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Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

End Edmonton's parking minimums and set a new maximum: zero

In stubbornly clinging to quotas, the city undermines its own planning strategy.

Last winter, Philip Muz's all-ages music venue, the Artery, was evicted from its home of eight years by the city. That's because the city bought the building in order to knock it down and replace it with a holding site for construction materials for the Valley Line LRT.

After an outcry, the city is looking at potentially preserving at least parts of the historic building that housed the Artery, but the venue itself is closed.

Now, Muz's attempt to reopen the venue as the Aviary in McCauley— on 111 Ave. and 93 St., a sad street that could use more retail signs without "massage" in their name—is being foiled by parking minimums. That is, the buildings he hoped to resuscitate with the venue don't have enough parking stalls, according to city regulations.

Apparently, a street lined with 30 parking meters and 100 free spots along nearby residential streets, plus nearby Stadium Station LRT, isn't enough for those minimums.

At least with the LRT station, which foiled Muz's businesses the first time, one could argue the city's point — it would benefit more people, it could later become an attractive development, it's for the greater good. But this latest red tape fiasco is a fail on all angles, like business, planning and even health prevention.

The bylaw requiring one car stall for every three square metres of space in any bar, pub or nightclub presumes bureaucrats get what a business' clientele expects and needs. They don't.

As I've written in this column before, no one comes for the parking. A great destination laughs at parking limitations, as 104 Street, which has significantly reduced parking minimums, proves with its thriving bars and restaurants.

If people think a business is worth driving for 10 minutes around the block for a "spot," let them. If they don't, let them. There are enough obstacles to starting a business—startup costs, liquor licences, inventory, staffing. To then say, "Nope, sorry, we don't think you have enough stalls for your own customers," isn't just unnecessary meddling—it's condescending.

But it also flies in the face of Edmonton's own planning vision, like its The Ways documents. Here we are, spending billions on LRT, millions on the high-cost of sprawling public services, hundreds of thousands just on public engagement about infill and density, and we're still letting motorists and their convenience define the shape and function of our city. To say nothing of climate change, this bylaw (versions of which exist across North America, so Edmonton's not alone in its antiquity) encourages all of the worst urban design.

You know what else it encourages? Drunk driving.

Instead of encouraging bus, train, taxi, or literally any other way of transport but car, Muz's bar must provide at least 26 parking stalls. It's not unreasonable to assume anyone entering into a licensed venue is going to consume alcohol. Even if they're driving. And that's OK, says the capital of a province with one of Canada's highest number police-reported impaired driving cases that's almost twice the national average, according to 2011 Statistics Canada information.

Some will say insufficient business parking encourage patrons to park on residential streets. Those residents need to get over the fact that they don't own public roads beside their house.

Others will argue that parking minimums are an accessibility issue. It's an incredibly narrow way to look at universal accessibility, plus it's hard to imagine 100-person music venue ever needing to accommodate at least 25 physically disabled people, but it's still a valid concern. A business could sacrifice its staff parking in the back. It could coordinate with neighbouring businesses. The city could turn metered parking stalls into accessible stalls after a certain hour.

There are so many creative solutions. But if we followed the city's bylaws, we'd be bulldozing another building and paving the lot.

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