Is a “no parking” building sane?

Councillor Rick Chiarelli was on the radio yesterday, being the only member of planning committee to vote against a “no parking provided” building. He predicted overloaded adjacent streets, complaining neighbours, and suggested there is too much wishful thinking on the part of those approving the project. Of course, he is right.

The project, at Rideau and Besserer is for two twenty-six storey apartment / residence towers, totalling 275 units, marketed specifically for students. Instead of the required 164 resident parking spaces, there would be 14 “guest” spaces.

Will chaos ensue?

Councillor Chiarelli questioned the logic that students don’t have cars. He pointed to Algonquin College in his ward, where lots of students drive cars. And to the under-supply of parking on Monteray Drive where “spillover” parking upsets residents on nearby streets that see a constant turnover of parking motorists. And of course transit in Nepean isn’t able to supply everyone’s needs, so cars will be required on an ongoing basis. They aren’t going away. And while students may have a lower car ownership today, that may not always be the case, and the apartment building on Rideau may have more residents than expected (students? sleepovers? ohhh!) or may even be marketed to non-students with ominous consequences.

I think he is correct on all counts.

In Nepean.

And only in Nepean.

The Councillor lives and works in Nepean, the very definition of a car-oriented suburb. Densities are low, most areas are unwalkable. Land uses are vigorously and widely separated. Commercial properties and institutions (like schools) have huge parking lots. Free to the parkers, of course. Nepean grew during the height of the car oriented development craze, and its built form reflects those influences. The same as a streetcar suburb (eg Hintonburg, Westboro) reflects the streetcar craze of its development period.

While Algonquin is on the transitway, much of its clientelle and staff comes from the ‘burbs and finds it convenient and rational to drive there. It can’t be fun to get there from the back end of subdivisions consisting of loopy streets designed to thwart any sort of direct movement. Students living between the college and downtown probably find transit an acceptable option. I have an acquaintance who lives in Kanata (North I think it is, being north of the paladium) and went to Ottawa U. Ninety minutes by bus, each way, twice a day, no way. The residence halls and apartments near colleges increasingly house suburban and exurban refugees.

Of course, if there was second or third  parking spaces on Monteray for those houses, then it would be yet another surface lot, and there would be less housing, raising the cost of the remaining housing, and those residents would find it too far to walk to school (or too dangerous, given the totally car-movement-focussed intersections and roads) or to walk to anything other than a corner store, and even if you live near College Square or other centres the walking to and from the stores is unfun. So more people drive. And want parking. Preferably free.

So yes, Chiarelli is correct that after three quarters of a century of car-only land use planning and development, Nepean is largely unwalkable. It cannot be fixed by allowing a building with no parking at all. But there has to be a start somewhere, and new development should be designed to promote walking. I do not see that new developments in the burbs are anything but a bit denser but still car-dominated and still unwalkable. Density alone does not equal “walkable”. The higher density construction around the scattered box stores in furthest Barrhaven fails to promote walking. Even the City’s two buildings (where Chiarelli has his ward office)  right at Baseline transit station are car and parking lot focussed and designed to thwart access from the adjacent transit station. Physician, heal thyself.

Rideau Street is another story altogether. Residents there can walk to grocery stores, and they don’t need to buy a car load of groceries at a time as in Nepean where the long travel and cavernous store promotes binge buying that reinforces the “car required” cycle. They can walk to a bar, to a coffee shop, to work, or school, or a job, to shop, to get a tattoo. Parks that don’t need parking lots. Transit is within an easy and direct walk. And if there is any demographic that is most transit oriented and least car oriented, it is students.

And if that building isn’t marketed to students, but to non-students, all will be fine then too. Having a recent university graduate in the family, one who lived in residence for four years, he quite liked having a micro-apartment with food services on the ground floor. Very convenient and sociable. We need lots of additional housing, and due to the way the city has set up the rules of the game, providing housing is expensive, and unaffordable for many, so smaller units is the main response to those conditions. More micro apartments? Bring ’em on.

Like a giant glacier, or the Titanic, the growth pattern of the city cannot be changed over night. It can, however, be chipped away at. And one of those chippings is to stop treating the downtown walkable neighbourhoods as if they are suburban unwalkables. So yeah, less parking, please. And more density in Nepean, please. But we need better planning to ensure walkability remains viable in the core (here’s looking at you, King Edward Avenue at Rideau…) and gets improved in the suburbs.

