Fremantle definitely has a parking problem, and whatever the stats say, one thing in the parking debate is certain - Perth motorists perceive there to be a lack of parking in Fremantle, and that makes them reluctant to visit.
Unfortunately, many of the ‘quick fix’ solutions that I’ve heard put forward to date have been based more on false promises than good research and common sense. The reality is, given our current urban form and our expectations, achieving an outcome that is beneficial to everyone – residents, businesses, landowners and visitors – can only be accomplished by a multifarious and creative approach.
Here are some of the 'solutions' I've heard mooted, and why I can't accept any of them as the silver bullet for Freo's parking issues:
1. Introduce free parking and remove time restrictions: This will see demand skyrocket, but does nothing to address the issue of supply. To me, this represents the quickest way to exacerbate the problem.
2. Increase supply. Sounds good - but where exactly will all these new car parks be built? Anecdotal evidence suggests that most people don't like walking too far from their car to their destinations. So how do we get more bays in the city centre? Knock down a bunch of buildings, sacrifice a square or a park or some open space - and watch Fremantle begin to look like a stretch of Albany Highway, or the car park of Carousel Shopping Centre. Sure, there are no doubt a couple of sites within the city limits that could be utilised without compromising the very essence of Freo that makes it appealing to visitors, but would these be big enough to satisfy demand? And when we get more motorists in the city centre heading towards these ultra-convenient lots, how are our charming little streets going to handle the increased traffic?
This is a problem that demands innovation and patience. It's also one that many cities have faced and continue to face, and it only makes sense to look to the rest of the country and the world to see how we can benefit from what they've learnt.
Here are some of the tactics which, in addition to sensibly managing supply, the evidence tells us can make a difference:
Making better use of existing parking
Ensure that all our existing parking bays are well-used - and if not, find out why and fix it.
For instance, my dad is adamant that Fremantle is impossible to park in, while my mum maintains that she never has trouble finding a space. Why? In a nutshell, it's because my dad's not that familiar with the area and Fremantle's charming, winding layout can make it difficult for a newcomer to navigate. Thankfully, there are some obvious ways Council could and should be helping people like my dad. Here are a few:
· Providing better, innovate signage solutions to assist visiting motorists with locating car parks and navigating the city.
· Stepping up the use of parking maps included with event promotions in media adverts, the web, etc.
· Using electronic signage that gets updated at some of the main entrances to the city - '104 bays currently available in Queensgate, 255 in E-Shed' - that kind of thing.
Another reason our current bays are under-utilised is because many lots are located in out-of-the-way, run down areas that make you wonder whether you're going to return to find your car relieved of its sound system. The Point Street car park, which as a resident is where Council would have me park on weekends, is in one of these areas. Luckily our car has a tape deck that could only appeal to an antique dealer, but I'm still not happy with my wife having to walk home alone after parking the car there at night.
Fix some of the more obvious dereliction outside of the city's immediate centre and deal with anti-social behaviour, and motorists will be willing to walk just a little bit further for their park.
Expand public transport options
There is a way that visitors can be delivered to the doorstep of the city centre without the need for the West End to be razed for parking - the train. However, one of the problems with improving public transport is in the gap between knowing and doing. Whilst most of us know that better public transport can only be a positive thing, the ‘doing’ lies primarily in the hands of state government.
However, our local government should be lobbying the state government for change and support in this area. As my dad said, “surely the state government knows how important Fremantle is”. Here are a couple of things that I’ll be pushing for:
· Free or significantly reduced costs of catching the train into Fremantle on weekends or for special events.
· The Perth CBD allows people to have free bus trips within a certain radius. Why not in Fremantle? All buses (not just CAT buses) travelling to and from Fremantle train station within a certain radius should be free.
· Frequency, frequency, frequency! I appreciate that the above initiatives could take some time to come to fruition, but achieving frequent services and more carriages on trains is a non-negotiable for me. And it means less waiting time for buses, which I don’t think is an experience many of us enjoy.
With regards to achieving improved transport options for our community, I firmly believe that ‘persistence is to the character of man as carbon is to steel’.
Expand cycling options
With parents who are enthusiastic cyclists, I appreciate that there is still untapped potential in the cycling options that Freo currently offers. However, I’d like to take the time to listen to some of the bicycle shops in the city and talk with other cyclists – the casual and the serious – before going any further on this one.
Well, if you’ve gotten this far I applaud you. My wife flatly refused to proof this post when she read the title (“I trust you” – not something she often says when offered an opportunity to fix people’s grammar). If elected, I look forward to being able to make Fremantle more accessible to both visitors and our own community.