Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

I have met the enemy, and it is parking: Matt Elliott on Toronto's biggest barrier to progress

What is the impact parking has on housing affordability? Matt Elliott explores.
What is the impact parking has on housing affordability? Matt Elliott explores.

Bad and outdated parking policies are insidious in Toronto.

They stand in the way of transit expansion and affordable housing. They are contrary to urbanism. And they must be stopped.

This all might sound like hyperbole, but I’m hardly exaggerating.

Let’s start by looking at the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA), the city-owned agency tasked with building parking spaces in the city. A new report by the Toronto Region Board of Trade points out that the TPA kept more than $120 million in earnings from its spaces and lots between 2005 and 2014, all of which they spent building more parking spaces.

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And it gets worse. Over the next decade, according to the report, the TPA plans to spend another $304.5 million on parking expansion.

Think about that. The TPA is a public agency. It could be directing revenue from parking to city priorities. Parking cash could theoretically build transit, or bike lanes or housing – things that aren’t just patches of concrete for cars to rest on.

Still not convinced? Consider the work of 20-year-old University of Toronto student Thomas Dybowski. As reported by Metro’s Luke Simcoe last week, Dybowski has been looking at the impact parking has on housing affordability.

It turns out bylaws dictating minimum parking requirements for new developments are contributing to higher home prices by forcing people to pay for parking spaces they either don’t use or could do without.

Dybowski’s research says these requirements can increase the cost of a housing unit by 10 to 25 per cent. In a city that struggles desperately with affordability, that’s absurd.

But wait, there’s more. The enemy also threatens plans to improve regional transit.

Plans to electrify GO Transit rail routes and provide frequent service are threatened by the fact that most GO stations are located in an isolated area surrounded by a sea of free parking.

But the model’s reached its limit. With no space left at many stations, GO is building parking structures that cost tens of millions of dollars. According to Metrolinx figures, each parking space costs GO between $150 to $200 a year in operational costs.

The vast majority of these spaces, of course, generate no revenue. Instead, they’re a constant drain on cash that could go toward service.

Untangling ourselves from the parking status quo won’t be easy. But it starts with recognition that ample parking is not an asset in a thriving urban area.

Instead, it’s something to be leveraged and monetized and ultimately minimized as the city and the region shifts toward transit and active transportation.

Parking is the enemy, and enemies should be vanquished.

This post was originally published at on 2016-09-19T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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