Some days it feels like the people who are the most invested in the “buy local” campaign are pedestrians and cyclists. Traveling short distances means saving physical energy and saving time. Convincing these two groups of people to shop local takes no work at all. We’re fairly lazy creatures at heart. (Provided the right amenities are nearby.)
To me, the “buy local” movement means being able to buy our day-to-day amenities within a fairly close radius. It means having active transportation and transit options that enable residents (like myself) to keep their spending dollars within the community. And most of all, in a growing downtown area, it means that biking, walking and transit get preferred treatment.
Recently, I’ve come to understand that I’ve been interpreting “buy local” incorrectly. The common interpretation is really a broad support for buying local/regional products and services where the customers aren’t necessarily “locals” themselves.
It’s the fundamental flaw in the system. Buy local and live local are not the same. Live local is sustainable.
How is this disconnect demonstrated on the street?
You can see how “buy local” hasn’t translated into “live local” in many ways:
- In the winter, bike racks are largely neglected.
- Pedestrian walk signals don’t favour foot traffic – they favour commuter traffic flow.
- Doorings are common on main streets due to on-street parking demands.
- Bike lanes are non-existant on main shopping corridors.
- Bus schedules are infrequent outside of peak commuting hours.
I’m sure there are more.
Condos! Now there’s less parking! *rawr*
An ongoing battle welp is over urban intensification. Densifying downtown (and near-downtown) neighbourhoods adds more potential local customers than any parking plan could. It’s a growing population that has sprung up where where surface parking once “stood”. These new residents are now the “enemy” instead of the “solution”.
We seem to keep defaulting to the protection of customers “from away” (pardon the Islandism) who live outside of the areas immediately surrounding the business district.
New residents can become loyal customers. They have moved centrally for a reason: for the lifestyle as well as for the amenities.
One condo building of residents brings in as many people into the area as one “mobility hub”.
Retention and … disposition
As it becomes more difficult for those relying on driving to “conveniently” stop and shop – it becomes easier for new residents who choose walking or biking to become customers. Why not roll out a few welcome mats for these new neighbours too?
Drivists are still top of mind
When the topic of paid parking from Westboro to Wellington West popped up recently in the news. Many came out swinging against paid parking (and likely more to come). Worried about losing customers who drive.
If the cost to park in the area is a concern, why not also look at transit fare-free zones or validated transit fare? After all, a single return bus fare costs more than an evening of paid parking. Do transit users not deserve the same “free parking” treatment? If we’re concerned about the cost of transportation to the customer, then transit fares and parking rates should be addressed in tandem.
How does driving manage to maintain such a favorable position despite the demands on space that the mode requires? And its harmful effects to all other modes? If the city made it more pleasant to use other modes, could these fears be tempered?
Of course, you don’t have to remove all of the parking. Elderly people, those with mobility challenges, Para Transpo, deliveries and taxis still have a role to play in providing access to all residents. But the system needs rebalancing to support those who “need” to drive versus those for whom it is a convenience only.
Status quo modal split is a recipe for disaster
Clinging to the security of the status quo modal split is starting to tear at the seams. Gentrification has raised rental rates. Some businesses can survive with the increased costs. And some can’t.
For lease signs pop up. Storefronts remain empty for longer waiting for new tenants.
Everyone yearns to have more customers. But if there’s no more room for parking, how do you get more people through your door?
Time to look for solutions in modes that can bring in more people
Last week’s Hintonburg Street Hockey tournament shut down several side streets. Including the street directly in front of Beyond the Pale Brewing. They sold out of beer. How did they do it?
It’s time to change the dialogue. From status quo – to status know. Know your neighbourhood and the 5km radius around it. Know what makes choosing to walk, bike or transit such unfavourable options. Address these barriers. Know how many new residents are moving in. Know how you can attract more local-living residents.
You can’t add more parking. But you can add more people. Until the conversation shifts to attracting more shoppers who don’t rely on car parking, the vitality of the main streets will continue to decline as the cost to do business increases.
Update April 27: I just returned from a weekend in Montreal and I had forgotten how much denser their neighbourhoods are. It makes our little Ottawa boroughs look like quaint village main streets. Had some good parking chats on the train. I can’t help but feel that without nice and dense neighbourhoods with great transit and bike access, we’re always going to have this parking problem to “solve”.
Next post: Testing the big box waters… by bike. Join me as I discover Trainyards. (Spoiler: it wasn’t awful.)
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