Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Cost of "Free" Parking

New research is looking at the real cost of parking. For some time now South Fraser OnTrax has been advocating for downtown Vancouver-style parking planning. In the downtown core, each private condo parkade has some designated public parking. Instead of large expanses of parking lots, the public parking is spread out, allowing people to park and walk, cycle or take transit.

In a community like Langley, parking is getting out of control. New developments are being planned for 1-2 family vehicles and visitors. But go to any of the new townhouse or other multifamily housing units and you will see vehicles everywhere! Besides having 1-2 family cars, folks also bring home work vehicles, work trailers, camping trailers, motorcycle and quad trailers, etc. These vehicles are spilling out onto temporary parking areas that will one day serve future developments. In the suburbs we are overburdened with far too many vehicles per household. In Walnut Grove where I reside, there are all types of vehicles and trailers everywhere and it is an eyesore.

There is a cost to parking and it takes a BIG toll on our environment. Big box parking lots are VERY ugly, but what is happening to the environment around them? Take a walk around the edges of some of these massive surfaces and look at the surrounding soil. Water runoff is causing the surface chemicals to leech into the soil and ultimately the groundwater below. This is NOT at all healthy.

Finally someone is looking at the true costs associated with our parking love affair. The research shows that with our free-wheeling parking planning, we actually encourage people to drive instead of walking, cycling and taking transit. When I lived in downtown Vancouver I walked often because parking was inconvenient, expensive and limited. Looking back and after reading this research I see where that was a good thing.
"Only in the last 5-10 years have we been giving some thought to whether there should be an abundance of free parking," said Chester. "Ninety-nine percent of automobile trips end in free parking and this has a major effect on people's choice of what means of transportation to take."
-- Donald Shoup, UCLA Urban Planning Professor

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