In Our View: Plan Ahead for Parking

Vancouver’s revitalization means more people, more cars; city must prepare

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Someday, parking in urban areas might very well look like something out of futuristic fantasy. Self-driving cars and dumbwaiter-style garages could eventually displace the time-honored tradition of driving around the block looking for a spot while cursing the number of cars in the area.

But, for now, we cling to the old-fashioned way of doing things. Which means lamenting a dearth of parking spaces for a growing population and a bustling economy. Such is the case in Vancouver’s Uptown Village, where several apartment buildings are under construction and are leading to concerns about a lack of parking. More than 250 apartment units are expected to become available in the next couple months, exacerbating issues for nearby residents, visitors, and businesses.

As detailed in a recent article by Columbian reporter Katie Gillespie, the city of Vancouver requires developers to calculate the amount of traffic that a new structure is expected to generate, allowing officials to identify potential problem spots. “So far with everything that’s been coming in, nothing has come to the surface,” Ryan Lapossa, streets and transportation manager for the city, said of potential parking shortages.

While that probably does not ease the concerns of local residents, it does provide an opportunity to consider how cities have adjusted their thinking in recent years. Decades ago, as metropolitan areas adjusted for the explosion of America’s car culture, the standard response was to cover downtown areas with block-sized parking lots.

This famously led Ada Louise Huxtable, a noted New York Times architecture critic, to write of Portland, “The scattered bomb-site look of downtown parking lots made by demolishing older buildings that pay less than metered asphalt … are destroying the cohesive character of the city as decisively as a charge of dynamite wherever they occur.”

To be sure, the issues of development in Vancouver are different from those in a metropolis. But as the area continues to grow, big-city problems are certain to creep in. One of them is parking and the need for foresight from city leaders.

Adequate parking — and parking enforcement — are necessary to foster the kind of economic activity that ideally will accompany growth near the downtown area. Apartments in Vancouver are required to provide one parking spot per 1,000 square feet of residence, but that includes surrounding street parking. Such an inclusion defeats the purpose, pushing new apartment residents to curbside spots in front of established homes, many of which do not have driveways or garages.

While the influx of single-unit apartments is needed in a city facing a severe housing crunch, failing to provide for adequate parking trades one problem for another. More stringent parking requirements should be considered for future development, and steps should be taken toward the establishment of underground parking where possible.

American cities — at least along the coasts — are experiencing a renaissance, and one reason for that is improved planning. While the 1960s saw central cities make concessions to the growth of suburbs and an expanding reliance upon cars, modern urban areas rely upon density, mass transit and walkable neighborhoods to create livable cities.

Although the issues are different for a midsized city such as Vancouver, the need for adequate parking is a constant. A high quality of life and a growing economy will depend upon wise parking policies.