Part of the controversy about the Laurier Separated Bike Lanes relates to who gets to use the street. According to the Bank Street BIA, it’s for cars and deliveries, period. Less strident but still vocal are the various condo owner and management groups in the core. Let’s look at one downtown condo, Queen Elizabeth towers, and their parking issues.
Built in 1975 (left tower, 500 Laurier, 238 units) and 1978 (right tower, 530 Laurier, 217 units) these 26 storey big block condos are a well known downtown presence. For these 455 units there are 455 parking spaces (according to the building manager’s office), as the building was built back in the days of 100% parking (new projects have much less, often less than 50% parking). There are four visitor spaces. Several units have more than one parking space but I don’t know if there are additional spaces or if some people bought more spaces and some units do without.
On the street in front of the building (Laurier Avenue) there are 28 on-street parking spaces between Bay and Percy. These are not exclusively for the building, as there are numerous other condos nearby as are downtown offices. And of course there are other blocks, other streets … to park on.
At least some condo residents here object to the Laurier bike lanes due to loss of “visitor” parking. Yet on any given day, you can look into the garages (they are open at street level) and see dozens, perhaps hundreds of empty spaces.
Presumably some residents live here but drive to work elsewhere, leaving these spaces unused all day. And I have an acquaintance who drives to Florida in early December, leaving his parking space vacant for 3-4 months. Why can’t visitors park in these spaces?
Part of the problem lies in the nature of the parking space as property. Residents buy a parking space along with their unit. Early buyers get better-located spaces. Condo parking spaces are sold for about $30,000 each (sometimes this is included in the unit price, sometimes it is quoted separately, but either way, the cost is there)*. Each condo owner who owns a space therefore pays about $40 per month in property taxes on this space, plus condo fees for its maintenance (somewhere around $20 per month) plus the monthly principle and interest on the $30,000 in their unit mortgage (say $30 per month). So each parking space costs its owner at least $90 per month, over $1000 per year.
It is important to identify how much a space is worth to determine if it has market value.
One of the reasons condo residents can pressure the City/taxpayer to provide cheap or free on-street parking is because it doesn’t cost them anything directly out of pocket, but you don’t see condos running about asking to build extensions to their parking garages for more visitor parking since each space will cost well above $30,000 each. “If we can’t afford to provide visitor parking, we’ll demand the City do it for us…”
As mentioned, in most buildings individual spaces are titled or assigned to individual owners. There is no mechanism that I know of to “let out” spaces on a monthly or even a short term basis. (note to hi tech entrepreneurs: invent a software allowing owners that exit the garage to mark their space as rentable til time x). However, at QE Towers there is on-site security guard right at the entrance to the garages who could assign visitors a known empty space and charge a fee for that space. The fee would be split between the condo management (for admin costs) and the space owner (their incentive to rent it out…). Only residents who agree to rent spaces would do so. Given that there are only 28 street spaces in front of QE Towers, it wouldn’t take many cooperating owners to double or triple the amount of “guest parking” available to residents.
Other options might include granting residents the right to park but not to an assigned space. Any commercial garage owner knows how many spaces he can rent out compared to the number of spaces actually there; trust me, they sell way more permits than there are spaces. Commercial garage owners are pros at managing parking levels to maximize revenue because they understand that each space has value, and an empty space is foregone revenue, whereas too many condo residents persist in ignorance of their costs (and consequently ignorant of the opportunity cost in a vacant space…).
The easiest thing for a condo board to do is set up a swapping web site or paper sheet whereby those with longer term available spaces (for example, available all month/week/everyday between 8 and 5pm) to offer them to residents or repeat visitors. The user of the space, of course, pays a rent or parking charge. This is a similar process to what happens now when a unit owner who doesn’t have a car but owns a space rents it out to someone else who wants a parking space. The mechanism is sufficiently cumbersome some people don’t bother, and it wouldn’t be worth it for short term occasional visitors.
Does the City or condo have data on how many visitors are occasional, short term parkers vs regular visitors, either someone like a CAC worker or visiting friends? You cannot manage what you don’t measure.
I don’t normally advocate for more City interference in private markets, but I do recognize that private decisions have influences (sometimes costly ones) on the taxpayer. The City does regulate how many spaces the condo must provide, and how many visitor spaces. It isn’t too much of a further step to require unassigned spaces and to let visitors use the empty spaces.
Note that this does not turn the condo garage into a public parking garage. It is still their private property, they can charge revenue for parking, they can regulate the uses (for example, limiting parkers to visitors to that building).
More extreme is the CCOC buildings down in the Market. Residents and general public parking users share the same parking structure and spaces. According to CCOC, there is rarely a problem with a resident being unable to find a parking space when returning at night. This results in an efficient use of all available spaces.
Less extreme is to encourage or require condo builders and condo associations to give parking spaces to VirtuCar or similar car sharing groups. Research shows that each VirtuCar means that 17 households do not buy a private vehicle. Can you find a cheaper way than that for a condo to free up lots of spaces for guest parking? If QE Towers provided parking for two shared cars (even if they bought the spaces from private owners for $30k each), they would have more parking than out front on Laurier Avenue, and they wouldn’t have to share it with anyone else!
Downtown condo residents complain to the City about losing parking spaces along Laurier based on the assumption that the highest and best use of scarce public space is … for parking cars. They huff and puff while sitting on dozens or hundreds of empty spaces within their buildings. Condo, heal thyself.
* while researching this post, I checked out some condo listings. The selling price differential between units with and without a parking space was often way less than $30,000, which means the owners forgot what they paid and are discounting the spaces … or buyers of units without parking are underestimating the discount they should be getting for foregoing a parking space.
Another related topic is maximizing parking within the existing garage. Too many condos have super wide aisles and underused spaces. If someone is going south for the winter, why not tandem park the vehicle with another (at the end of an aisle or other suitable place), freeing up one of the spaces to rent?