Right now, the city is doing the worst of both worlds. Restricting parking in Nepean and catering to cars in the downtown.

One good start would be to assess why the city feels it is so important to spend millions of scarce dollars providing free parking on its streets. I am appalled that in the Glebe, or Byron Ave in the near west end, as in Nepean, attempts to provide more complete streets or safe neighbourhoods is thwarted by the “obligation” the city feels to provide free parking everywhere. So there are a bunch of houses with one parking spot each? Let them provide their own parking, at their own expense, or let them have fewer cars.

Let those who want to drive everywhere live where driving is king, and those who want to walk live in walkable neighbourhoods. But we cannot cater to the driver-kings in walkable neighbourhoods as that catering destroys the very things that make the neighbourhood walkable. And transit users or walkers will have to face long, unpleasant walks out the burbs for the foreseeable future. That’s that way we built it, and we have to live with the consequences while we adapt to change over time.

So Chiarelli is right: provide some parking in Nepean. But he is just as wrong to propose driving-centric facilities in downtown as I might be proposing a car free development in Nepean.





17 thoughts on “Is a “no parking” building sane?

  1. Always thought that medium rise development above the parking expanse in any suburban shopping or office park would be the answer. But it never seems to happen. Any idea why? The parking could stay there to be used jointly by residents, businesses and shopping. Also possible at Blair, and other transit nodes. Seems simple enough.

  2. When I heard his complaint on the radio last night, all I could think of was “Don’t worry, Rick. Nobody is going to park in your ward to visit a building on Rideau”. you’re absolutely right that he entirely misses the point.

    On a much smaller and less extreme scale, the condo building that was proposed for 22 Perkins (17 units, and only 6 parking spaces) generated a lot of similar concerns from neighbours on Perkins, so even downtown the concerns are raised.

    1. As a follow on to my earlier comment, the City needs to actively measure the results of their decisions. The City should require property managers for mid and high density buildings (rental and condo/co-op) to poll the residents (as contrasted with the unit owner) of the buildings every year, to track the number of units that have occupants with a vehicle, and how many (to cover for the case where there is more than one vehicle). This could be done on a retroactive basis, for all mid to high density buildings in the city.

      The City would then have available actual data with which it could determine what the demand for parking is, on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood basis. This could be presented to the public as evidence based decision making, in contrast to today’s pixie dust variant.

      1. I concurr with Ron Benn that the city has been curiously unaware of parking supply and actual demand. It begins with their bizarre assumption that the current low-ish rate of car ownership by current centre town residents (with their economic and demographic description) will also apply to higher income residents of new condo towers, particularly the high end towers. It would be a simple matter to count cars coming out of said high rises at peak hours, for example, but I cannot get the city or my community assoc interested in any sort of measurement. Instead, the assumption of car ownership rates totters on …

        1. Mature organizations perform “look backs”. They compare actual results to forecasts. One of the main reasons for doing so is to learn and adapt. Were our assumptions valid? How do we modify our forecasting model to provide a better estimate of future outcomes?

          Dysfunctional organizations, in contrast, refuse to perform look backs. They explicitly choose not to examine whether their assumptions are faulty. Why? Sometimes it is because the results of the analysis are used to unfairly criticize the people who developed the model – in which case shame on the people who use the results as a weapon. Other times, it is because they don’t want any evidence that may be used to challenge their agenda. I will leave it to the West Side’s readers to determine which case applies to the City of Ottawa’s Planning Department.

          1. With regard to car counting – it would be relatively inexpensive to purchase a pneumatic counter and then move the counter between buildings on a daily or weekly basis to obtain an indication of daily vehicle use and time of use (I presume it would be worthwhile knowing if 100 cars will exit a building between 0630 and 0930 as this will impact street traffic flow). The city already likely owns the required counter gear; I am sure I have seen it deployed to measure arterial traffic.

  3. On purely copy-editing note:
    The last paragraph needs a rework. I think I get the point, but it’s quite stream-of-consciousness and a little rant-y, and ends up being a wall of text.

    I would try and pull two or three themes from that paragraph, and pull them into their own paragraph.

    I think I’ve read every single one of your blog posts and this is the first time I’ve felt the need to comment negatively on your writing, and even in this case, it was just cause my eyes glazed over a little when reading it, but I thought the point(s) were valid.

