Two tweets

… that changed my view of parking in Tofino

by GREG BLANCHETTE
4-minute read

Last month a couple of tweets slid down my Twitter feed that suddenly made Tofino’s downtown parking situation a lot clearer for me.

@BrentToderian is a former chief planner of Vancouver, now a consultant and speaker, renowned in the urban planning field. Here’s the first tweet:

parking tweet 6

This caught my eye because, guess what, Tofino is a great place! And when it’s stated boldly like this, well yes, of course we have a parking problem. Hundreds of thousands of people come to visit — why wouldn’t we have a parking problem?

Toderian’s warning is that, in trying to fix our parking problem, we could easily hurt what makes the place so great. His words are worth repeating:

People come for place, not parking.

Tofino councils have been struggling with the parking “problem” for decades, but IMHO the parking and traffic issues firmly hit the fan last summer (2016), when residents really started to feel the pressure. Long line-ups at the First Street stop sign, cruising for a empty parking spot, timed parking, pay parking, and tickets being issued for parking violations all combined in a perfect little storm that had many residents wondering what had become of our sleepy little town.

Conventional thinking always has an obvious “solution” to parking, namely create more parking. But we don’t have a lot of leeway downtown anymore, as we have pretty much reached saturation on both sides of every street.

So: more parking? A second tweet addresses that:

parking tweet 5

The thing about Tofino parking is, if we address it conventionally — by creating more parking spaces — the new spaces will very quickly fill up, and then we’ll have … a worse parking problem. There’s no way to build our way out of it. This is the well-known phenomenon of induced demand (Wikipedia). In a phrase: If we build it, they will fill it — no matter how much of it we build.

So here’s my new, hardass view on downtown parking:

  1. Yes, we’ve got a parking problem.
  2. We’ll always have a parking problem; stop fighting it.
  3. And especially, let’s not ruin our downtown core by shoehorning still more parking into the limited footprint. Tweak what we’ve got, sure, but it’s more important for both residents and tourists to use that space as people space.

(The footnote here, a unique wrinkle in Tofino’s parking file, is offshore parking — the 120 or so spaces we provide for our neighbours in the “offshore communities” of Opitsat, Ahousat, Hot Springs Cove, Hesquiaht. That demands creative thinking from all sides, and yes, arguably some more parking.)

As a bonus, here’s a tweet showing the planning priorities Toderian uses to create a thriving, livable downtown core:

Toderian 5 ways

Tofino clearly has a ways to go up this ladder, but we’re moving in the right direction. It’s what informs, for example, the ongoing Main Street 2.0 project, with its vastly improved pedestrian experience (and a few more parking spaces). Forge on!

In the meantime, let us console our demanding automotive selves by remembering two things:

  1. Parking is tight for only two or three months a year. We’ll all survive.
  2. During the madding times, desirable alternatives are available to pretty much everyone, namely:
    • Hop on your bike — parking problem solved!
    • Grab the Beach Bus — ditto!

WRITER: Tofitian writer/ poet/ councillor/ man-about-town greg blanchette has been wrestling philosophically with parking in one form or another ever since his teen years, when he decided to live without a car — a life ambition at which he has mostly succeeded.