Downtown Vancouver needs visual to increase motorcycle parking

By Marissa Baecker

Photo by Ian Tootill - Motorcycles need designated parking on downtown Vancouver streets

As our world pushes forward in an effort to go ‘Green’, there has to be a balance between the campaigns and the realization of the ideas. Big cities like Toronto, San Francisco, Vancouver and Victoria encourage a reduction of the carbon footprint but one Vancouver rider is taking his city to task.

In 2009, seasonal two-wheeled commuter Ian Tootill became frustrated with the lack of motorcycle parking in the downtown Vancouver core.

“The fact that there was no where to park, I had to go out and poach space between vehicles,” said Tootill, “and when you do that you run the risk of getting a ticket, having your motorcycle damaged by a car and in fact I did have my motorcycle knocked over twice by a car,” said Tootill in a phone interview.

Going ‘Green’ has never been more prevalent in our daily lives like it is now. Recycling, using transit, riding our bikes, turning off our lights, using less water and overall lowering the carbon footprint are all concepts currently being addressed in public campaigns and being taught to children in our education system.

“I’ve lived in other cities where travelling on motorcycle is a lot easier than in Vancouver,” continued Tootill. “Vancouver is the ideal place to be riding a motorcycle and if there is one place in Canada that it [commuting on a motorcycle] makes sense, it is in Vancouver.”

Why was there no motorcycle parking in Vancouver? When Tootill began asking questions and ‘couldn’t get a straight answer,’ he made it his mission to have the issue addressed and became the pioneer for change canvasing dealers, City staff, politicians and other city’s staff that currently had working models in place. In speaking with San Francisco’s Chief engineer, he learned there were “hundreds, if not thousands, of free and paid motorcycle parking spaces” in their downtown core.

“I started approaching City Council, meeting each one of them one by one, put together a PowerPoint presentation and took photographs with me,” said Tootill. “I had to make it so simple to get people to understand.”

City staff admits that they may be been a little late in coming to the table with parking alternatives for motorcycles but say that they are doing their best to work on the issue now. To those that don’t ride, the perception of someone who does can be synonymous to that of a stereotypical biker.

City Engineer, Peter Judd, says, “Any change in a City takes time and its not about immediately addressing one group, it has to be done at a pace that is politically acceptable to all. Motorcycles don’t appeal to all. I can provide space but I can’t change attitudes.”

The introduction of scooters, electric motorcycles, and the manufacturers introducing lower cc engine models has opened the eyes of the public to an economical way to commute and get around while maintaining their own schedule.

“I finally stumbled upon a member of City Council that was a rider, Ellen Woodsworth,” says Tootill, “and she agreed whole heartedly with me that this was an issue that needed to be addressed.”

It would be Woodsworth and then Councillor David Cadman that would present a motion to Council seeking change. However, the motion was not well received and Tootill felt he was ‘facing a headwind’ going in. The perception of encouraging more ‘bikers’ into downtown Vancouver was not an idea then Council embraced.

Ironically, the City of Vancouver had a committee, “The Greenest City Action Committee”, and when Tootill read their material he was surprised to find that “the last thing they wanted was to substitute something with four wheels that spews out carbon with something on two wheels that spews out carbon.”

City Councillor Heather Deal says, “The Greenest City Action Committee deals with quite a few different topics and certainly an influence of the broader aspects of parking rates being based on emissions but I don’t believe they are involved at this level of detail.”

The next plan would be an awareness rally. Tootill’s plan was that if the City could visually see how many riders there actually were, then perhaps the City would reconsider their hesitation. In 2010, he organized a rally.

The rally invited riders all types of electric and gas powered scooters and motorcycles to meet at a designated location early one Saturday morning. There was no fee, this was not a scheduled ride but what was asked of participants was to bring enough change to plug a parking meter.

By 9 a.m. participants had parked their vehicles at metered parking spots on Robson Street downtown Vancouver taking up both sides of several city blocks. One machine per parking spot, with the occasional spot hosting eight bikes to show how many two-wheeled vehicles could replace one car, and all of a sudden, people paid attention.

