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My Take: Can We Park Minimum Parking Requirements?

My Take: Can We Park Minimum Parking Requirements?

Did you know the cost to construct just one parking space can cost between $30,000 – $80,000. Minimum parking requirements are damaging cities across North America. Parking requirements imposed by municipal governments subsidize automobile use, increase traffic congestion, pollute the air, increase the cost of housing, degrade urban design, reduce walkability, hurt the economy, and penalize people who cannot afford a car. It is about time, the City of Hamilton takes a serious look at the high cost of free parking.

Across North America, more cities than ever are eliminating this destructive policy that forces a wasteful use of land and imposes massive costs on residents in terms of lost prosperity, affordability, and quality of life. The exorbitant cost of parking is currently hidden in Hamilton’s housing costs through either higher rents, or sale prices on new apartments, townhomes and condos. This presents a significant barrier to the construction of desperately needed new housing supply.

The hard construction costs and additional time it takes to excavate and build underground parking is significant; costs that are ultimately passed on to homebuyers and renters. In many cases, even car-less residents pay both capital and ongoing maintenance costs for unnecessary automobile infrastructure. Minimum parking standards (which often exceed market demand) make even less sense for housing near transit, especially in societies that are increasingly adopting bike and car sharing apps, and in cities seeking to reduce GHG emissions.

Given society’s shift away from private automobiles to transit (like the LRT), active transportation (like walking or cycling), autonomous vehicles, and taxis or car sharing apps, there is a risk that expensive underground parking facilities will become stranded assets and a significant ongoing maintenance burden for condominium corporations and purpose-built rental buildings. These unnecessary parking related costs that result from the construction, provision and maintenance should not be embedded into the cost of new housing.

Eliminating municipal requirements for parking presents Hamilton with benefits beyond improving housing affordability. Hamilton’s environmental sustainability can be improved through reducing our car dependency, motivating more people to choose active transportation options, facilitating greater levels of intensification, and encouraging more “missing middle” housing city-wide. In essence, it is in the interest of Hamilton and its residents to do away with the existing mandate for the construction of parking spaces exceeding true market demand.

Hamilton is not alone in public policy discussions about the cost of parking. Other cities such as Portland, Seattle, Hartford, Edmonton and Toronto are all adjusting parking policies and bringing them into the 21st century. This is exactly why the West End Home Builders’ Association (WE HBA) is advocating for the City of Hamilton to undertake a review of minimum parking standards for new residential developments. WE HBA has also engaged a student research team from the Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning to provide research on best practices from other North American jurisdictions, in terms of eliminating minimum parking provisions in zoning by-laws. Through this research, we’re also hoping to provide our builder and developer members information on how to reduce the amount of unnecessary parking in the City of Hamilton.

To be clear, WE HBA is not suggesting the City of Hamilton should have no parking. There is nothing wrong with a private business or a new residential building opting to provide parking. Infact, many will still continue to provide their residents and customers with parking. However, we believe those businesses and home builders are perfectly capable of assessing how much parking they need. Cars are not going away tomorrow, and in some cases, parking is necessary (such as providing accessible parking). However, as our population ages and millennials buy less cars, automobile ownership is declining. We are also on the threshold of technological advancements where autonomous vehicles are quickly becoming an inevitable global reality. Only when minimum parking is not mandated, can builders employ critical analysis, decide what makes sense and plan accordingly. In essence, WE HBA simply wants to rethink arbitrary parking requirements city-wide and allow site by site considerations, and market demand to enable parking development to happen organically. Especially in a way that doesn’t require the overprovision of parking. The research done by Ryerson University is something we’re hoping can help us figure out how to do this optimally in a midsized city like Hamilton.

The creation of excessive surface and underground car storage has shredded the fabric of numerous urban areas in North America, and may be one of the biggest mistakes many cities made in the 20th century. Hamilton’s downtown core has survived but it did not fare particularly well in the era of the automobile. It is time for 21st century thinking to prevail. More and more city leaders are coming to the realization that they don’t need these counterproductive by-laws on their books and are revisiting parking minimums with the intent to reduce or abolish them entirely. Parking minimums are so prohibitive for small-scale residential buildings that they make walkable neighbourhoods effectively illegal to replicate today. WE HBA strongly believes the time has come to eliminate minimum parking requirements for residential housing and let the free market determine the actual demand for parking.

Mike Collins-Williams is a Registered Professional Planner with extensive experience in the new home building and development industry. Mike is the CEO of the 300-member West End Home Builders’ Association and is a member of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute and the Canadian Institute of Planners.

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