By Scot Bathgate:

Vancouver has gone to great lengths to develop a vibrant pedestrian and bicycle friendly downtown core with abundant transit options for commuters and residents alike.  Those priorities have been so successful that the number of cars traveling into the downtown core is the same as it was in the 1960s.  In addition, we see all around the city centre the removal of large parking structures once vital to accommodating the flood of single occupancy drivers commuting into the city are coming down.

With such a successful planning approach, why is the City sabotaging this ethos by continuing to demand private parking spaces for residential development in downtown Vancouver’s largest neighbourhood, the West End?

Those who have experienced the West End know first hand both its charm and the convenience of easily reached amenities that come with a high-density gridded community with a Walkscore in the high 90s, multiple bike lanes and ample transit.

However, the city’s continuing development boom, along with the release of the West End Community Plan means there is a flood of new high-rise residential towers in the works.  And due to the City’s parking bylaws (parking bylaw 4.3.1) they all are coming with a flood of mandatory underground parking spaces.  According to my scan of future and recently completed development and rezoning proposals, there are over 5,000 car park spots coming to one of the densest most walkable communities in North America.

And this is just for the proposals for the current year; there will be many more towers and parking coming to the West End, including the White Spot and Chevron sites on West Georgia Street.  The city does allow for a reduction in car space allocation if spaces for carshare are provided but there is still an overwhelming number of private car park spaces being allocated to residents.

Beyond the potential impact of 5,000 new vehicles increasing traffic congestion in the West End, there are massive development costs associated with constructing multiple levels of underground parking.  Some estimates place these at 30 percent.

Functional rental apartments with no vehicle parking spaces along Davie Street just west of Bute (dating from the 1930s to 1950s, a period before our current parking regulations were brought into effect) are being torn down, making way for new developments with mandatory parking.  These new developments will have no choice but to pass on the added project cost of levels of mandatory underground parking.

Some cities such as Auckland are choosing to leave the decision of providing car parking for new developments up to developers or leaving it out all together.  Of course this leads to a debate Gordon Price and I had a few months back: Can the developer market and sell an apartment unit in the city without a car-parking space?

I say yes, because the reduced cost to build the tower without mandatory underground parking results in a lower listing price in a city with many buyers desperate to get on the property ladder.  Its all relative.


So, to developers, realtors and planners: What do you think the parking standard should be – or should there even be one?



  1. Where does all that excavated material end up? Does the city require an accounting of the CO2 emissions generated by the excavation and removal of this material? Does it make sense that if ‘dig we must’ continues that we use this material in places where we are in the near future going to be hauling in material for building sea dikes anyway?

  2. At $50k per underground space, these are very expensive holes. But so long as Council wishes to assuage residents’ fears of perceived inconvenienced, they’ll continue to mandate some form of minimum off-street parking. It’s the squeakier wheel.

  3. In many cases the developers are choosing to provide close to the maximum allowed, rather than the minimum required. For example, 1040-1080 Barclay, with 626 spaces in 8 levels of parking, could have 454 spaces, according to the rezoning application.

    The City removed minimum parking requirements Downtown this year. The report that proposed this change (which was at Council in June 2018) noted “Residential developments in the West End and Robson North Residential Permit Parking Areas have been excluded, and must provide parking at existing rates. This is to allow for further advancement of changes to the residential permit parking program initiated in 2017 through the West End Parking Strategy. Staff anticipate residential minimums in the West End and Robson North Residential Permit Parking Areas will be removed in the future.” Whether developers will be willing to risk providing less parking, and how the new Council view the idea is obviously unknown.

  4. I live downtown. My building has 400 residents and NO parking. For occasional trips, we have 5 Modo cars nearby, and access to Evo and Car 2 Go. Everyone walks and bikes and buses. I am always thankful that I didn’t have to buy an expensive parking spot that I neither want nor need.

    1. Hello CAPTAIN OBVIOUS The greenest city in the world is a C O V fashion statement NOT a parking policy. —-Mandatory condo parking encourages car ownership —- IC BC s all you can drive ( unlimited mile insurance premiums ) makes the incremental cost of driving less than a bus fare——

  5. It’s cute that posters think the people paying the prices for these new market condos would actually live a “car-free” life.

