of Bow Avenue and the train station lot were mostly done between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. with a handheld device from a vehicle with cameras to scan licence plates.
Bow Avenue has 94 parking spots and the survey from July 13-21 showed 22 per cent of vehicles came from Banff or Canmore. The train station lot of 434 parking spots – not including RV parking – had a survey completed from July 16-22 and had only 1.2 per cent of spots used by vehicles from Banff or Canmore.
A Bow Avenue project is on the capital books for pre-design at $100,000 in 2024 and $250,000 in 2025.
“There is no construction budget currently for this project in the 10-year plan,” said Faizan Faisal, the Town’s engineering department’s parking and traffic assistant.
The report highlighted since the 2013 Transportation Master Plan was approved, two pedestrian bridges have been added, Roam transit service has increased, scramble crosswalks have been added, Bear Street underwent redevelopment and Banff Avenue is under its pedestrian trial.
It did note, however, that 30 to 40 per cent of Banff commuters and 70 per cent of Canmore commuters use their vehicles to get to work in the townsite.
According to Roam transit ridership numbers in its Aug. 16 agenda, use of public transit in Banff continues to soar. As of Aug. 8, Route 1 has had 486,172 riders and Route 2 is at 433,436. All Roam routes have had an increase in ridership over 2022 statistics.
The report emphasized visitor-paid parking could be included for the Bear Street parkade to push more drivers to either use the train station lot or look at other modes of transit such as cycling, walking or public transit.
It added visitor-paid parking on Bow Avenue could also achieve the same objectives, but isn’t recommended at this time since it could conflict with future council objectives in the redevelopment of Bow Avenue to being more pedestrian-focused.
Coun. Hugh Pettigrew expressed concern about seeing the Bear Street parkade have paid parking added to it in the immediate future.
“I got an earful from people worried when making it paid parking in the parkade came. I’ve heard from business owners. I’ve heard from commuters and I did some walkabout surveys in the parkade,” he said. “I’m getting the feeling people appreciate the option to come in early from Canmore or Cochrane and park there to go to work.”
The intent of visitor and resident-paid parking is to reduce the use of personal vehicles, create alternative choices of transit, ease up short-term downtown parking and deter traffic congestion.
The 2013 Transportation Master Plan outlined the townsite could handle 20,000 vehicles a day, but the addition of greenlight overrides, flagging, turning lane changes and scramble crosswalks have pushed it to 24,000 vehicles a day.
However, when more than 24,000 vehicles a day are in the townsite, “traffic congestion is unavoidable as Banff’s finite road network is full.”
The report noted that the number of vehicles in the town will only continue to increase and create more traffic issues, but through traffic strategies it could potentially relieve the strain of congestion in Banff.
Traffic statistics on the Town of Banff website highlight since July 4, every day has seen more than 24,000 vehicles pass into the townsite. The lowest day was July 11 at 24,410, while the highest was 31,594 on Aug. 6.
The Town is also investigating a potential land trade or swap with Parks Canada for an intercept lot at the east entrance to the mountain town along Banff Avenue. The project was budgeted at $30,000, but has drawn confirmation from Banff National Park superintendent Sal Rasheed that Parks Canada will not do the swap in the critical montane ecosystem due to environmental, policy and legislative issues.
“One of the difficulties is we don’t have a lot of alternatives,” said Town manager Kelly Gibson of parking spots. “Right now we’re seeing full parking across the entire spectrum of our parking in the summers.”