Oh look, a new obsession
Among the many things I didn’t know until I saw it and then it became obvious, is that the idea of eliminating parking minimums has been a thing for several years now.
But first, look up “parking minimums.” Don’t tell anyone you didn’t know what it means either.
Yes, because if I’m going to be perfectly honest about it, I wasn’t entirely sure. It’s obvious, of course. Especially once you’ve read the definition. But ahem.
Parking minimums are rules that force businesses or residential developers to plan for a minimum number of parking spots every time something new gets built. It’s zoning for cars, you could say. But in some cases, it’s not only unnecessary, it’s downright stupid.
Say you have a new Happy Goat coffee shop opening in Barrhaven (please?). It’s in a new building, on a corner lot not too far from Greenbank and Strandherd that was sitting more or less vacant. I mean, there was something there but there was enough room for another great coffee shop so why not.
Say you’re in charge of making sure the coffee goat remains happy in its new location in Barrhaven. Do you think about having plenty of convenient parking spots right outside the door? Yes, of course you do. Because you’re in Barrhaven and in Barrhaven people drive around. I spend a lot of time there and I have yet to see a living breathing pedestrian. They’re as rare as spotted owls.
Say you are also in charge of opening a new Happy Goat coffee shop on a corner lot near Bank and Gloucester (assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that there is, inexplicably, a vacant lot there). How much space do you keep for parking? Right. None. Because Gloucester and Bank is for foot traffic and active transportation. Drivers just tend to sit there stuck in traffic, wishing they weren’t in a car so they could go for delicious coffee instead of staring at the bumper in front of them.
Now think of a new apartment building. Where I live we have 60 units in a building that was built within the last two years, with an underground garage for 70-odd cars. Parking there is not free (it’s not cheap either, thanks very much). But it’s mighty convenient, especially when there’s freezing rain. I love it to bits. Some people rent two or even three spaces, while others have none. The building offers free, convenient and spacious storage for as many bikes as you own in a locked room underground; more than a few folks who live here commute by bike and don’t own a car, and they’re rightfully rewarded for this yay them.
My building is nowhere near downtown, and most people have cars. But not everyone does. Does it make sense to force the builder to have so many parking spots or else? Or should you leave it to developers to figure out? What if a developer decided to make a name for itself as a progressive kind of business that rewards car-free living? What if they offered a dozen free spots for car-sharing services that their residents could use at a discount? What if a business decided, you know what? In this new condo building on Richmond Road in Westboro we’ll have 80 units and 30 parking spaces. We’ll rent the parking spaces for a lot of money and make it super easy for people to store bikes and the odd Vespa and we’ll advertise the hell out of this to attract the kind of resident who doesn’t like a car-centric society and who knows, maybe contribute to a better world. Do you say no to that because look, this rule here put in place before the first oil crisis stipulates you must have more parking spaces than you think is necessary?
Anyway, so that’s what parking minimum rules do. They force people to have minimum spaces devoted to the temporary storage of vehicles. But why have them when we all know we ought to take steps to decrease our dependence on cars?
That’s why some people have started a movement to get rid of those rules. And they’ve got a nifty crowdsourcing website where people can add their town and the progress made there towards that goal.
Ottawa has a pin, but it’s not the good kind of colour yet. Our pin indicates we’re discussing the matter. Yes, the Official Plan supports eliminating them, but you know what that usually means.
It means, of course, that I found myself a new nail to hammer. That’s obvious, too.