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Unnecessarily pitting visitors vs community: MacInnes field parkade

A fancy traffic-flow model from Brunt & Associates can't answer the question: WHY?


If you, like me, have found yourself idly wondering why the site of the new MacInnes field has been sitting as a desolate, soggy pit of disgusting gravel-water over the last 6 months since the demolition of the old aquatic centre was completed, well, now you know: yet another expensive and unnecessary underground construction project is being prioritized over green space and the immediate livability of this campus.

If you haven’t heard about the parkade UBC wants to build under the site of the old aquatic centre/promised new MacInnes field, you can hardly be blamed. The first article about it in the Ubyssey appeared today, notifying us about a consultation period that ends — ah yes, also today. To rub it in some more, Board 2 & 3 approval at committees was already granted yesterday. Yeah, you heard right. Sure, there was an open house on September 6th and a week to submit written comments (it isn’t too late if you read this today!), but this rush job sets off all the familiar UBC development alarm bells: lip-service consultation unreasonably close the date of the decision, reports with foregone conclusions, and the words “underground” combined with “U-Boulevard”.

The claims
Let’s back up and look at the UBC’s justification for this project and some basics: UBC hired a consulting firm, Brunt & Associates, to tell them that the University Boulevard area needs 175 extra parking spots for short term visitors. The proposed plan has 210 spaces, 25% higher than that. The 175 number was based on the consulting firm’s interviews with the various occupants of U-boulevard and unexplained “industry standards” for commercial sites being applied to the full buildout of the street (ie once the new buildings on GSAB, COPP, and site D are complete, all of which are supposed to have stores in them).

The project is supposed to start construction immediately, and be ready in September 2019. It is projected to cost 12.5 million, which is to be funded from an internal loan over 25 years, with “up to” $964,000 of debt service per year. A quick back of the envelope calculation shows that each parking spot would need to generate 11-12$ a day to cover capital costs and financing, which seems pretty steep.

The risks, according to Board documents are capital costs, financing capacity, and whether the demand for parking will materialize. For the former, the documents say that UBC has enough spare cash and liquidity to finance the project. For the latter, they’re relying on the projected demand from the consultant’s report.

The documents also outline the feedback from the scant week of consultation conducted by C&CP (47 responses). They report that feedback is generally positive, expressing bits of concern over traffic, conflict with pedestrians, and entry points into the proposed parkade. According to the Ubyssey, the AMS’s milquetoast critique generally echoes those same operational issues.

Visitors vs. community
My problem with the plan is a lot more basic. Between getting MacInnes field back faster and having additional, expensive (to build, and to use) visitor parking, I think the former wins.

It feels silly to say this, but I haven’t seen mention of this in the Board documents or consultation materials at all: MacInnes field is important. Some of us that are old enough to remember it know that this field was a venue for recreation, culture, fitness, and just a bit of un-crowded open green space in the very centre of campus. It has been keenly missed and its years-long absence during the construction and demolition of the aquatic centre(s) is not to be taken lightly. Neither is the never-ending chaos and discomfort of disorganized loose gravel walkways and shortcuts through the War Memorial gym to get to where you’re going. These “temporary” sacrifices are daily compounding costs to the quality of life of the people who come here every day.

On the other side is…parking. Even talking about parking seems antiquated, but ok, here goes. The documents are clear that this parking is meant for visitors who don’t live, study, or work here. Should those people visit UBC? Definitely. This is a beautiful, important public institution and it should be accessible and welcoming to the wider public. But do visitors really need special new parking? The nearby West parkade is available. The Thunderbird parkade was ridiculously overbuilt and is perpetually empty. Public transit, cycling and walking are supposed to be the priority according UBC’s own plans, and nothing is stopping visitors from using those modes.

The estimate of 175 needed spaces is by itself suspect: according to the consultants, it’s based on “industry standards” and interviews. While the consultants ran models to prove that the projected traffic from the added parking won’t plug up U-Blvd, the earlier question of why we would want to add more cars to the centre of our campus is neither asked nor answered. You don’t need to be a fancy consultant to reach the conclusion that there are enough people that study and work here for lively, sustainable, and business-friendly foot traffic along U-Blvd. Why would applying generic “industry standards” probably extrapolated from suburban wal-mart parking lots to University Boulevard make any level of sense? If there is a business here that is suffering for lack of extra short-term parking, that business would be a poor fit for the street, not the other way around.

Here’s the trade-off: a needed green space in the centre of campus, that we have already been waiting to have restored for two years, will be delayed another two years because somebody thinks we need to spend 12.5 million (plus interest) on parking for tourists. Sure, the dinosaurs on the Board of Governors ocassionally transcend their outdated car-centric lifestyles enough to support alternative transit for the community itself. But when it comes to the type of person who they imagine must come here to patronize the tony new businesses of U Boulevard and buy knicknacks at the bookstore – that is a different class of person, who needs to be able to drive in and park their car at maximum convenience. (SIDENOTE: maybe if the BoG stopped objectifying visitors to UBC as mere car-driving consumers, the bookstore could function more like a service for the community rather than a conveyor belt for tacky shit from China to the dumpster). Never mind that the main patrons of U-Boulevard businesses are people that already come here every day, and wouldn’t park in the new parkade anyways. And never mind that there’s no room for soccer or ultimate practice for half a decade in the meantime. The students, staff, and faculty who live and work here every damn day apparently require less deference than the alleged needs of an imagined class of visitors.

Discussion

3 comments for “Unnecessarily pitting visitors vs community: MacInnes field parkade”

  1. As far as I could tell, the real reason for building parkades was that the parking rates were matched to twice the one-zone bus fare at some point around the late 1990s, as a matter of central policy, which forced Parking to make money hand over fist. While they’re servicing debt, everything’s fantastic. But if they run out of debt to service, they start running colossal profits which would be stolen from their fiefdom and tossed into general revenue. That would be intolerable.

    Thunderbird parkade was approved around 2006-07, so it bought them 10 years, for ~$45M as I recall. (I actually would have guessed 5-7 years — maybe demand is falling or they’ve been holding the parking fees down?). If my numbers are right, this new one doesn’t buy them much time.

    Posted by Darren Peets | September 13, 2017, 5:14 pm
  2. By all accounts I am the only person on the finance/property committee that is concerned about the building of an expensive old fashion underground parking lot. The argument in favour is a kind of business case model that says despite being built from internal loans it will be cost revenue and ultimately revenue generating. I don’t think the business modelling for the parking lot is really fitted to the university’s long term best interest. Rather we need to focus on sustainable (ecologically speaking) modes of transport that doesn’t encourage additional on to campus car traffic. However, the goal of this parking lot (and similar parking lots on south campus, is to facilities selling services to off campus customer. There is only a need for short term parking if the University continues to market to off campus customers.

    Posted by Charles Menzies | September 13, 2017, 6:43 pm
  3. “That would be intolerable” lol.
    Darren, can you give us the gist of your calculation?

    Posted by maayan | September 14, 2017, 10:52 am

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