The high cost of ‘free’ parking

The high cost of ‘free’ parking >> Vancouver Sun, July 7, 2009.

A very important article in the back of the Vancouver Sun’s Tuesday edition.  Usually you find important transport information on Friday’s when nobody is reading, but this one is a guest opinion-editorial from the looks of it.

Municipal regulations requiring urban developments to provide on-site parking seem innocuous and receive little attention in public policy discussions, but they do in fact have serious consequences.

They stimulate urban sprawl, encourage excessive use of cars, create inequitable social outcomes, reduce housing affordability, and suppress economic development. Wiping parking regulations from municipal planning codes across Canada is arguably the most urgent policy reform Canada’s municipalities can make.

That’s a pretty strong thesis, in terms of what it is proposing.  However, if you sit down and think about it, it is very true that parking can induce car travel.  Perhaps, parking can induce more travel than even a freeways and bridges.  If you don’t have anywhere to park your car when you arrive at your destination, then how likely are you to drive?

The cost of parking can be substantial. The Toronto Parking Authority estimated that the cost of providing a single parking space could be up to $40,000.

That’s not a surprising figure.  Condo developers have been asking Vancouver city hall to relax their parking regulations for many of the new condo high rise developments in downtown.  Developers know that downtown has enough amenities, walkability, and public transit that they can get away with less parking spots in new projects.

I know my friends who bought condos in downtown Toronto had to also buy their parking spots separately.  Some of them use the spots as mortgage helpers.  If you don’t have a spot and need one, then you can rent a spot or put your bid in for a spot when a parking spot becomes free.

Unlike many deregulation initiatives, the removal of minimum-parking regulations does not need to be sudden or disruptive. If parking regulations were removed today, Canada’s urban areas would adapt slowly over years with new developments having only small impacts on the demand for parking. Instead of regulating the supply of parking, municipalities would need to shift focus to managing demand for parking, which they can do through the use of time-limits and ultimately prices.

I think we’re already seeing this sort of deregulation in Toronto and Vancouver.  Especially since developers are asking for less parking so that units can become more affordable. Toronto has parking that is not packaged in with condos automatically.  Vancouver is starting to have new developments with units that have access to a car share (e.g. the Capitol Residences).

One good example of less parking, or no parking in this case, is The Hub at Commercial Drive/Broadway SkyTrain stations.  There are a few offices, restaurants, and large pharmacy, but no parking at all.  It’s attached to the SkyTrain stations, so it makes sense not to have parking.  The City of Vancouver made a special exemption for this site, if I remember correctly.

A really sad example of minimal parking regulations is actually across the street from The Hub.  It’s the CIBC on the southeast corner of Broadway and Commercial.  I learned about this case at a talk a few years ago where someone from Via Architecture was speaking.  Via wanted to develop that site with no parking spots.  That makes sense since it is also right beside the SkyTrain station.  I believe the City of Vancouver was willing to make an exemption for this site as well.  However, CIBC has a policy of minimum parking spots for its patrons.  I believe the number was 3 minimum parking spots.  So it wasn’t municipal parking regulations getting in the way here.  It was the bank.  If we look at that intersection, we would realistically say that most of the bank’s patrons walk to it either solely by foot or from transit.  The southeast corner of Broadway and Commercial is still prime for redevelopment as some sort of mixed use site.  Having only a bank and its few parking spots occupying that space seems like an awful waste.

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