Choosing Our Future: Sustainability !

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The Parking in Your Town Series: 1. On-street Management

We have written 4 articles on the very exciting subject of Parking. These are our "Parking in Your Town" series. In them we explore On street parking, Off street Minima, The idea of the Parking Benefit Neighbourhood or PBN and finally, the idea of a Verge zone. 

Below is the first one with more to come soon.

The Parking in Your Town Series:

  1. On-street Management
  2. Off-street Minima
  3. The PBN
  4. The Verge Zone

This is Part 1 of a four-part series about parking and its effects on development and municipal government finance. We know…Boring! But wait—this affects people every day, in business and in their personal lives as well as the fiscal reality in which their municipalities exist. So, let’s dive in!

As our society emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, one thing is becoming very apparent: local governments (the ones who look after local roads, sewage & water systems, garbage pickup and parks) are feeling the financial toll from the pandemic. As we transition from dealing to recovering, we are going to have to really examine what parts of the old system are worth keeping and what parts are simply going to act as drags on our financial recovery.

If we look at our cities and towns for the low-hanging fruit that can put us back into a positive financial picture, we don’t have to look very far to see that non-commercial parking can be a real opportunity for our cities and towns to be great places. Parking for motor vehicles plays a very large role in housing supply, land and energy use, climate change, place making and transportation.

The Opportunity

It all starts with good intentions. Historically, local governments the world over faced several challenges from cars as a new technology. The enforcement, parking meters, licence plate reading cameras, payment apps, cell phones and tow trucks of today didn’t exist. With early drivers parking on sidewalks and double parking, traffic became congested. There had to be a solution to the madness—and as different parts of the world dealt with these problems in different ways, we tried to increase the supply by any means necessary. We have been increasing the supply for nearly 80 years and there is still ‘not enough parking’, a phrase that is repeated ad nauseum. Therefore, it’s no surprise that some folks view the current discourse around on street parking in North America as dysfunctional.

Why would people criticize the amount of parking available on our streets? After all, parking is free on many parts of Vancouver Island and is abundant. However, the folks that openly criticize this and many others argue that the discourse is dysfunctional because local governments have contributed to the unnatural large supply of parking that has many practical implications for how people use space, both on street and off street.

Local governments have contributed to the land use management challenges in two major ways: having minimum parking requirements for off-street developments [see Part 2: Off-street Minima] and actively working to provide a supply of on-street parking.

Supplying on-street parking does the following:

1.It makes the street very wide.

  • This makes the streets expensive to build and maintain which increases either borrowing or taxes or both - especially if the parking lanes are paved and shouldered. Remember that asphalt has a service life of between 25 and 50 years, if 4 inches thick and done in one continuous application and 7-10 years for repaired streets, if milled off and recycled. Given that much of our infrastructure is nearing the end of its first or into its second lifespan, we will face increasing pressure to raise property taxes to pay for its replacement.{1}
  • It encourages speeding. This increases the risk of injury to pedestrians and cyclists. Many studies have shown that the wider the lane is, the faster vehicle drivers tend to travel.{2} 

2. Not pricing on-street parking does the following:

  •  Makes it a drain on the municipalities revenue because the parking itself doesn’t generate any money.
  •  Whether it is being charged for or not, it still has enforcement and maintenance costs associated with it.
  •  It undercuts the ability of both private property and business owners to charge for parking by unnaturally inflating supply. Municipalities are the largest parking providers by far.
  •  It disincentivizes the use of active and public transportation because residents, employees and customers have cheap and convenient parking available. This makes achieving the mode shift and GHG reduction goals in OCPs and other guiding aspirations more difficult to achieve.
  •  Drivers can easily evade time limits by moving their cars to a nearby space. Many employees leave their workplaces in pairs and trade prime parking spaces.
  •  It further lowers the revenue of municipalities because the right-of-way for streets becomes very wide, which reduces the area that tax-producing properties can occupy in a given place.

3. Since it is free:

  • A. It is in the most convenient location and therefore the most desirable. This gives drivers bad information about the value of on-street parking, so naturally, it gets congested first, causing them to hunt for a space. This is referred to as ‘cruising for parking’. This has the following effects:

i. It wastes drivers’ and passengers’ time.

ii. It burns excess fuel looking for a space, which produces more GHGs and particulates.

iii. It causes drivers to be less attentive, putting pedestrians, cyclists and other road users at a higher risk of crashes and injury.

  •  We use time limits in an effort to induce turnover. Time limits are difficult and expensive to enforce.
  •  The town earns income on this space only from fines—a politically unpopular revenue source with high collection costs. If the municipality does charge for parking and places all the revenue   in the general fund it has the following effects (which is the case for most municipalities in North America):

i. It induces the animosity of vehicle owners, who feel they are being fleeced because paying to park is not a normal occurrence in the region.

ii. It induces the animosity of property owners who feel that they have no control over the revenue that is being taken from the metered areas immediately adjacent to their properties.

[see Part 3: The PBN].

Solutions for our places

I wouldn’t write an article like this if I didn’t have inexpensive solutions that can have a positive impact on citizen involvement, and generate revenue for property owners and the municipality through increased property values and hence, taxes. First however, municipalities need to start thinking differently about parking.

One way that municipalities could begin thinking differently about parking is to make it more adaptive so that everyone can park where they choose. It is best thought of as using the mnemonic RESPOnD:

R = Relax - stop boosting supply by relaxing or removing off-street parking requirements [see Part 2: Off-street Minima]

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)

This is a very general way of thinking about it but by working with the above mnemonic, more specific solutions emerge:

  • Municipalities can encourage the development of Parking Benefit Neighbourhoods (PBNs){3} to eliminate the animosity of both property and business owners who feel that they have no control over the revenue that is being taken from the metered areas immediately adjacent to their properties.
  • Price the curb correctly where it makes sense by installing meters and encouraging the use of payment apps. This works for commercial areas and for visitor parking in residential areas. Do this using demand responsive pricing. This gives good information to drivers about the value of parking in certain areas and can be done in a variety of ways (i.e. up-to-the-moment pricing online).
  • In residential areas, price the curb by annually auctioning off the permits based on the price per space available or based on the length of vehicle if using pay by plate. Never set a price and sell more permits or length of curb than space exists–that is a recipe for parking congestion.
  •  Where it doesn’t make sense to price the curb, use it differently by turning it into a protected bike lane, sidewalk, or even giving it a different zoning use [see Part 4: The Verge Zone].

Wrap up

The original politicians who expanded the streets to accommodate on street parking had good intentions but we know that since prices are information about a product or service. We believe that drivers are getting bad information when they see that the use of parking is under priced or even free. This causes them to make bad decisions to use cars for transportation at the worst times. Pricing parking on the street will give drivers better information to make decisions in the future.

In summation, this pandemic has shown that there are many opportunities to slow the financial bleeding of both property owners and their local governments while at the same time, including citizens more and even generating revenue that can be used in the community, for the community.

Eric Diller is the president of Island Transformations Organization, an educational not for profit located in Victoria


{1} BC ministry of infrastructure and transportation, fourth edition April 2016