Vancouver puts squeeze on downtown parking
VANCOUVER — The City of Vancouver plans to slash the number of new off-street parking spaces in the downtown core in a bid to get commuters and residents out of their cars and cycling, walking or taking transit.
But the Urban Development Institute claims the move, which would see “zero growth” in commuter parking spaces and significantly reduce the number of residential spots, will deter both businesses and residents from relocating here.
“It’s a case of the pendulum swinging too far the other way,” said UDI executive director Maureen Enser. “There are those businesses that want to relocate here who are going to want parking so how are we going to accommodate them? We are a little bit concerned about it.”
The proposal, which will go to city council on Thursday, suggests council limit the number of parking spaces in new downtown commercial developments in order to maintain a cap of 34,000 spaces.
Under the current rules, developers are required to provide one space per 2.5 to 3.5 employees.
The new standard would require developers to build a minimum of one space per 4.5 to five employees. The maximum they could build would be one space for every 3.5 to four employees.
The number of parking spaces would vary with the density of the building.
Residential developers, meanwhile, are allowed to provide a maximum of one space per unit and only have to offer a minimum of .42 space per unit.
The aim, according to the report, is to encourage less vehicle use in the downtown core and encourage car co-ops and car sharing.
“We don’t want more cars on the road,” said Carli Edwards, the city’s parking manager engineer. “What we’re seeing now is more mixed-use and transit development. As you add more people to the downtown, fewer people could drive.”
Edwards said the city has a history of incrementally lowering the number of parking spaces. The latest move is driven by a predicted rise in commercial growth until 2031.
But as old surface parking lots or parkades are displaced by new commercial buildings, it’s estimated 5,770 parking spaces will be lost by then. And with fewer new spaces being provided, the report said the standards “are set at levels that are designed to ensure that there remains zero growth in employee [commuter] parking spaces.”
The proposal also includes reducing parking spaces in central Broadway and Mount Pleasant. Disability parking spaces would not be reduced, as the number of disabled drivers has risen 20 per cent since 2001, the report said.
Enser argued the proposal will discourage people from coming to live and work in downtown Vancouver because of a possible shortage of sites.
She said the Urban Development Institute supports changing the minimum number of parking spaces required for developers, but the city shouldn’t restrict the number of spaces because some companies may require extra parking.
It costs developers an average of about $40,000 to build a parking space, she said.
“If your business requires a certain amount of parking and you can’t get it in Vancouver, where are you going to go? Metrotown,” she said. “We should see what the implications of the new standards are going to be.”
Enser said the recession will change the economic climate and force businesses to do things differently.
Until the city figures out what kind of businesses will be popping up, she said, it should remain flexible.
“No one knows what the economy is going to look like,” she said. “What you need is common sense. They’re kind of dictating what businesses will and will not do with the space.”
The commercial sector isn’t the only one that will be hit hard, she said, noting that people may refuse to buy into residential buildings in downtown Vancouver because there isn’t enough parking.
Julian Jones, vice-president of business development for Impark, a Vancouver-based parking lot operator, said the residential regulations may have unintended consequences.
“Because this is a unique downtown phenomenon, if you have two vehicles, you may move to the suburbs and in fact use your car more,” he said. “Restricting spaces downtown may have a negative impact on people’s ability to minimize the use of their vehicle.”
Jones said the proposed regulations would mean fewer spots available, and a higher rate for parking. But the rules may not be good for parking lot operators either. “If you've got a small number of spaces producing more money for each space, it’s not necessarily producing more money than a large number of spaces at a lesser rate,” he said.
Edwards said there will always be a minimum number of parking spaces in the city. She noted fewer people living downtown own cars and said the new Canada Line, a third SeaBus and cycling lanes will help people get around.
If commercial growth continued unchecked under the current parking standards, the report warned, the city would see an increase in overall parking supply. It suggests the city’s current cap on commuter parking spaces has already contributed to fewer vehicle trips and increased use of transit, bike and walking paths.
While overall trips have increased by 23 per cent over the past 10 years, the report said, vehicle trips to the city’s downtown have dropped by seven per cent.
Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said he doesn’t expect the new parking standards to have a huge impact on business. He noted the cost of building parking is expensive, which often hinders developers from building.
“The studies I’ve seen over the last couple of years show there’s a lot of inventory available,” he said.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the city is constantly monitoring parking spaces to ensure there’s a balance in the city and called for more investment in transit. “City staff are totally conscious of what’s at stake here,” he said.