    1. thanks for the reminder. When I type this, it is on a 27″ monitor and the last para was only a few lines long, albeit 18″ long, or is that wide? But I did sense it was containing several thoughts that should be split up, but I didn’t do it. Short term laziness over long time reader comfort. I broke it up into 3 para now. It does scan better. I sometimes fret that blog stories written on this monitor are all one sentence para and too much white space. I’ll pay more attention.

  4. Are there not independent parking lots in the downtown where people can park their cars overnight? Why must the parking spot be linked to the apartment? You’ve pointed out previously that this means that the carless effectively subsidize the car owners.

    I think having your car parked in an independent building (say a block or two away) would also have the benefit that you would be less likely to use the car for unnecessary trips. If the majority of my trips started by going to the basement to get in my car, I would be more likely to use my car even for trips where it wasn’t necessary. Leaving my apartment I would be on autopilot half the time get in the elevator and automatically press the button for the garage. At that point even if there was a store a block or two away that I could have gone to, being lazy I’d just get in the car and head out to the suburban store where the parking is convenient.

  5. The problem lies with the erroneous assumption that the people who move in to a building will make logical decisions regarding parking. There is a mid-density development within 800 metres of Baseline Station that has demand for 30% more parking spaces than are available. This surplus parking requirement is pushed out on to nearby streets, or in to nearby commercial parking lots. This, in turn, forces the nearby residents and businesses to either put up with someone else’s poor decision making, or incur costs to protect their private property. According to former Councillor Holmes and current Councillor McKenney, demand for parking in downtown Ottawa exceeds the supply. So, the problem is not unique to Nepean.

    Until the city addresses the demand side of the curve in a comprehensive and cohesive manner, their efforts to limit the supply of parking will continue to be a failure.

  6. Most of Europe is built out of “no parking” buildings, and they still appear to be sane. Americans, who routinely put 6 or 8 spaces per 1,000 square feet of commercial space and dream about “walkability” are the ones whose sanity might be questioned.

  7. As a non-driver living in Little Italy I hate having to go out to the suburbs to the box stores. After getting off the bus it really is unwalkable. I can recall one miserable trip to Home Depot on a very cold winter day. Icy sidewalks and a very long walk from the bus stop to the store doors.The problem is sometimes I need things from these stores. I’ve also stopped going to films as there are no more theatres down town. Now I wait until they’re on the Movie Network.

  8. Another aspect to consider is that this residence is intended for students of the University of Ottawa. This has two implications:

    1. U of O students tend to be in full-time studies on campus. Algonquin has a high proportion of students who attend classes part-time and/or split it with a job, co-op placement, or apprenticeship, typically off site.

    2. U of O’s parking supply is decreasing and its student/faculty/staff population is increasing, so students living in an off-campus residence couldn’t drive to school even if they did have cars and a parking spot in residence.

    The important thing is that they’ve retained visitor parking. This is important to provide space for technicians, delivery people, etc., especially in a building where the residents don’t own cars and are more likely to depend on such services coming to them.

  9. Well other cities in Canada have done it and the world has not come to and end. Toronto, Montreal Vancouver, Quebec City, all have many “No parking Space Buildings. Are they generally built in areas of high density or downtown areas, yes most of the time but that doesn’t always have to be the case. I find the lack of willingness to experiment here in Ottawa regarding different housing types, very concerning! If we want to be seen as a city that is forward thinking and looking to attract the type of creative class, new economy entrepreneur, we need to allow a more varied housing supply, which includes No Parking Spot Building Developments. Do we want all our housing types to be like this, definitely not! Do we want a bigger variety of housing types in this city, most definitely yes!

    1. Fraser – as a “never owned a car” household, I appreciate that there is some housing in the west side areas that doesn’t have parking. The price for these houses should be lower because of the inconvenient parking, leaving the bargains to be picked up by those without cars. Instead, car owners buy them and promptly demand the city provide them with parking spaces, either by permitting front yard parking, by removing decorative streetside landscaping so they can park there, or freeing them from parking restrictions that apply to everyone else. In short, the city fully collaborates and enables the erosion of less expensive housing because of its inherent bias towards catering to cars at all costs.

      Even worse, in areas around employment, it refuses to enforce parking rules enabling landlords to buy properties, rent them out as having no parking, then the landlord turns around and rents out the parking spaces separately, which grows from the rented driveway to the rented out back yard parking lot to the rented out front yard parking.

      I have yet to meet a city councillor with the slightest interest in preserving downtown green space in front or back yards when it comes to enforcing those rules or putting them into community plans as objectives to have green space front and back.

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