Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The three Ps of a successful downtown: public parking, public transit, and pedestrian priority. Lessons from Sweden.

Last week, I was in Sweden on holiday. I visited close to a dozen small to mid-sized municipalities while there. One of the things that I noticed was that these municipalities all had vibrant downtowns; I observed some commonalities which contributed to their success.

Before I get into that, vibrant downtowns are important for many reasons. One reason is that they give a community an identity and sense of place. When you live in a community with this, you are more likely to be invested in its success whether it be by being involved with volunteering or by keeping your eyes and ears on the street which reduces negative activity.

Downtowns also support higher walking, cycling, and public transit usage. This create a healthy and happy community where people know their neighbours and have more positive health outcomes. It also supports reducing private automobile usage which reduces congestion, is good for the environment, and is good for human health.

Finally, downtowns are small-business incubators. Small-business owners invest more back into their communities of operation than businesses owned by larger national or international corporations.

I should also point out that Sweden, like Canada, has big-box stores and malls outside of their downtowns as well.

An example of a shared surface parking lot at the edge of a Downtown in Sweden. Select image to enlarge.

Shared parking is critical to creating a walkable downtown core. In Sweden, there was little to no private parking on the sites of shops and offices in their downtown cores. Instead, there was municipally-owned surface parking lots and/or parkades which book-ended the downtowns in Sweden. I was never more than a 10-minute walks from shared parking. There was on-street parking on some streets as well, but it was paid parking. Most of the shared parking was also paid parking, but it was cheaper than the on-street parking to encourage longer-term parking in the book-ended shared parking.

In North America, we generally require that all new buildings provide on-site parking. This is inefficient as it leads to more congestion and unnecessary parking spots. Here is a local Langley example.

If you visit Downtown Langley, you park once and walk to all the stores. If you are visiting the Langley Bypass, and need to go from Indigos to Sleep Country, you are likely going to drive from one store to the other because each on-site parking lots require that businesses be spaces further apart. This means for one shopping trip, you will need to two parking spots and need to drive which creates congestion.

Every downtown was also the home of the main transit exchange for each community in Sweden, this provides people an easy way to get to downtown other than by car.

Because of shared parking, public transit, and good walking and cycling access from residential neighbourhoods adjacent to downtowns in Sweden, they created people-first areas. The following picture shows a good example of this.

An example of a people-first Downtown in Sweden. Select image to enlarge.

This supports the creation of a strong and vibrant downtown.

Downtown Langley has many of the characteristics of downtowns in Sweden though it is missing the shared public parking. Interesting, our current zoning bylaw encourages building commercial areas more in line with the Langley Bypass than Downtown Langley. Langley City is in the process of updating our zoning bylaw. I will be supporting a zoning bylaw that creates a vibrant people-first community. I will also continue to advocate for a parkade in our downtown core.

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