      1. It pains me to agree with Bob, but he’s correct in this case. Beyond a certain income threshold, having a reserved parking space in your building has little effect on one’s likelihood to own a car. You are probably going to own one. In 2005 in NYC, it was $90K household in the boroughs and $120K in Manhattan below 96th St. If you made more than that, odds are that you owned a car even if you didn’t have a reserved parking space or driveway. I’d be surprised if Vancouver 2019 numbers were much different.

        Developers know this and for higher-end buildings will often go way above the minimums, because the $300K+ crowd will generally own more than one car. If the structure is being built to suit those preferences, the money is not a problem for anyone in the short term. The biggest short-term problem is when it’s not an option or when the developer is unwilling to uncouple the parking costs from the unit costs.

        1. Yes, the multicar scenario is real, I remember seeing one suite listed at the Alexandra on Bidwell that came with FIVE parking spaces! The flip side of this is the Westbank travesty at Oakridge, where we’re allowing someone to build stupidly expensive, luxury condos on one of most transit-rich sites in Vancouver. This is not “Transit Oriented Development”!

  6. Just because you own a car doesn’t mean you use it every day.

    I walk to work everyday, but use the car for long haul trips to Seattle, Portland, the Okanagan or Victoria, as well as practices and grocery runs, when I stop as multiple locations, linking trips (so a car share isn’t really useful, as the car stores the sports equipment and bags of groceries while I shop at other stores).

    There’s a difference between owning a car and how you use that car.

    1. Same here. But that doesn’t detract from the parking equation. It’s gotta sit somewhere during all that downtime.

    2. I rent out my parking space and it covers my entire yearly personal transportation costs (excluding flights and long vacations).

      Total bicycle expenses including eventual replacement, transit, Mobi, Modo, car rental for road trips, ferries, regular buses to Whistler and a couple odd other destinations all for free. Some years even adding my business Modo expenses doesn’t exceed that revenue.

      Is it really worth having that thing sitting there doing nothing 99% of the time?

      1. Glad your strata allows you to rent it out. many don t
        ——- Mandatory minimum parking increases supply of units with parking—-reducing supply of units without parking — Replace mandatory minimum with a mandatory maximum—– C OV s priority of parking for cars instead of housing for people speaks volumes

  7. Vancouver ought to learn from Toronto. The garage is separately purchased as a condo, and can be resold.

    It is indeed VERY POOR PLANNING to require such high parking spot to unit ratios.

    Common sense is not so common.

      1. Can you ? Not in most (or any?) buildings today. Garage space is not sold as a separate condo.

        Did Vancouver change the law here recently ?

  8. Please let’s not forget physically challenged residents, including ourselves as we find ourselves living well into our 90’s and beyond. Gradually hips and knees can give out and need repair or force one to use a wheelchair. Vans are best for transporting folks in wheelchairs. Cars are very handy for moving awkward and heavy items cheaply. A balanced approach is needed.

  9. As the former parking engineer for the City I tried to get rid of minimums in all of the central area of the City 10 years ago. Senior staff didn’t want to consider it.

  10. The piece of information that’s missing for me is: how many of these parking spaces are actually used? If a development has 400 parking spaces that mostly end up empty, then it’s obviously overbuilt. But if they’re all full then that’ clearly not the case, and the developer is likely happy to build them and collect the proceeds from whoever bought them.

    1. To me it’s a loss either way: Empty parking stalls means the developer incurred large, unnecessary construction costs that were passed on to the buyers inflating prices, not to mention the environmental impacts of additional concrete and soil removal. If they’re occupied then that’s more vehicles on the streets in the most walkable hood in the City. If built but unoccupied, would be nice if they could be converted to storage facilities to be rented out but can’t see that happening with Fire and building codes.

  11. While onlookers debate the depth of the hole, the mystery of the great heist continues: Where is all the dirt? Anybody know?

    1. My understanding is there is a designated dump site somewhere southwest of Point Grey, west of YVR. But I don’t claim a reliable source.

  12. I recently moved into a building with no parking, just a limited amount of permit out front. I own a car for weekend trips skiing and climbing where a car share isn’t a great option(quality winter tires, ski box, and high mileage). The limited parking means that I am often at a metered spot overnight so now I drive to work often so that the car has somewhere to go.
    We are surrounded by surface lots, and many new buildings but strata “security” restrictions mean I can’t rent a spot. So, I’m another car on the road.

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