Sidewinder: Trying to drive Maple Ridge shoppers away

The last thing that long suffering downtown businesses need is more city hall intervention in parking issues.

Sandy Macdougall

Sandy Macdougall

The thought of Maple Ridge city hall messing around again in downtown parking is horrifying.

The last thing that long suffering downtown businesses need is more city hall intervention in parking issues.

Ever since the late 1970s and early 1980s and the city’s core revitalization project, city staff and council have shown just how collectively dim-witted they can be.

Whenever facing a question on parking issues, city hall can usually be counted on to come up with the wrong answer.

From its inception in the early 1980s, Haney Place Mall, viewed by everyone at that time as the cornerstone of downtown redevelopment, was a couple of dozen parking spaces shy of department of highways standards to allow the re-zoning and development to proceed.

City staff and council’s solution was to eliminate sections of sidewalk around the periphery of the mall site and, thus, the required parking spaces were created without reducing the square footage of the mall or acquiring any additional property.

Many of those deleted sidewalks were mainly on the south side of the mall property and exist in much the same stupid fashion to this day. Where the sidewalk abruptly ends in the middle of the block, pedestrians must walk in a busy traffic lane. All of this exists in what is supposed to be a pedestrian friendly downtown.

As though they were trying to show how much they had learned over the years, when the Lougheed Highway upgrading through the downtown area was designed a few years ago, city hall eliminated at least a dozen or more parking places by installing silly little curb protrusions to accommodate trees and lamp posts.

That brilliant design not only eliminated several parking spaces, it has encouraged drivers to try to squeeze into inadequate parking spaces and results in the rear ends of vehicles jutting out into busy traffic lanes.

This all took place in the downtown corridor, which has the greatest parking deficiency in the entire city. Just another helping hand from city hall to the businesses along that stretch of highway.

The only practical approach to meeting parking demands in the downtown area came many years ago from business owners who struck a deal with the city whereby the city would acquire certain centrally located properties, which were then turned over to the non-profit Maple Ridge Downtown Parking Association, which, in turn, leased parking spaces to nearby businesses.

The association retained wages for one employee and the profits, although quite small, were turned over to the city.

That arrangement worked quite well until recently, when someone at city hall noticed that it was working and decided to throw a small grenade into the midst. It seems the city now wants to seek proposals to administer those lots.

There can be no doubt that turning the administration of those lots over to a private operator will result in an immediate increase in the lease costs to the businesses involved and their customers.

However we arrived at the current situation, it doesn’t require much brain power to understand that the chronic on-street parking shortage is just as big of a problem for consumers as it is for local businesses.

Despite the gloomy atmosphere surrounding downtown parking, there is a bright light at the end of the parking tunnel.

Paul Gill, general manager of corporate affairs for Maple Ridge, states unequivocally that there are no plans and there have been no discussions on either meters or pay boxes or any other similar things.

Despite Gill’s statement, it seems that city staff and city council should more reasonably direct their efforts towards making it easier to do business downtown rather than fiddling with parking development proposals, which will drive even more shoppers to Pitt Meadows and Port Coquitlam.

Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.