Over the past three years, we've listened to countless Edmontonian’s garden suite stories. One thing that has repeatedly stood out as a barrier to development are the City’s parking requirements, which mandate the minimums number of stalls that must be provided on a property. Under the current regulations, even if you don't own a car, you must build parking. But...this might be changing.
How Par(king) became, well...king.
Parking minimums were introduced in cities across North America after WW2. As rates of car-ownership increased, cities decided that the best way to deal with this issue was to require every homeowner, business, and developer to include parking stalls on their property.
Parking minimums remained popular for several decades, however, over the past 10 years, the negative consequences of mandatory parking minimums have been brought to the fore and cities across Canada and the United States are reducing and removing them. The City of Edmonton is in the midst of this very conversation.
On January 28th, 2020, the City of Edmonton’s Urban Planning Committee will be debating the removal of Edmonton’s longstanding and outdated parking minimums. If you would like to support the removal of parking minimums city-wide by sending a letter to council, or by speaking at Urban Planning Committee, please let us know. Support is needed on this item & your stories & experiences are critical.
Why support the removal of parking minimums?
Removing parking minimums allows the market to course correct after decades of auto-dominant planning regulations. Mandating off-street minimums has contributed to a sprawling road network and urban form. This has resulted in high costs to the city and taxpayers, high emissions, poor health outcomes, more traffic, and ultimately less vibrant urban areas.
There is little risk in removing parking minimums, and much to gain. City administration reports that Edmonton has a significant over-supply of parking across the entire city. While optimal parking utilization is 90% across the city, Edmonton sits at 40-50% at peak. Making use of this surplus, cutting red tape, and allowing the market to adjust to an efficient level of supply will result in economic gains for the city as a whole.
Areas in red show space allocated to parking in different locations in Edmonton. From top left to bottom right: mature neighbourhood, Strathcona, Downtown, developing neighbourhood/suburb.
The report finds a similar over-supply in commercial space where “at maximum observed usage (observed), only 39% of those spaces are being used, meaning that on average over 19,000 parking spaces in commercial sites observed are open”. Supposing an average cost of $10,000 a stall, that is close to $200 million dollars wasted, due to government regulation.
Note that removing minimums does not mean that no parking will be provided; it means that businesses, developers, and homeowners can build the right amount of parking for an area. This is evident in studies done on parking supply after minimums were removed. In Seattle, for example, 70% of developments with no parking minimums still provided parking over an eight year period.
It is also critical to remember that the impact of eliminating off-street minimums will take place over the course of several decades, making it an extremely slow and incremental change.
Flexibility and Land Use
Inflexible parking minimums represent a top-down approach to land use that infringes on the freedom of businesses, developers and homeowners to make decisions regarding their off-street parking supply.
Parking minimums restrict compact development and walkability, while encouraging inefficient land use in outlying areas where horizontal space is cheap. This creates a transportation hierarchy wherein the City has regulated that the best way to travel from A to B is via automobile, all while forcing private citizens dollars to be spent to ensure this hierarchy remains.
Beyond the cost of building parking ($5,000 - $50,000/stall), the opportunity cost of using land for parking, as opposed to productive uses, is substantial. Over-supplying parking represents billions of dollars lost in unproductive economic development.
Health and Neighbourhood Liveability
Walkability is directly influenced by parking minimums. In many cases, parking spaces break up the urban fabric and create hostile environments for pedestrians and cyclists.
On a city-wide scale, devoting valuable land to parking, rather than productive uses, spreads out our urban form, making it difficult to build compact, ‘15 minute districts’ as outlined in the City Plan. Trips via walking become more challenging, and automobiles become the default. This has consequences for physical and mental health, as well as sociability and urban isolation.
In the case of garden suites, we have seen numerous instances of homeowners having to build garages in their suites even though they don't own a vehicle. In these cases, homeowners are forced to spend money on supplying parking that would have otherwise been rentable/livable space. Most garden suites are limited to one-bedrooms or studios for this reason. If parking minimums are removed, owners may choose to build family-friendly 2-3 bedroom units.
Parking minimums are an auto subsidy, paid for by all Edmontonians, regardless of whether they use or own a car. They result in additional degradation of our road network by encouraging people to drive. This is reflected in higher maintenance and operations costs, as well as infrastructure and service costs associated with low-density development - think more pipes, roads, rec centres, fire halls, etc.
Parking minimums interfere with the market and prevent developers from making contextual development decisions. Currently, in Edmonton, even if a business's target market is cyclists and pedestrians, or they are located next to an LRT line, they are still subject to minimum parking requirements. This typically results in an over-supply of parking with the costs of supplying and maintaining parking space being passed on to customers. Removing parking minimums will allow businesses to decide how much or how little parking they need.
Parking minimums also hinder property owner’s ability to react to changing technologies and modal shares. In the event that self-driving vehicles become adopted en masse, how many billions of dollars will be wasted on parking stalls as a result of parking minimums? Similarly, private investment in ride sharing and micro-mobility becomes less likely.
The effects of parking minimums are more damning in light of climate change. With transportation causing 31% of Edmonton’s greenhouse gas emissions, it has become clear that the City must take steps to encourage mode shift away from personal automobiles.
Parking minimums undermine our ability to pursue public and active transit in a more meaningful way as they encourage a more spread out urban form, which makes walking, biking, and public transit less viable. This also induces demand for cars, resulting in higher emissions.
Eliminating parking minimums is an opportunity to align climate change goals and priorities with economic growth and development.
Under Edmonton’s current regulations, homeowners, businesses, and developers are forced to pay for parking whether or not they need it. This is an equity issue. Since the cost of parking is baked into the cost of goods, services, and housing, it is often lower-income households (who sometimes do not even own cars) that end up taking a significant financial hit.
This ultimately discourages and penalizes people who follow the City’s direction to use public and active transportation.
Fears that city streets will be flooded overnight are unwarranted. Private individuals, businesses, and developers will still provide parking, and the City has tools at its disposal to effectively manage on-street demand to ensure parking is reliably available. The impact of this change will not be felt immediately, but will undoubtedly set Edmonton up for a more prosperous future.
Email your councillor to show support for the full removal of parking minimums across the City.
Councillors need to hear from business owners, homeowners, and everyday Edmontonians who have been burdened by current parking minimums. If you'd like to speak in favour of removing parking minimums, you can view the January 28th Urban Planning Committee Agenda here (Item 6.2), and register as a speaker here.
Email City Council:
Andrew.Knack@edmonton.ca Bev.Esslinger@edmonton.ca Jon.Dziadyk@edmonton.ca Aaron.Paquette@edmonton.ca Sarah.Hamilton@edmonton.ca Scott.McKeen@edmonton.ca Tony.Caterina@edmonton.ca Ben.Henderson@edmonton.ca Tim.Cartmell@edmonton.ca Michael.Walters@edmonton.ca Mike.Nickel@edmonton.ca Mohinder.Banga@edmonton.ca