Choosing Our Future: Sustainability !

header photo

The Parking in Your Town Series: 2.  Parking In Your Town, Off Street Minima 

The Parking In Your Town Series:
  1. On street management
  2. Off street minima
  3. The P.B.N.
  4. The Verge zone
This is Part 2 of a four-part series about car parking, its effects on development, the environment  and municipal government finance. This section is about off-street minimum parking requirements or  minima. We wish to illustrate why we think in order to make it easier to solve multiple issues that  our region faces. Keep reading to find out why it is something that we consider necessary to  quickly recover from the effects of COVID-19.

Let’s dive in!

In the previous article we discussed mostly on street parking issues, the problems with the current  approach and solutions. We introduced the concept of the mnemonic RESPOnD:
R = Relax - stop boosting supply by relaxing or removing off-street parking mimima
E = Engage - engage with people to ease their fears and offer them value that the better managed  curb will give them
S = Share - have businesses open more parking to the public
P = Price - at the right rate for each place and time
On = On - street - parking needs strong enforcement
D = Demand - demand management should be employed for transit rich areas (i.e. downtown areas) In  this article we will be dealing with the RES part of this term.

The Opportunity

In the first article, we looked at how it was with good intentions and  a lack of modern day  solutions such as parking meters, payment apps, cellphones and tow trucks that influenced why  municipalities created and still build on street parking and the problems associated with the way  that on street parking is created and managed.
We also mentioned that most municipalities put in place requirements on developments to provide  off-street parking in virtually all buildings to add supply so that people wouldn’t say that there  wasn’t enough parking. This is to prevent parking spillover into the street which would cause  congestion. Yet as we explored in Part 1, it is because of two deliberate policy choices: a lack of  pricing, and enforcement that there is a problem with parking congestion in the street. These two  policy decisions work in concert to ensure that parking is always free for drivers. However, this  still doesn’t make it free for everyone. Here are some of the ways that “free parking” causes  problems:
  1. It unnaturally inflates the amount of parking that is available, undercutting the amount that  property and business owners can charge for parking. This has one main effect: preventing owners  from wanting to share parking with non-visitors or non-patrons to their properties.
  2. It prevents property and business owners from using their own property as they see fit.
  3. It spreads out developments which has several side effects:
     a.  Increasing energy consumption and thus GHGs
     b.  Spreading out developments which makes walking and cycling more difficult
     c.  Making public transit less sustainable
     d. Causing our property taxes to be higher than normal because auto infrastructure is expensive and has to be widespread across our regions. [see Part 1: On-street Parking]
The problems above should be enough to make us reconsider why we even have these, but mandating the 
provision of off-street parking causes other issues:
  • Subsidizes the price of driving causing more people to drive which makes our places more  dangerous. Insurance companies estimate ~107,500 Canadians were injured or killed in 2018 in motor  vehicle crashes
  • Car accidents are the greatest killer of people under 40 in Canada. Can anyone tell me why we say “Don’t drink and drive!” but then the municipalities require pubs and bars to provide parking?
  • Raises the price of housing and all retail commercial goods because the cost of parking must be bundled into the cost of all items. It is bundled because it is mandated but of low value due to the over supply of it.
  • “Free parking” lowers wages for employees in order to finance parking which doesn’t produce revenue.
  • Makes our society less equitable–the construction and maintenance costs get bundled into the cost of housing which hurts women and minorities more. Why these groups? They generally earn less income than white males so are more negatively affected by higher costs of retail products and rent.
  • Surface lots cause heat islands.
  • Destroys urban form–tall, boxy buildings surrounded by parking lots are ugly but surface  parking is the cheapest way to provide parking.
  • The average car spends ~94% of its time parked and therefore, it is the most wasteful  transportation mode known to mankind.
  • Automobiles cause air pollution from both exhaust and brakes which has been proven to lead to respiratory problems and causes pre-term births to occur.
The above list isn’t simply to point out how poorly municipalities are doing on all these issues but is an opportunity to improve them by making simple changes to development codes.
The example above is from Sidney BC and shows what dedicating land to parking and vehicle movement does to the value per acre that municipalities could collect taxes on. Also note the difference in jobs per acre for the two businesses.
These requirements weren’t handed down by some holy deity they were made by men that brought with 
them to the problem their own set of values and ethics.
They can be considered junk science. That isn’t a grand generalization because these requirements are based on the basic premise that to access any particular building, no other form of transportation other than a car could possibly be used to get to that place. This is simply not true! Especially in urban areas where there are many ways to get around.

The Solution(s)

The solutions are simple. If we go back to the R in our mnemonic, RESPOnD and relax about supply by removing parking requirements for all but the largest buildings then we permit the free market to determine the  amount of parking needed. For instance in Japan, there are parking minimums but they only begin to take effect for public buildings 1500 sqM in size and take full effect on private or public buildings 6000 sqM in size.
By following E in RESPOnD, engaging the public to ease their fears about how to park cheaply in the future. The public needs to know that developers will still build parking and that repurposing all  the parking is going to take a long time; therefore, people will still have a place to park for  cheap and can take comfort that this is not going to be an immediate, radical shift. If you look at  the image to the left, you can see that the various colours indicate the massive resources dedicated to car parking available in this small area of Victoria.


By sharing the parking between many property and business owners (S in RESPOnD), more efficiencies in land use can be had giving the opportunity to use that space that has been preserved in asphalt for higher and better uses.
Solutions also exist for municipalities to fund infrastructure projects through the concept of Land Value Capture (LVC) which does not require legislative changes at the provincial level. Elements of LVC include things like: special assessment districts, naming rights, parking fees and others. For example, both Portland and Kansas City in the US completed multi-million dollar public transit projects using parking fees. Kansas created a special assessment district and assessed differently zoned properties at different amounts, but also charged owners of pay parking lots $54.50 per parking space per year in a multi-pronged effort to both: encourage the redevelopment of the blight that too many parking lots are and to encourage more people to use the newly constructed street car line in their daily travels. Portland similarly, took on parking bonds in the vicinity of its transit lines for the same purposes.
There are many precedents for the use of LVC in Canada with the most famous being the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, built as a condition of BC joining the rest of Canada.

Wrap up

This is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit for improving our places. Simply by removing parking minima we can successfully work towards accomplishing our goals on housing affordability, giving sustainable transportation choices to many and making our communities more fiscally resilient. When combined with strong, on-street management of parking, chaos will be avoided and we will all breathe easier.
Eric Diller is the president of Island Transformations Organization, an educational not for profit  group in Victoria.