Did you know that Downtown Guelph has a parking problem? It's the worst kept secret in town, and the City's trying to move quickly to do something about it. Today, city hall hosted the first of four public meetings to get feedback about the features residents would like to see incorporated into the new six-storey parking structure that will sit upon the lot across the road from 1 Carden Street.
The City is looking for input on a number of fronts including recommendations on traffic direction, design elements for the building, the inclusion of cycling facilities, on-street parking, and amenities to make the area is welcoming for pedestrians in terms of the look of the streetscape. Priority number one for the City though, in whatever form the new parkade takes, is to create more desperately needed spaces in the core.
"We're in a bit of a logjam situation as we haven't built anything for 30 years in downtown," said Ian Panabaker, General Manager of Downtown Renewal. "We keep being more and more vibrant, and there's more and more people in the city, we have a waiting list to address that's hundreds of people long, and we have buildings that are not being used downtown because office owners and tenants need some amenities in terms of parking to get it going. So it's going to address really outstanding needs we have at the moment."
The Wilson St. parkade, as it's currently designed, will have about 350 spaces, but it could have more. "We do want to build as much parking as we can on the site, so that's what the main objective is," said Panabaker. The 350 number is based on what's demanded by the parking master plan, but their are limitations. "The building can only be so big because of the zoning, so it will have as many as we can fit it," he added. "We've created a 20 year financial framework for the parking system, and in that framework we've projected to build 350 spaces here in terms of that cost."
At six storeys, the primary area of input need from the public, according to Panabaker, is to design a building that is both functional, and fits in aesthetically with the surrounding area. "The west and east parkades are sort of hidden, you can't see them from the streets, but this one is more visible," he explained. "It's actually going to be seen from Gordon [Street] and the [Market] Square, it doesn't have other buildings to hide it."
The plans that City staff have prepared for the parkade included public washrooms, elevators (built to meet Facility Accessibility Design Manual standards), electric vehicle charging stations, secure bike parking, plus offices, washrooms and janitorial for parking operations staff. There will also be a lobby for pedestrian access that will be 4.5 metres high and be 60 per cent transparent for natural light.
Access to the parking garage will be on Wilson St., which demands another item for consideration, traffic flow. Presently, Wilson St. is one way northbound from Gordon St. but that isn't the way it has to be going forward. Amongst the displays were studies of new potential traffic flow on Wilson: two-way, one-way northbound, one-way southbound, and all manner of variations including bike-lanes and sharows (a mix of sidewalk and bike path). There is also the pedestrian bridge that runs from Wilson to Northumberland to consider.
But aside from the details of this singular development is the need to reconcile the demands of parking and the future plans for the downtown to promote more walking, biking, and an atmosphere that balances all kinds of traffic in the core. But as Panabaker points out, when people get downtown, "Parkers become walkers."
"Guelph is a mid-sized southern Ontario city, and the model is split between how people travel, which is predominately by the car," he said. "We've been trying to balance that overtime, but as we've been growing, the car hasn't fallen away yet, so we need to accommodate the car. We have a huge outstanding load on parking that we need to address with this structure."
Despite the complexities though, the City is looking to move fast on getting shovels into the ground. The tenders will go out in the summer, and be brought to council for approval on September 12. The redevelopment of Wislon St. will begin in the fall, while the parkade itself will begin construction in December. That will mean the short-term loss of the Wilson lot's current 86 spaces, but by December 2017, those still travelling downtown by car might start to finally feel an easement.
The City will be hosting another meeting on the Wilson Street parkade tonight from 7 to 9 pm, and on Tuesday, April 26 from 11 am to 1 pm and from 7 to 9 pm.