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Banff to explore options for paid parking expansion

“We’ve seen visitors are more than willing to pay to park in our town."
20210618 Banff Parking 0006
Visitor paid parking was introduced in Banff in July, 2021. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – The Town of Banff will investigate a potential rate hike for visitor paid parking and expansion of the program to other areas of town.

Banff’s governance and finance committee has asked for a comprehensive report from administration on the paid parking program so far, including options for council’s consideration for expanding visitor paid parking and the residential parking permit system into other municipally-managed areas.

The report, which will likely come to council before the end of March, will also include options for potential rate changes and opportunities for introducing paid parking in partnership with other entities, such as private businesses like the owners of the Banff gondola, as well Parks Canada which runs the Cave and Basin and Upper Hot Springs.

Councillor Barb Pelham, who was for many years opposed to paid parking, spearheaded the discussion, noting she believes visitor paid parking and the residential permit parking system are gifts to the tourism-based community.

“We’ve seen visitors are more than willing to pay to park in our town. [Visitor paid parking] has not deterred people from coming to Banff and I think it’s enhanced their experience in reducing time driving around looking for parking spots,” she said.

“For locals, it’s been a welcome stream of revenue that will help reduce our tax burden and enhance our quality of life in our town, plus the program works hard to protect residential areas from visitor spillover parking.”

Specifically, Coun. Pelham wants to consider expansion on the south side of the Bow Bridge, including Bow Falls, the 400 block of Spray Avenue, Sundance Road and the parking lots at the Banff recreation grounds.

The governance and finance committee ended up broadening that list of areas to include any other Town-owned places that administration may come up with.

“I think this also involves the residential parking permit program in surrounding areas to protect them and defend them from visitor parking leaking into their neighbourhoods,” said Coun. Pelham.

Since July 2021, visitor paid parking has been in effect in Banff’s downtown from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m daily in a bid to increase the availability of short-term parking in the downtown core and encourage visitors to park at the free intercept lot at the train station.

Resident-only parking is in effect from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.. in the residential streets around the downtown paid zone to prevent spill-over of visitors looking to avoid paying for parking.

All Banff residents are eligible to apply for a free resident parking permit. All businesses licensed to operate in Banff that have vehicles registered to the business can also apply for the parking permit. Residents are required to register their vehicles annually for permits to park for up to three hours free in the paid zone, and to park in the resident-only parking zone

Free nine-hour parking is available at the 500-stall train station parking lot, along Bow Avenue and in the Bear Street Parkade.

Based on existing visitor paid parking rates of $3 per hour during the summer and $2 per hour in winter, net revenue is estimated to be $1.58 million in 2022, $1.75 million in 2023 and $1.82 million in 2024.

Banff’s paid parking reserve policy stipulates how paid parking profits are spent – on roadway and parking improvements, transit enhancements, increased snow clearing, cycling or other active transportation initiatives, transportation decarbonization projects, tax stabilization and economic recovery.

Some councillors raised the concept of pursuing further discussions with Pursuit, which runs the gondola on Sulphur Mountain, and Parks Canada, which runs the Upper Hot Springs, about introducing paid parking there.

“It will be a fabulous partnership in support of our overall goals,” said Coun. Chip Olver.

Mayor Corrie DiManno said she was open to exploring these ideas in preparation for a full return of visitation, expected by 2024-25.

“I certainly don’t want to lose the aspect of community feedback, though,” she said. “This has been through many rounds of consultation and it’s equally important that we hear from the public before we move forward on any changes to it.”

Town Manager Kelly Gibson said the Town of Banff has had discussions on this issue with Parks Canada, which technically owns the parking lots for both the hot pools and the gondola.

“Paid parking hasn’t been something that Parks can easily implement nor have they had interest in implementing even in the downtown lots,” he said.

“I think it’s something we could continue to discuss… I say it with very little hope of positive action coming out of that.”

Parks Canada introduced paid parking at Upper Lake Louise this year from mid-May to mid-October as a two-year pilot program to help encourage the use of the shuttle service and offset the costs of traffic management and shuttles. Parking rates are $11.70 per vehicle per day.

The draft Banff National Park Management Plan also recommends introducing paid parking at Moraine Lake – another tourist hotspot in Canada’s flagship national park that typically fills up at dawn in the busy summer and fall Larch season.

In 2021, Parks Canada also struck an expert panel to look at a fundamental top-to-bottom overhaul of the way people access, experience and move around Banff National Park to sustain the area’s reputation, environment and visitor experience.

Part of that group’s mandate is to also think beyond transportation modes to demand management strategies, such as reservation systems, access restrictions, quotas, or timed and paid parking, for example.

Mayor DiManno said she is curious to see what comes out of this expert panel, including on paid parking.

“Hopefully, there’s something within there, just to address the concept of vehicles going to their major attractions,” she said.

However, Parks Canada said this week, there are no immediate plans for paid parking in Banff.

“Parks Canada is not considering implementing paid parking in any Parks Canada lots in Banff National Park at this time, including those at the Cave & Basin National Historic Site, Banff Upper Hot Springs, and lots located within the Town of Banff,” said Justin Brisbane, a spokesperson for Banff National Park in a Jan. 17 email.

Should council end up approving an expansion of paid parking, administration warned it may be difficult to have any new paid parking infrastructure in place by summer.

“It would be unrealistic to expect a physical change in a new area that might require a new machine, for example,” said Adrian Field, the director of engineering for the Town of Banff.