It takes less than a minute to get a key cut at the Silverline Security Locksmith on 14th Street in North Vancouver. Getting there and finding a parking spot is a different story. Paul Denley, the owner of Silverline, says there are customers who have told him they keep driving around the shop until they can find a parking spot.
Ideally, they would be in and out in a minute. Sometimes, it can take them half an hour — if not more — just to get something done that takes less than a minute. If it were not for customer care, reasonable rates, and a somewhat specialised service, Denley says, business would have taken a hit due to the terrible parking situation in the area. Frustrated customers aren’t the only ones he has to deal with when it comes to parking. Even when he is in his office, he is constantly checking his cameras to see whether someone has parked in the spot meant for his van in the back.
It’s a parking spot for which Denley pays every month, but rarely a day goes by when he isn’t running out to tell people they can’t park there. Not everyone listens. “Some people will respect that this is tenant parking but others will shrug it off. One recently told me to fuck off,” he says.
Almost on a daily basis, Denley says, he and his employees come back from service calls to see their spot taken by someone who isn’t supposed to park there. His parking ordeals became so frustrating that he went to the police station next door to see if they would do something. The cops told him there wasn’t much they could do and advised him that he would be within his rights to tow away the cars.
Denley says he is reluctant to do that due to several reasons. It could be one of his customers or a customer of a neighbouring business, and what if they posted something on social media lambasting his business.
“You never know what someone may say on social media. They may say ‘I was there for only five minutes’ and the owner kicked me off’. Towing someone’s car is tricky,” he says.
But Denley did end up towing a car after all. It had been sitting there for two days with a flat tire, and an insurance that had expired. When the woman who owned the car finally showed up, she wasn’t too happy with Paul. It didn’t seem to matter that she has parked illegally in a private parking spot for two days. A condo boom, relentless construction, and lack of new parking spaces have all made bad parking problems worse, Denley says, and no one seems to be coming up with any solutions.
Denley isn’t the only one complaining.
Worsening parking problem is the biggest challenge businesses face in the Central Lonsdale area, according to a survey conducted by the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. As many as 70 businesses responded to the survey, and parking was the top response when asked about the “greatest challenge your business faces”.
Local businesses have experienced a reduction of total supply of parking even though they still rely on customers commuting by car. “The combination of heavy rush hour traffic and limited parking supply creates a dual disadvantage,” according to the report. Store fronts aren’t the only one to face the impact of parking problem. While retail businesses bear the brunt of parking squeeze, it is a common concern of all businesses, including professional or health-care services.
“Having seven sectors susceptible to this barrier leaves the door open to parking challenges becoming a permanent feature of Central Lonsdale and could damage its reputation as a prime location to operate,” the report warns.
Loss of customer lots from the former Extra Foods and Safeway Locations, reduction in parking due to ongoing construction and a flurry of new developments are main reasons for a worsening parking situation. Businesses are also concerned with other problems such as new construction projects that interrupt pedestrian and car traffic, street litter and homeless people. But lack of parking tops all problems.
Max Nejati has seen the parking change from satisfactory to bad to worse in the past three decades that he has run the Mojan Hair Care Centre on East 14th Street. He says he has rarely seen an innovative solution come from the city hall on parking. City hall is too focussed on green initiatives and beautifying the city, sometimes at the cost of seemingly mundane but important things such as parking, he says.
Nejati feels that almost on purpose CNV wants people to walk to the Central Lonsdale area. What they forget is that this is a destination area with banks and hospitals which will inevitably bring cars to the area, he says. While there hasn’t been any increase in parking since he started his business, there has been a condo boom. Theoretically, the condo buildings have underground parking for visitors and residents but in reality, visitors and even those who live in the condos end up parking for short term on the streets, leaving fewer spots for customers who may have driven there to go to the bank.
There is also paid parking in the hospital and many end up parking on the streets to avoid paying for it. People honking and yelling at each other as they jostle for a parking spot are almost daily scenes and it doesn’t look like it will get any better, Nejati says.
Lack of parking means more of Nejati’s customers might not make the special drive to pick up their favourite hair colour items. “I can’t see my business growing or expanding if only those who live around here can access the area,” he says.
The issue has received scant attention from city hall, Nejati says. If the city staff or the councillors were serious about fixing the problem, there are changes they could make. He points to the widened sidewalks that make the street look more attractive, but the city could have reduced their width and created angle parking. “We need to find a balance between being clean and green and parking needs. They could create four more parking spots,” he says.
The city could also introduce 15-minutes- and 30-minutes-only parking spots where people can park to simply grab something and go — a key, for example. They could also use pay meter in some spots and certainly advertise the parkade under the library. “I have never seen it advertised, and I have never ever seen it mentioned on their website. It’s cheap and convenient to park there but a lot of people don’t know about it,” Nejati says.
While Nejati is brimming with ideas on parking, he has yet to encounter a local politician for whom this is a key priority. He recalls with a chuckle how one of his employees stopped the previous mayor Darrell Mussatto on the street to complain about parking. Not much, however, changed. “Every politician is concerned about their legacy and they want to make the city look beautiful. Being green is so fashionable these days. So they focus on those things,” he says.
At the Blue Sky Clothing store, store manager Daya Mills says a lot of her customers feel a particular kind of anxiety as they hurriedly browse through the clothes. It’s the anxiety of exceeding the one-hour limit on their parking spot and getting a ticket. While Blue Sky gets a lot of walk-in traffic, it is also a destination store with customers coming all the way from Surrey and Abbotsford.
“The parking situation here is terrible. A lot of customers have told us they have to circle around to find parking and then they are concerned about time running out. We have a lot of products to look at but parking issues affect the customers’ ability to really see those products,” she says.
The store offers two parking spots at the back, but those are never enough for employees or customers. While Mills walks to the store, other employees have to drive, and often have to park several blocks away from the shop. Not only that, they have to run back and look for another spot once the parking limit expires. “They have to work and then go back to find parking and then park and come back and leave again. It ends up wasting a lot of our time and it’s very frustrating for everyone,” she says.
What can the City of North Vancouver do to mitigate the parking problem? An overwhelming number of businesses surveyed were opposed to adding pay parking but would like an increase in customer parking.
However, the City of North Vancouver’s response comes close to a condescending dismissal. “Parking is a complex issue and a snapshot survey is not necessarily the best tool to identify or define the actual problem. Nevertheless, the businesses have identified increasing concerns expressed by their customers,” the city said in response to the survey.
While blithely ignoring the straightforward need for more parking, the city says it will increase parking patrols and consider developing a parking strategy as part of any future planning effort.
Business owners like Nejati and Denley seem to have no option but to brace for parking to get even worse.