Where's the "green" in Vision's parking policy?

Post by Michael Geller in

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The COPE City Council wanted all night parking meters, now Vision is putting its stamp on parking policy

In the afternoon of Thursday June 11th, Vancouver City Councillors attending the Planning and Environment Committee had before them three reports carried over from a previous Transportation and Traffic Committee.

One was a report from the General Manager of Engineering Services on Parking Policy and By-Law Requirements. It was a long awaited report, following very extensive study on proposed new parking standards for commercial and residential development in the downtown, and two other neighbourhoods.

I decided to speak at the meeting since for years, I have been questioning the absurdity of municipal governments requiring minimum standards of parking that are higher than what the private sector thinks are necessary; especially given societal concerns with traffic congestion, GHG’s and housing affordability. I have been publicly suggesting that we might convert our minimum standards into maximum standards, since this would seem to be more consistent with the broader public interest.

And to its credit, in many respects, this is what the Engineering Department was proposing. The new standards would still set a minimum, but one that was about half the current standard; and a maximum which was about 0.6 spaces per unit higher.

While I was impressed with the direction of the report, I did believe that it could have gone further in terms of allowing even lower standards on certain conditions. I also believed there was a need for a more comprehensive parking policy review to include three other related matters:

  1. Visitor Parking. Unlike most municipalities, Vancouver no longer has any special requirements for visitor parking. Instead, visitor parking is ‘lumped in’ with resident parking. And since developers cannot sell visitor spaces, they are generally not provided. Now that we were significantly reducing resident requirements, I thought there should be reconsideration of the need for visitor parking.
  2. On street resident permit parking. Currently many West End residents do not use underground parking since they can purchase a permit to park on the street for a fraction of the cost of underground parking. This seems foolish to me. So I and another speaker argued that as part of any parking policy changes, the city should reconsider the pricing of such permits.
  3. Extension of parking meters. While I acknowledge this position will likely kill any future chance I might have of getting elected to municipal office, I question the locations and hours of metered parking. As another speaker John Petrie so eloquently put it, given a desire for a more sustainable way of life, with fewer cars on the streets, why should we subsidize some residents to park in places where other people would be willing to pay to park. Especially since the additional revenues could be directed to improved public transit and bicycle lanes.

I presented these points with no response from Council, other than some guffaws from Geoff Meggs and Kerry Jang at my proposition that we should consider putting metered parking along some residential streets. “He’s channeling Fred Bass,” they joked in reference to the former COPE City Councillor.

Yes, I guess I was. And if I am not mistaken, that is the same Fred Bass who we used to mock for his opposition to cigarette smoking and his promotion of public transit and cycling.

But, at the request of two Urban Development Institute representatives, in a split second it did decide to overturn the carefully prepared staff recommendation to place a limit on the maximum number of spaces that could be provided. Why? In case this discouraged the development of higher density family housing projects in the downtown. Now the UDI reps were right in raising this particular concern, but Council was completely wrong in how it responded. Rather than eliminate the cap, it could have directed staff to come up with some fine tuning to address this particular concern.

In the end, the Mayor and Council that wants Vancouver to be the greenest city in the world did not want to consider any further reductions in parking requirements. Nor did it want to consider a requirement for visitor parking, or re-pricing of permit parking. And it certainly did not seem interested in charging people to park in front of higher density residential developments along Vancouver streets. But it was willing to remove the proposed cap on the number of spaces a developer could build.

Sadly, few people were present to observe the irony and absurdity of the Council decisions. However, an astonished News Radio 1130 reporter Erin Loxam did follow the discussion and reported on the surprising outcome. Somehow, I suspect we have not heard the end of this. At least, I hope not.

UPDATE: check out Michael's latest column in the Vancouver sun by clicking here.

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