Post rally, Tootill returned to a City Council meeting only to be blind sided by another group attempting to thwart his motion for free motorcycle parking in the clearances after the corner crosswalk and have it designated for electric vehicles only. Once Tootill explained that it was quite possible that future electric vehicle drivers would most likely be current two-wheelers as it was the two-wheelers that were already forward thinking about the environment, the group reconsidered their actions.

It goes without saying that frustration mounts when dealing with bureaucracy at any level and in fact, the thought of it is enough to deter people from attempting the task that Tootill has taken on, but Tootill is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in.

“If you show people logic, you explain to them how it is to their benefit and how it is going to benefit everybody and then you make that logic visible to the rest of the public so that they understand it, it is pretty hard to turn it down,” explains Tootill.

Prior to 2010, Vancouver had 40 on street parking spaces for motorcycles, with a combination of paid and free parking. The paid parking was cost equivalent to that of a car. Post rally, there are over 200 spaces for motorcycles including corner clearances that accommodate more than one bike but it is becoming incrementally more difficult to find additional space due to pre-existing obstacles and to find a pay model that works.

“I think it’s going well,” says Deal. “In 2011 we added 100 spots with plans to add another 100 this year.”

Tootill has continually corresponded, consulted and discussed the issues with City staff and Council since the implementation of motorcycle parking began. Despite the original resistance of the proposed motorcycle parking motion, Tootill is appreciative of Council’s efforts and the efforts of City staff to implement a parking model but feels there is more work to be done to improve the current model.

“I have suggested that the City implement a combination of fair and competitive market pricing like San Francisco, Portland, or Toronto,” says Tootill, “including some free parking and if they have to charge for it, they charge a pro-rated amount that would represent the amount of space a motorcycle takes versus a car.”

Considering that all riders know that about 6 – 8 motorcycles can fit in a vehicle parking space, Tootil’s model makes more sense than the one the City is currently using.

“We have offered discounted parking and I have seen quite a few motorcycles using the space,” continued Councillor Deal. “I am pleased to be able to support people parking their bikes downtown.”

Metered parking for vehicles and motorcycles in downtown is the same cost. However, as Deal points out, motorcycles receive a 50% discount on parking if they pay by phone only, a model Tootill says is not workable.

“I believe the significant majority of our parkers pay by phone now,” adds Deal. “Our staff will be constantly monitoring things like usage, whether or not we have a lot of empty spots, or whether we have more motorcycles than there are places available.”

Tootill is adamant that free parking for motorcycles is crucial going forward but Deal argues that the current parking model is based on vehicle emissions and the only vehicles entitled to free parking are zero emission vehicles which Rudd adds includes scooters and electric motorcycles.

“Free parking, to be frank, is a commodity that will be in very short supply in the future in the City of Vancouver for any kind of vehicles,” she continued. “It is a challenge because the value of land is extremely high.”

When I asked Councillor Deal if she felt there was a need to improve or add more motorcycle parking in the City in general and not just downtown, she responded, “We are always willing to adjust things based on the evidence we gather as we monitor our programs. As someone who doesn’t drive around and look for parking places, I don’t know if there is a shortage.”

Tootill has asked the Engineering department to utilize the space before a crosswalk for designated motorcycle parking but Rudd advises that it is the legal opinion of staff that doing so would violate the BC Motor Vehicle Act and adds that change in this regard would involve lobbying the Province.

Tootill’s response is it is time for another visual representation of two-wheeled vehicles to draw awareness.

The second Motorcycle Parking Rally is scheduled for Saturday, May 5. Riders of all kinds are asked to meet at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre below the Burrard Street bridge at 7:45 a.m. Riders are asked to bring enough change to fill a parking meter. A designated location will be delivered at the rally and participants will ride to that location, occupy one parking space with their two-wheeled vehicle, put money in the meter and go for coffee. Let the City of Vancouver be aware of the increased number of people on two wheels utilizing the downtown core. Visit www.mcparking.ca .

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