It’s noon hour on Epworth Street in Oak Bay, across from the high school.
This is where the old Patrick Arena stood when the Victoria Cougars beat the Montreal Canadiens in March 1925, the last time a non-NHL team won the Stanley Cup.
No such excitement on this day, though. The road is largely empty, with plenty of vacant curbside spaces for cars. Most of the vehicles sport the window decals that Oak Bay issues to drivers who live in residents-only parking zones.
The calm is somewhat surprising given an Oak Bay Facebook group’s recent raging debate over who gets to park where on roads like this. By the tone of some of the comments you would think there was a non-stop game of vehicular musical chairs going on, with furious homeowners racing to the boulevard to repel invaders at barbecue-fork point.
Now, as the Clover Point debate demonstrated, Victorians get worked up about parking in general. The same people who adopt a Dalai Lama-like serenity in the face of lesser challenges like COVID or climate change go Hitler-in-the-bunker bonkers when it comes to cars and curbs.
That can be particularly true of residents-only parking, a subject that is always contentious.
Municipalities carve out such zones near hospitals, shopping areas and similar parking magnets to prevent outsiders from clogging up neighbourhoods. Many of us find that policy perfectly reasonable — right up until, with Belfry Theatre tickets poking out of our pockets, we find the drama of finding a spot in Fernwood rivals that of the play on stage. At that point, the idea of one set of citizens being given exclusive use of a public roadway might strike us as an affront to democracy.
Where the Oak Bay fuss differs is that it not only pits residents against outsiders, but residents against residents. It began after a guy who parked in front of a neighbour’s house found a crisply worded note under his windshield wiper informing him that he had been reported to the municipality, as the space was for the exclusive use of the neighbour.
Nonsense, replied several members of the Facebook group. As long as you have a decal for the Oak Bay zone in question, you can park where you want.
Actually, the municipality says that — strictly speaking — those decals only give their holders the right to park directly in front of, or across the street from, their own homes, and even then they must move on after 24 hours. Just don’t confuse those zones with time-limited zones, where the general public may park for one or two hours, but residents can stay for 24.
Got that? Of course you don’t, because here in Dysfunction-By-The-Sea the bylaws and the way they’re applied tend to change every time you cross municipal boundaries, and it’s impossible to remember them all.
That is, Oak Bay is the only local jurisdiction that issues parking decals to people who live on streets that are signposted for residents only. Drivers parking at the curb while visiting those residents are supposed to leave notes on their dashboards, and are supposed to remain on said residents’ property when parked.
In Victoria — where Residential Parking Only signs dot the roads around Royal Jubilee Hospital, Royal Athletic Park, Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre and a few other spots — there are no decals. Instead, residents of the applicable zones must register their licence plates at city hall.
Saanich, by contrast, doesn’t even attempt to figure out which vehicle belongs to which neighbourhood. It just relies on the people in residents-only zones to narc out the interlopers.
In fact, parking enforcement in most municipalities is complaint-based, meaning rule-breakers will get a ticket only if someone calls the authorities. Even then, complainants shouldn’t expect a Code 3 response from the SWAT team. For example, Esquimalt’s website states bylaw staff will tackle residential-zone parking beefs “as workloads permit.” That’s typical.
Perhaps there’s a more rigorous response in Vancouver, which charges residents for on-street parking permits, the rate depending on which of two dozen zones they live in. (Most cost $45 a year, though in Vancouver’s priciest zone, the West End, some pay $401.)
Or maybe they just ask people to be considerate.