Of all the cities across North America relaxing their developer parking requirements, none can boast a PSA on the topic as clear and concise as Ottawa’s 90-second “Review of Minimum Parking Standards” video.
The clip accompanies a larger public discussion Ottawa has been having all year about new parking rules. The existing zoning codes, established half a century ago, require developers to create a certain amount of parking based on the type of building in the works—the sort of “parking minimums” found in so many cities. Ottawa wants to reduce or eliminate those outdated minimums for development that occurs in inner urban areas or near transit corridors, in line with a new city plan adopted in 2013.
The video spotlights three reasons why:
- To promote business and development. Parking costs a lot of money to build. Some commercial or residential developers can’t afford enough valuable downtown land to meet parking requirements, so they give up on their projects. Others build underground garages, which means they have to raise retailer or household rents or put up huge towers that can dramatically alter the character of a neighborhood. Eliminating parking minimums gives developers more flexibility.
- To improve urban housing. As the video points out, the land set aside for parking can be better used for other things, especially in cities with high demand for housing. Instead of building 20 parking spaces, you can put up an entire new building with 20 apartments. Affordability improves, too, because developers don’t have to pass along up-front parking expenses to new tenants.
- To reduce traffic and car reliance. When there’s a free or cheap parking space available to everyone, it’s only natural for more people to drive. That makes downtown traffic worse, dampens plans for mobility options like bike lanes or public transportation, and creates safety hazards for people on foot. Reducing parking minimums, especially in transit-accessible areas, gives the people in a city more overall travel options.
There’s obviously more to this discussion than a short video can explore. The biggest objection cities often face to such changes—namely, that a lack of parking will hurt business—is addressed by Ottawa elsewhere online. As officials point out, developers are still free to build parking if they see a demand for it; all this rule change would do is stop local government from forcing them to build spaces the market might not want:
Nothing in this parking study prevents someone from including parking in their development if they want to. It just reduces eliminates the obligation to do so under the zoning under certain circumstances, particularly on inner-urban Mainstreets.
Ottawa’s public consultation period ends this Friday, December 18, but the wider discussion about city parking minimums will continue for some time to come.