The Politics of Parking

When cars come to a stop, they can put the brakes on development.

Parking. It’s an enduring issue in Calgary, but we are hardly alone in this regard. In cities around the world, the subject of where we leave our vehicles is a bone of contention.

The issue has many facets, but one that crosses borders is the notion of mandatory minimums. These parameters are set by municipal governments that apply to new developments. Builders must set aside a minimum number of parking spaces (generally, one per residential unit).

These policies address the concerns of neighbours. Many worry that more neighbours will mean more people looking for on-street parking. But there is a growing sense that mandatory minimums are counterproductive. Across North America, cities are seeking to grow in as well as up. And they are scrapping mandatory minimums, which are seen as a hindrance to new businesses and a waste of space and money.

In Canada, Ottawa was among the first cities to address the issue. Edmonton is considering eliminating minimums for new developments. In Calgary, the issue is gathering momentum. It is increasingly seen as a way to address the missing middle and of achieving the goals of the Municipal Development Plan relating to established areas. It also allows for choice; developers are free to include parking in their projects if they want to.

That’s not to say that parking is no longer a contentious issue in Calgary. It comes up regularly at public engagement sessions. Residents often say that increasing density will lead to more congestion and a lack of parking. People often feel a sense of ownership over on-street parking, but these are public spaces. Often, those expressing parking concerns are worried about the changing character of their neighbourhoods.

And it’s not just citizens who have issues. Builders and developers are feeling the pinch of parking in established areas like Ramsay, Sunnyside, Hillhurst and St. Andrews Heights.

These and many other areas have residential parking zones that limit on-street parking. As these neighbourhoods see more redevelopment, builders and tradespeople are seeing more parking tickets in their mailboxes.

The City of Calgary is currently reviewing the Residential Parking Program. The building industry is seeking changes. It points out that the tickets are adding to costs. Even brief stops to drop off materials are subject to fines. Industry members also say they work during daylight hours when many residents are at work and have no need for parking.

These and other concerns are currently under consideration. Recommendations will come this fall. The hope is that the new policy will address these concerns. But even before we know the precise recommendations, the review has proved worthwhile. The City and industry have proved that discussions about parking in Calgary can be calm and rational.

August 23rd, 2019
Updated: August 26th, 2019

The City of Calgary’s plan to grow up as well as out brings up a host of issues, including parking concerns.