Paying Dearly For Parking

April 5, 2013

Everybody’s got a story as to why they need free or cheap parking.astorytotell

As an amenity in a lease agreement. A spot for out of town visitors not using transit. Just because they have a car.

The most compelling reason I’ve heard recently is that many areas in Toronto with multi-residential and apartment buildings are woefully under-served by public transit. Market rates for parking will only increase a sense of isolation. While I’m empathetic to that particular line of reasoning, I think if we maintain the status quo on transportation matters because areas are under-served by public transit, nothing much is ever going to change.

We need to figure out how to start squeezing automobile privilege at the proper level in order to increase the demand for better public transit. Frankly, there’s no better place to start than with our demented, city destroying parking policies. I do not think it a stretch to say that without a serious rethink of how we price parking freeparking1(spoiler alert: it should be pricier and more reflective of market forces) there is little hope of making Toronto more livable, healthy, equitable.

Here’s a personal example of what I’m talking about:

Where I live in downtown Toronto, I am a four minute walk in three directions to three streetcar lines, an eight minute walk to a fourth. In fifteen minutes, I can walk to two of our subway lines. I have quick access to a series of primitive bike lanes. There is hardly an amenity I need that I can’t get to within an easy half-hour stroll.

There’s a garage at the back of my house. When needed it can fit one car. Neighbours tell me the previous owner squeezed two into it. That would be impossible now.onepotato

Street parking is all permit. There’s one hour parking for free from 10 a.m. to midnight. Between those times, it is pretty heavily patrolled. You can be pretty much guaranteed a $30 ticket if you park a car without a permit outside of those hours. At the top of the street, there are two surface parking lots and one underground.

All told, after one car in the garage, I tell visitors that parking’s a bitch unless you’re prepared to pay for it. Something like $15 for 24 hours in one of the surface lots. Pricey, right? $1.60/hour.

But wait.

It gets better.

crazyIf I know ahead of time that somebody with a car is going to stay over for the evening, I can apply to the city and pay about $10 for 24 hours. It’s $15 for 48 hours. A week? $19.66 plus HST.

But wait.

I’m not done.

Say I own a car, got it parked out back in the garage but need someplace to put a second car. That’ll set me back some $54.22 a month. In downtown Toronto. Surrounded by public transit. A stone’s throw from almost anything my little heart desires. And it’s still only going to cost me $650.61 a year to park a second car.

Don’t even get me started on the cost if I didn’t have direct access to my own parking spot.

I do realize everyone isn’t as fortunate as I am when it comes to transportation choice. The fact of the matter is many people have to drive to get to work, to school, to do even the most basic of errands. I get that. Part of the reason why is that we’ve encouraged the automobile lifestyle by not fully and properly costing its use. That now has to change.

Our approach to pricing parking makes absolutely no fucking sense outside of the concept of subsidizing car use. There is no other rational explanation for it. If you want to see hypocrisy in a proclaimed free market, fiscal conservative, start up a conversation with them on the subject of transportation policy and the cost of parking (if not general automobile road use).

highcostoffreeparking

Rather than just a continued rant from me to wrap this discussion up, and because it’s Friday and I’m lazy, let me just sing you out with a series of random quotes from the professor of parking, Donald Shoup, from his 1997 paper, The High Cost of Free Parking. If we want to get our city planning right, we have to get our attitudes toward parking right.

The only research on how parking requirements affect housing shows that they raise housing costs, reduce urban density, and reduce land values.

***

In many cases, form no longer follows function, fashion, or even finance. Instead, form follows parking requirements. Minimum parking requirements determine what can be built, what it looks like, and how much it costs. Minimum parking requirements have transformed many residential streets into garagescapes where the only obvious way to enter a building is with an electronic garage-door opener… Planners initially designed parking requirements to serve buildings. Architects now design buildings to serve the parking requirements.

***

Minimum parking requirements thus reduce the flexibility of existing buildings, stymie adaptive reuse, and stifle enterprise.

***

Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars. Why do urban planners prescribe this drug? One explanation is that planners are not exercising professional judgment, but are simply responding to political pressure.

***

Minimum parking requirements arose from the vision of a world with ample free parking. Parking requirements have legislated this vision into reality because every new building must correspond to the vision, no matter how much it costs. Parking requirements hide the cost of parking by bundling it into higher housing prices, higher consumer prices, lower urban density, and lower land values. Everyone but the motorist pays for parking.

