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Half of Banff parkade added to visitor paid parking

“I’m in a place where I’m now willing to take a leap of faith. I believe if we charge for the parkade, we’ll see more commuters use the train station and we’re going to see more folks wanting to park for longer at the train station,”
Banff's Bear Street parkade shows as full during a prior summer. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – Half of Banff’s Bear Street parkade’s four levels will soon need drivers to fork over cash to use it.

Banff council approved having two of the four levels be part of the Town’s visitor paid parking program, while the remaining two will continue to be free with the intent of it being used by people who live outside of Banff but work in the townsite and arrive before the lot fills up in the morning.

Council also directed Town staff to return no later than May for possibilities of bringing on a commuter pass for people who live outside Banff, but work in the townsite to park at the Bear Street parkade.

Coun. Barb Pelham brought forward the amending motion to split the parkade between paid and free for the immediate future in an attempt to find middle ground.

“I’m looking for the sweet spot where we’re giving value to an asset we have and something that is finite and sought after, but also recognizing the need for accessibility for our workers and our community, so trying to find that sweet spot,” she said.

Coun. Hugh Pettigrew noted it was a “middle ground” and “good olive branch” that could be reviewed again next year if changes were needed to be made.

Coun. Grant Canning and Mayor Corrie DiManno were the votes in opposition, with Canning cautioning it could add confusion, being a loss in revenue in not having the entire parkade be visitor paid parking and a permit system for non-residents working in Banff being a better option.

“I think the best way of trying to accommodate commuters isn’t to create a free section just to park at will. … A permit is a better way of doing it rather than having a free-for-all within the parkade,” he said, adding a person using a potential permit would have to prove they work in Banff and the Town could charge for it.

Town manager Kelly Gibson noted to council with one of the four floors already being paid, the move would ultimately only add one level to the visitor paid parking program.

Visitor paid parking was introduced in Banff in 2021, which left most parking spots needing payment. However, the Bear Street parkade and Bow Avenue lot remained a free option in addition to the intercept lot at the train station and at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre.

In the Town’s 2014 municipal census, 807 Canmore residents were found to work in Banff. A report to council last August had 40 of the available 199 stalls in the Bear Street parkade coming from Banff or Canmore. A camera at the Norquay Road entrance had 250 vehicles registered in Canmore and the MD of Bighorn entering Banff.

When using traffic volume data from 2022 and revenue data with volume increasing by one per cent, each $1 peak and off-peak rate would create new revenue of $1.07 million for 2025 onward and $760,000 for 2024 if it begins May 1, 2024.

If the entirety of the Bear Street parkade were added, it would see on-peak and off-peak jump to $1.8 million for 2025 and beyond and $1.3 million this year if it began May 1, with no rate change from $4 off-peak and $5 on-peak.

Banff council, though, voted at the meeting to bump the off-peak rate to $5 an hour and $6 for on-peak.

A staff report noted if rates were $5 off-peak and $6 on-peak, it could mean $3.26 million from 2025 onward and $2.33 million in 2024 if the whole of the parkade was shifted to visitor paid parking as of May 1.

“The VPP system is currently achieving some of the principal goals of encouraging intercept parking and mode shift. However, the system is falling short of targets with regards to the goals of managing parking occupancy – most downtown lots and the parkade are full at peak,” according to the report.

An attempt to defer the decision to no later than April by Coun. Ted Christensen was defeated with a split vote of him, Pettigrew and Coun. Kaylee Ram in support, while Pelham, Canning and DiManno were against. The split vote was automatically defeated and Coun. Chip Olver was absent from the meeting.

Christensen said he’d hoped the extra time would allow for Town staff to return with more information on options such as an employee parking permit for non-Banff residents or a form of a parking pass.

“Once we have something to offer those businesses and users, I’m perfectly OK to go ahead to charge for usage of the parkade. But at this stage, I think we’re cutting it short and jumping ahead too much.”

Though council supported adding aspects of the Bear Street parkade to visitor paid parking, figuring out how it impacted non-Banff residents who work in the townsite was the deciding factor.

Canning said his preference was to move forward with visitor paid parking in the parkade since “how we deal with the commuter question is another topic entirely.”

He brought forward a motion arising from the discussion that was unanimously supported to have Town staff return at 2025 service review with a report looking at the feasibility of having more bike racks and assigned secured bike parking around the train station lot.

“It creates another opportunity for those who would park at the intercept lot to use a bike to get around town and not just walk around town,” he said.

Council approved using up to $50,000 from the visitor paid parking capital reserve and up to $4,000 in 2024, 2025 and 2026 from the visitor paid parking operating reserve to run the program at the parkade.

Parking and congestion have long been a struggle in Banff, with the town’s limited land base leaving few options for more parking being created. Council previously directed Town staff to look at a land swap with Parks Canada to create a second intercept lot outside the Town’s boundary.

Parks Canada largely shut the door on it moving forward due to it impacting wildlife corridors and environmentally sensitive areas. The Town has previously expressed interest in an intercept lot in the Elkwoods area, but Parks Canada has consistently said no due to the rare montane ecosystem.

Banff council ditched the land swap idea for Town staff to explore a potential surface lot along the east entrance that would be within the municipal border.

The Parks Canada-struck expert panel on moving people sustainably in Banff National Park recommended intercept lots and transportation hubs to deal with traffic troubles. Parks Canada has committed to delivering a sustainable strategy for moving people by 2026.

The visitor paid parking program was contentious at the onset of its launch, but the intent has been to push a mode shift in the community to remove cars as a sole source of transit and use public transit, cycling and walking.

The vehicle congestion threshold for Banff is 24,000 and was hit 60 times in July and August last year. Once the threshold is hit, it can result in traffic back-ups and delays on the Town’s main streets such as Mountain Avenue, Norquay Road, Bear Street and Spray Avenue.

There are roughly 8.3 million vehicles that travel through Banff National Park each year, with an estimated half stopping somewhere in the park,

Roam transit – which has fare-free transit for Banff residents – had more than 1.4 million riders take local Banff routes in 2023, with 440,875 on routes 1, 2 and 4 in July and August.

A report to council late last year outlined pedestrian crossings across the Bow River had surpassed a million people in 2023 compared to 730,000 in 2019. The townsite now has two sole pedestrian bridges and the Bow River bridge that supports people and vehicles.

DiManno said while On-It regional transit has been a success, it only transports about one per cent of visitors who come to Banff from Calgary.

“I’m in a place where I’m now willing to take a leap of faith. I believe if we charge for the parkade, we’ll see more commuters use the train station and we’re going to see more folks wanting to park for longer at the train station,” she said, adding at peak times parking lots at attractions such as the Sulphur Mountain gondola are full leading to further congestion.

“These are the people we want to shop and dine downtown and we want to make sure they have a place to park their car to access our economic opportunities.”

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