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Does Downtown Kelowna Have a Parking Problem?

Jason Stewart | October 23, 2017
Does Downtown Kelowna Have a Parking Problem?
Does Downtown Kelowna Have a Parking Problem?
I think I see a few spots.
The nice thing about our charming downtown is that you don't need a car to get around, however getting there is a different story. Public transit can be unrealistically time consuming, and the region is spread out, making driving the best option. So we need to ask, does the downtown make itself inviting and available for drivers to park and spend time there? For the purposes of our quest to find out, we limited the area specifically to the core: from Harvey to Clement, and from Abbott/Mill/Water Street to Richter.

Online and social media comments (often from people living outside of downtown) would indicate that there is a parking issue – many to the extent that folks proclaim their refusal to visit and spend their dollars at the variety of small shops, bars or restaurants downtown. As a result, we have “small shop” events put on by the Downtown BIA like the one this past weekend, trying to attract visitors from the surrounding area by advertising free parking everywhere as a main draw on par with the more obvious one – that we should all check out and support the interesting small businesses in the community (note: this event took place on Saturday, a day of the week that features free parking in the parkades and off street parking anyway).

This coming Tuesday, the City of Kelowna is hosting a forum at the Laurel Packing House to discuss downtown parking challenges and future opportunities. Apparently, it has been 8 years since the city has updated the plan, and now with the influx of condo developments in the core (there are 8 buildings in the works), the timing for this would seem about right.

We live and work downtown, and (full disclosure) we have a condo that came with a parking spot, so we personally don’t have an issue with parking – we walk or bike to where we need to go. With that said, we spent a typical busy workday last week, and walked around the city paying specific attention to parking availability or lack there of. We imagined being someone who lived outside of the core city limits, having to come in by car to either work for the day, or patronize one of the many small businesses. This is what we found.

Queensway on street parking The Queensway downtown.

The Numbers

4,305. That’s the approximate number of total parking spaces that are currently open to public use (not reserved) in the core area (mentioned at the outset). This includes on and off-street parking, and parking situated in our three downtown parkades – yes we counted them all.

1,190. Approximate number of total public parking spaces available in our three downtown parkades: the five-story Chapman Parkade on Lawrence and Pandosy (1st floor reserved); the newly built Memorial Parkade on Ellis (occupied mostly by Interior Health employees); and the Library Plaza Parkade beside the Library.

1,470. Approximate number of total off-street parking spaces available scattered around the core, some harder to find than others.

1,645. Approximate number of on-street parking spots available.

265. Approximate number of parking spaces that will be lost to new development.

In addition to these spots, City Hall opens their lot past 6pm* every day for an additional 100 spots.
*City Council approved changes on September 11th to the City Hall lot that will increase parking availability. Short-term parking rates of $1 per hour or $6 per day will be in place as of Nov. 1. Public pay parking will begin at 4pm. On weekends and holidays, pay parking will be in effect from 6am to 11pm.

A couple caveats to the above numbers. (a) In some instances (the Library Parkade for example) it was impossible to assess how many of the spots were being rented for the month (which would skew our results for public parking availability down somewhat) but we gathered that those renters are likely 9-5ers who would have been using those spots during our survey times. (b) There are also a total of 45 off-street parking spots that are only available for 1 hour or less. (c) Shopper’s Drug Mart on Bernard has 20 spots behind their store dedicated to 1 hour free parking (note to self: must remember that for the future!).

Library Parkade Library Parkade

Pricing

The three parkades offer parking for:
  • $1.00/hr. and $6 daily.
  • Event parking prices are $5 ($3 at the new Memorial Parkade).
  • Free parking is available after 6pm, weekends and statutory holidays.
  • Monthly parking rates are $78.

For most of the off-street parking lots, pricing is:
  • $1.25/hr. for short term lots (2 or 4 hours maximum).
  • Long term lots are $1.00/hr. and $7 for the day.
  • Most of the lots are free on weekends generally before 5pm.
  • Impark controls 20 of the off street parking lots, and pricing can vary with them from $1.00, $1.25, $2.00/hr. up to $5.00/hr. (the big lot on Mill St. and Water St.) and $5.00 to $8.00 for the day (the lot on Mill St. and Water offers only hourly).
  • City controlled lots offer monthly parking for $78.
  • Some of the bigger lots have special event parking rates that go into effect after 6pm whenever there is a fairly big event going on at Prospera Place. And some have evening parking rates (not free) up to $4.00.

On-street parking is priced at:
  • $1.25/hr across the board with a 2 hour maximum time limit (4 hours on Saturdays).
  • Free parking is available after 5pm, Sundays and statutory holidays.
  • Tickets purchased at the kiosk can be used throughout the downtown area. For instance, if you purchase a 2 hour slot on Bernard, and only use up 1 hour, you can then use that same ticket and park on Ellis for the remaining hour.

Prospera Place Parking Prospera Place parking

Our Observations

Walking around the downtown core on a Friday afternoon from 1pm to 7pm, on a day that the Rockets were playing in town, we found a number of on-street spots available – less so on Bernard Ave., more so on streets like Lawrence, Leon, and Bertram (one block east of St. Paul).

We understand the psychology behind finding the perfect spot close to the store or restaurant you want to visit – we’re all guilty of it, and we often saw vehicles waiting or circling around the block on Bernard when just a street away on Lawrence, parking was half full. However the reality is often more favourable than the perception: walking from Lawrence to Bernard is less distance than walking from a far away parking spot at Orchard Park Shopping Centre (or Costco, or Canadian Tire, or Superstore etc.) to the entrance of the mall.

The Chapman Parkade on Lawrence and the Library Parkade had a number of spots available higher up on the floors. The new Memorial Parkade on Ellis only had a select few spots open. Off street parking ran the gamut from being mostly full to almost empty - the lots located on St. Paul and Bertram and closer to Harvey only had a few vehicles in them.

The Rockets' games average around 6,000 and that was evident as parking was occupied from Queensway well to the north end of the city closer to game time. The off-street parking lot located in the new RCMP building (we didn’t include this lot in the above numbers) certainly eased some of the strain on a night like this. There were a number of spots still available a little further south towards Harvey (about a 10 minute walk to arena), so it wasn’t all too bad for a Friday game night.

While we don’t know how much parking availability would change during the 3 summer months of high tourism, we basically observed that on this particular day parking was not a problem. The 8 new condo developments will definitely place a strain on parking availability, but it was also interesting to note for us that these developments would merely equal the loss of approximately 265 spots (roughly 6%)*.
*We included the new tourism building on the waterfront in this (loss of 19 spots), as well as the large mixed hotel/condo development slated for Mill Street and Water (loss of 84 spots – at a $5 hourly rate this lot was almost empty anyway at the time).

Some of these developments will be featuring shopping on their concourses that may drive an influx of vehicle traffic to them, limiting availability for short term spots further. All of these developments however will include parking within the buildings for residents and guests.

The October 23rd discussion should be an interesting one as the city moves forward and becomes more dense and planners (hopefully) look to moving more retail and business traffic off the 97. We look forward to learning more about any challenges and issues that we didn't observe in our parking research.

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