***

The cost of providing parking has ceased to influence most decisions about whether to own or use a car. Because motorists pay nothing for parking, they own and use cars as if parking costs nothing, and traffic congestion results. When citizens object to congestion, planners restrict new development to reduce traffic. That is, minimum parking requirements force development to subsidize cars, and planners must then limit the density of development (and of people) to limit the density of cars. Free parking has become the arbiter of urban form, and cars have replaced people and buildings as zoning’s real density concern.

***

Planning for parking is planning without prices.

streetparking

not-idlingly-submitted by Cityslikr


A Parking Pass

April 4, 2013

Sixteen years after amalgamation, city council took a big step toward by-law harmonization yesterday which, while as boring as it might sound, is an important milestone. Not everyone was happy about the outcome and, certainly, everything isn’t now all ironed out. ballonanimalQuirks remain. (Seriously? Rooming houses still can only be built in certain parts of the city? Seriously?) But hey. What city doesn’t have its quirky by-laws? I hear tell of some places where buskers aren’t allowed to give children balloon animals.

As expected, it wasn’t a quick and easy debate. Change never is quick or easy. What did surprise me, and that surprise is all on me because, well, how could I not see it coming, was that the biggest subject of debate on the issue of by-law harmonization involved parking.

Nothing highlights just how car-centric this city still actually is than the passion displayed for parking. Where, how much of it and keeping the cost absolutely negligible were all matters of very intense discussion on the council floor. parkinglot1Parking as some sort of  inalienable right bestowed upon anyone as soon as they purchase an automobile.

I’ll believe Councillor Josh Matlow when he says his motion to maintain free visitor parking at all multi-residential and apartment buildings comes from a place of protecting tenants’ rights. That there’s a time for the bigger discussion on parking but yesterday wasn’t it. And he may believe that I referred to his motion as ‘parking pandering’ only because I like to take shots.

But the fact is that there’s no such thing as free parking and we really need to stop pretending there is. It is not an amenity to be used as a bargaining chip. We all pay in some way for tenants to have free visitor’s parking, for “free” parking of any kind. parkinglotAnd if Councillor Matlow and the 34 other councillors who voted in favour of his motion think I’m being hyperbolic, might I suggest they take some time and read through Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking. (Or, here’s a 20 page paper on the subject from the professor.) Part II, section 3, Getting the Parking Right, in Jeff Speck’s Walkable City is also a very good primer on the subject.

The emphasis on cheap, plentiful parking warps our ability to properly plan a healthier, more liveable city. Any notion of “free” parking encourages people to drive to destinations that have it. It maintains the private automobile’s top notch in our transportation hierarchy and continues to push every other mode of transit to second, third and fourth class status. Don’t believe me? parkinglot2At your next dinner party, express the view that public transit should be a free amenity for everybody. Gauge the feedback you get in comparison to stating the opinion drivers really ought to be paying more of their fair share for parking.

Any positive efforts a councillor makes in the direction of furthering public transit or cycling or walking is simply undone by their insistence on maintaining the illusion of free or cheap parking. Rationalize it all you want, cower in the face of voter-driver wrath but it only stalls the realistic conversation we need to have. You can have a vibrant, dynamic city, full of all sorts of ways to get around or you can have oodles of “free” parking for anyone and everyone who asks. You just can’t have both.

scoldingly submitted by Cityslikr


Pardon Our Parking

June 14, 2010

It seems that nothing gets citizens’ knickers in a twist more than a parking ticket. While death and taxes are seen as the inevitably ugly aspects of going about the business of living, the acquisition of a $30 parking fine is nothing short of an outrageous assault upon our fundamental freedoms as car drivers and pop in shoppers. They are unfair, arbitrary and never, ever anyone’s fault but that of power mad traffic control Nazis and quota crazy, money grubbing local politicians.

So imagine the outpouring of bile when it came to light last week that there’s a whole ragtag system in place outlining in black and white who gets tickets, who doesn’t, who’s targeted, who’s exempted and how exactly one can go about fighting City Hall if one is so inclined. And guess what? It is unfair, arbitrary and there really is a quota system in place although, according to the Toronto Star, municipal pencil pushers call “the performance benchmarks for ticket issuance… ‘targets’”.

