Tag Archives: #yeg

(Part 1) A few thoughts on parking in Edmonton…

If asked to list Edmonton’s problems, a typical Edmontonian would likely mention potholes, snow removal, and taxes, which, when you think about it, are the things everyone wants from their municipal government: good infrastructure, effective services, and a reasonable cost of providing the two. Parking, being plentiful and inexpensive here relative to other similarly-sized Canadian cities, would probably escape mention.

Unless they were asking me. I’d put parking at the top of the list, and definitely not because we have too little of it. On the contrary, I’d argue that the abundance and cheapness of parking in our city directly and significantly contribute to the very problems listed above. When regulated incorrectly, as I think it is in Edmonton, parking drives up the costs of just about everything by wasting land that could be otherwise used more productively.

Although one could argue for a long time about whether, say, a consistently full lot that provides a employee parking for business during working hours is more or less productive than a mixed-use, medium-density commercial/residential complex, one thing that is not debatable is that an empty parking stall is less productive than just about anything. Unfortunately, empty stalls are something most North American cities (ours included) have no shortage of, thanks in large part to antiquated parking requirements like those found in Edmonton’s municipal zoning bylaw.

Such regulations generally prescribe a minimum amount of parking that is required for each development, based on some index of the development’s size or occupancy. (For example, apartment housing within the boundaries of the Downtown Area Redevelopment plan requires a minimum of 0.5 spaces per bachelor suite, 0.75 spaces per 1 bedroom dwelling, 1 parking space per 2 or-more bedroom dwellings, and 1 visitor parking space per 7 dwellings;  commercial developments with area greather than 28 000 m² require 4 parking spaces per 100 m² of floor area; etc). These minimums consistently result in an oversupply of parking spaces (particularly in the suburbs) because, most commonly, they are not determined using logical means (eg, research and analysis of the jurisdiction within which they are prescribed). Instead, they are usually based on either flawed and outdated handbook data or surveys of neighbouring/similar districts  — districts which themselves most likely use similarly illogical techniques to set their parking regulations. Because the handbook data (typically from the Institute of Transportation Engineers) is intended to represent peak conditions (and generally skewed toward providing an oversupply of parking), and because almost every district in North America oversupplies parking, determining parking regulations in this manner consistently results in a surplus of parking stalls.

So why are too many parking stalls a problem? Because they cost money –although parking is (usually) without a price, it is not without a cost. Someone has to acquire, upgrade, maintain, and pay taxes on the countless hectares of land our city uses to store automobiles:  businesses, residents, or governments, community groups, etc. Forcing these parties to build a minimum amount of parking reduces the efficiency with which they can allocate their resources. They force public officials, for example, to devote money (sometimes very significant amounts, particularly if parking structures of any kind are required) to parking stalls that may or may not be used, instead of letting the officials determine levels of parking at which additional stalls would not serve the public better than enhancements to the facility they’re building. Such inefficiency drives up the costs of all buildings, which increases the cost of doing business and of housing and ultimately reduces the city’s standard of living and  competitiveness vis-a-vis other districts.

Effectively, parking minimums represent a subsidy to drivers on behalf of property owners. (In the absence of parking minimums, many property owners would undoubtedly continue with standard practise, but I would argue that they should at least be given a choice). The imposition of such a subsidy could potentially be acceptable if it served societal goals, but this subsidy does just the opposite: by reducing the intensity with which land is developed and engendering automobile use, parking minimums reinforce and underlay sprawl, further entrenching a mode of growth cities continent-wide are trying to escape.  Research has also shown that excessive, artificially inexpensive parking frustrates efforts to increase transit usage, and makes sites on the urban fringes more attractive as their lower land costs significantly reduce the cost of providing parking. In short, parking minimums actively work against almost every long-term development goal our city has.

So, what’s to be done? That will be the subject of a subsequent blog post. For now, I’ll point out that I’m certainly not advocating the eradication of parking in Edmonton. Rather, I’d simply like to see thoughtfully designed parking policies that further our city’s objectives replace the current set of regulations, derived from outdated convention, that frustrate progress in almost every respect.

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Dear Edmonton City Council:

Dear Councillors,


Thank you for your debate, discussion and leadership demonstrated yesterday. Closing the Municipal Airport was a very controversial decision that will have many ramifications. As an Edmontonian who wrote you and expressed my views, I wanted to take the time to thank you for your decision.

I believe this decision is a step in the right direction and is moving our city forward in a sustainable way. This decision was not just about closing the municipal airport, but was a discussion about how our city should grow in the next fifty years. Let us not lose this chance to move forward and create further density with mixed-use communities in our core.

The potential for the further expansion and centralization of NAIT, and the potential for pedestrian oriented, transit oriented and green oriented developments will pay dividends to future generations of Edmontonians. The recent ICLEI conference showed some amazing examples of high-to-medium density walkable, green communities that we could develop right here in our city. Many Edmontonians are envious of Garrison Woods in Calgary and we now have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make our airport lands into just as desirable.

As I mentioned in my last letter (Jun 19, 2009), I would ask that we attempt to support general aviation outside of the city at other local airfields. Please do what you can to aid the small businesses that will be left out in the cold by this decision– would it be possible to provide some sort of financial assistance as they transition to new locations? In the interest of fast, efficient transportation for business executives and government leaders, and in light of the recent provincial report we should re-open discussions with the province on a high-speed rail link to the airport.

Thank you. You have moved the sustainability and livability of our city forward.

Enhancing Edmonton: Big Box Retail?

This is a question asked by a Councillor and responded to by administration about the Municipal Development Plan. It’s publicly available here:  http://edmonton.ca/city_government/city_organization/council-committee-meetings.aspx

Big Box Retail

1.              In what way does further big box retail contribute to the vision and goals in our strategic plan?

Big box retail development is characterized by large sites on the periphery of cities where land is less expensive and provides quick access from major highways.  These developments are usually automobile oriented and not accessible via other transportation modes.  Big box stores and “power centres” are cheaper to build than enclosed shopping malls as they include no central spaces, features or services.  They impact communities because small businesses cannot compete with the high volume sales and low overheads of big box outlets.

Further big box retail development does not contribute to the vision and goals in the Strategic Plan.  On the contrary, further big box retail development perpetuates the trend towards urban sprawl and encourages and is dependent on more travel by private vehicle.    Maintaining strong vibrant neighbourhoods becomes more difficult when small commercial centres are forced to compete with the low prices that big box stores can offer. Diversifying Edmonton’s economy by encouraging independent entrepreneurs to set up business will not be successful if big box outlets are in competition. Big box development is the antithesis of high standards of urban design and best land use practices that are key to livable communities.  There are no public spaces in which a strong sense of community can thrive.  All these characteristics show how big box retail development is not in support of most of the elements of the Strategic Plan vision and goals.

Gordon Price’s excellent newsletter “Price Tags” deals with the issue of “Streets and Roads” in Issue 19.

This is particularly interesting in the context of South Edmonton Common. The $300 million 23rd ave interchange has shown us that the role of these auto-dependent, big box stores need to be re-evaluated as we consider what Edmonton will look like in the future.