Targets alright. Like bulls-eyes on the backs of John Q. Driving Public everywhere unless of course you live in the tonier parts of town or work as a courier or are in desperate need of a religious fix. Not all drivers are created equally and if you know your way around the rules and regulations or have the money to pay someone who does, you are free to park wherever and whenever you want in Toronto.

That anyone would find any of this particularly shocking comes as a bit of a shock. Power and money buys privilege. Check. There are at least as many exemptions to the rules as there are rules themselves. Check. City Hall seeks to maximize profits through its parking enforcement arm. In the business world, that’s simply called increasing the bottom line and keeping shareholders happy. With  government, it’s considered overreaching and intrusive.

What’s most striking to me about the Secret Handbook On How To Beat Parking Tickets is the hodgepodge nature of it. Like much of our municipal jurisdictional structure, parking enforcement is still waiting to be streamlined into one unified code out of the 5 or so that were mashed up with amalgamation a dozen years ago. North York, for example, has a couple rules in place that don’t apply elsewhere in the city. So while we’re one big metropolis in name, we remain a place of neighbourhood specific parking regulations. It’s easy to see where that might get under an oblivious driver’s skin who’s just received a ticket for parking in a manner that wouldn’t be an infraction elsewhere in town.

And parking policies are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of defacto unamalgamation in Toronto. One city, many regulations.

Still, the empathetic bone I have for errant, ill-parking drivers is very brittle and far from set. There’s nothing more annoying than the plaintive noise coming from an aggrieved driver who’s just been issued a ticket.“What right do they have to give me a ticket for parking on a public road?! I pay my taxes. It’s my road too. I should be able to park wherever I want.” Yeah well, the flipside of that is who gave you the right to park your monstrosity on my public street? I pay taxes too. I’d much rather see that space being taken up for bikes or wider pedestrian walkways.

In case anyone’s still unclear of the concept, driving is not a right but a privilege and with that privilege comes responsibility. One of which is acquainting yourself with the parking rules in place when and where you decide to throw out the anchors. Most are pretty straightforward and when they’re not, well, you puts your money in and takes your chances. As the Secret Handbook shows, there are plenty of opportunities available to the enterprising, scheming freeloader who thinks just because they own a vehicle and some place is paved, it is their right and sacred duty to park there regardless of what any stinkin’ sign says.

idly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


The Politics Of Parking

March 16, 2010

So I ducked out from my studies for a late lunch last week, squeezing the last hint of surprising warmth from the day’s winter sunshine on a downtown restaurant patio. With me is a scholarly friend of mine, employed at a much more august institution of higher learning than I am presently but I don’t hold it against him. We talked city politics over pitchers of beer and stodgy Italian food.

Covering a wide range of topics, we eventually arrived at the inevitable subject of cars and traffic, situated as we were at a busy-ish corner, chock full of private vehicles, streetcars, bikes and pedestrians. While both occasional drivers, we share a preference for other modes of transport to get around the city. “An evil necessity,” I said in terms of our car usage. “How about a largely unnecessary indulgence?” my drinking-and-dining companion countered.

A few days later, he sent me this from the Toronto Star. It’s worth taking a moment to read through it but for our purposes here, it introduced me to one Dr. Donald Shoup, “America’s parking guru”. A professor at UCLA’s Department of Urban Planning, Prof. Shoup is also a bestselling author of the 2005 book, The High Cost of Free Parking. In a nutshell, he believes cities set aside too much land use for parking and that the price to park a car does not accurately reflect fair market value. This simply causes unnecessary congestion as cars that do find spots, tend to stay for long periods because it is cheap to do so. Other prospective parkers are then forced to spend inordinate amounts of time, circling, looking for an open spot or they throw out the anchors and illegally double park, adding further to life draining congestion.

Hear it directly (and much more thoroughly) from the horse’s mouth here.  While at the Streetfilms.org site, take some time to browse and check out their other films especially Fixing the Great Mistake: Autocentric Development. There are viable solutions being discussed to combat urban gridlock and our unhealthy car dependency. Unfortunately, not here in Toronto. Certainly not during this election campaign.

In fact, what’s being spewed forth from our major (and some minor) mayoral candidates is little more than knuckle-dragging, backward looking, boned tired rhetoric. Despite articles like this in seemingly car friendly sites like Parking Today (who knew?), all we hear about is some alleged War on Cars. But if we’re truly want to usher Toronto into a prosperous, life affirming 21st-century, the debate really needs to be reframed as The Car’s War on Livability.

pastaly submitted by Acaphelgmic