That free parking spot in Hamilton never really is

Community May 06, 2015 by Richard Leitner Hamilton Mountain News

Hamilton looks awash in free parking – at malls, plazas, corner stores, shops, rec centres, schools, workplaces and on most streets. Albert Koehl has done the math and says it doesn’t add up.

The Toronto environmental lawyer and bike-lane advocate points to a U.S. study, for instance, that examined the impact of “free” street parking on a 15-block area in Los Angeles.

It found that over a year, motorists drove an extra 1.5 million kilometres circling the block to hunt for a free spot, burning up more than 150,000 litres of gas and emitting hundreds of tonnes of additional greenhouse gases.

The drivers did so, Koehl notes, on streets mostly paid for through property taxes, including those of the neighbours living with the extra traffic and smog.

Free parking lots also sell a false bill of goods, he argues. In the case of malls, the cost of land and upkeep is built into store prices, while at public institutions like schools, parking ultimately siphons away money from other priorities.

“We’ve got this idea, sort of historically, that it’s free parking. It’s never free parking,” said Koehl, this year’s guest speaker at local advocacy group Environment Hamilton’s annual meeting.

Koehl traces Canadians’ fondness for “free” parking to the 1920s, when cities like Hamilton began phasing out more efficient streetcars as cars became the more popular way to get around.

The impact on our landscape is hard to miss, he said, noting 27 per cent of space in Toronto is taken up by streets, laneways and highways.

The UCLA expert who oversaw the Los Angeles study has estimated each car in the United States takes up an average of eight spaces when work, shopping and other activities are taken into account, a figure Koehl believes is closer to four or five in Canada.

That’s an average of 130 square feet for a street spot and 330 at a parking lot because of the need for driving lanes and maneuvering room.

“Most cars have more living space than people do,” he said, suggesting the former are the ultimately slackers, sitting idle most of the time.

Koehl said although no one likes paying for parking, charging for street spaces will boost revenue that can be reinvested in the affected area while discouraging people from driving all over looking for a free spot.

Merchants may cry foul, but a recent study by the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation on a stretch of Bloor Street casts doubt on their complaints, he said.

Only 10 per cent of their business came from passing motorists, the same amount as from passing cyclists who had to battle traffic because there were no bike lanes, he said.

“The merchants will have this prejudice that motorists are bringing in all this business, which turns out not to be true,” Koehl said. “Merchants almost exaggerate the value of parking, often because they drive,” he said.

“They’ve done some studies on Bloor Street that (showed) 44 per cent of merchants drove to their store. It was only 21 per cent of shoppers that drove to their store.”

As for parking lots, Koehl said schools should charge for parking, while municipalities can “let the market decide” how many spaces to offer at malls, condominiums and other private developments.

He said the City of Toronto is already allowing condo builders to pay a fee for providing fewer parking spaces than bylaws require, money that can go towards bike lanes and public transit.

“In downtown Toronto, lots of people don’t have cars, don’t want cars,” he said. “The developers are saying, ‘I don’t want to pay to develop this spot and then have no buyer,’ and the prospective condo owners don’t want to pay for parking either.”

The goal of putting a price on all parking, Koehl said, is reduce reliance on the automobile.

“If the motorist says, ‘At the end of trip I have free parking,’ well, that goes into their equation,” he said. “Once we change that across the city, then you’ll have less traffic, you’ll have less congestion.”

That free parking spot in Hamilton never really is

We always pay one way or another, environmental lawyer says

Community May 06, 2015 by Richard Leitner Hamilton Mountain News

Hamilton looks awash in free parking – at malls, plazas, corner stores, shops, rec centres, schools, workplaces and on most streets. Albert Koehl has done the math and says it doesn’t add up.

The Toronto environmental lawyer and bike-lane advocate points to a U.S. study, for instance, that examined the impact of “free” street parking on a 15-block area in Los Angeles.

It found that over a year, motorists drove an extra 1.5 million kilometres circling the block to hunt for a free spot, burning up more than 150,000 litres of gas and emitting hundreds of tonnes of additional greenhouse gases.

The drivers did so, Koehl notes, on streets mostly paid for through property taxes, including those of the neighbours living with the extra traffic and smog.

“Most cars have more living space than people do.”

Free parking lots also sell a false bill of goods, he argues. In the case of malls, the cost of land and upkeep is built into store prices, while at public institutions like schools, parking ultimately siphons away money from other priorities.

“We’ve got this idea, sort of historically, that it’s free parking. It’s never free parking,” said Koehl, this year’s guest speaker at local advocacy group Environment Hamilton’s annual meeting.

Koehl traces Canadians’ fondness for “free” parking to the 1920s, when cities like Hamilton began phasing out more efficient streetcars as cars became the more popular way to get around.

The impact on our landscape is hard to miss, he said, noting 27 per cent of space in Toronto is taken up by streets, laneways and highways.

The UCLA expert who oversaw the Los Angeles study has estimated each car in the United States takes up an average of eight spaces when work, shopping and other activities are taken into account, a figure Koehl believes is closer to four or five in Canada.

That’s an average of 130 square feet for a street spot and 330 at a parking lot because of the need for driving lanes and maneuvering room.

“Most cars have more living space than people do,” he said, suggesting the former are the ultimately slackers, sitting idle most of the time.

Koehl said although no one likes paying for parking, charging for street spaces will boost revenue that can be reinvested in the affected area while discouraging people from driving all over looking for a free spot.

Merchants may cry foul, but a recent study by the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation on a stretch of Bloor Street casts doubt on their complaints, he said.

Only 10 per cent of their business came from passing motorists, the same amount as from passing cyclists who had to battle traffic because there were no bike lanes, he said.

“The merchants will have this prejudice that motorists are bringing in all this business, which turns out not to be true,” Koehl said. “Merchants almost exaggerate the value of parking, often because they drive,” he said.

“They’ve done some studies on Bloor Street that (showed) 44 per cent of merchants drove to their store. It was only 21 per cent of shoppers that drove to their store.”

As for parking lots, Koehl said schools should charge for parking, while municipalities can “let the market decide” how many spaces to offer at malls, condominiums and other private developments.

He said the City of Toronto is already allowing condo builders to pay a fee for providing fewer parking spaces than bylaws require, money that can go towards bike lanes and public transit.

“In downtown Toronto, lots of people don’t have cars, don’t want cars,” he said. “The developers are saying, ‘I don’t want to pay to develop this spot and then have no buyer,’ and the prospective condo owners don’t want to pay for parking either.”

The goal of putting a price on all parking, Koehl said, is reduce reliance on the automobile.

“If the motorist says, ‘At the end of trip I have free parking,’ well, that goes into their equation,” he said. “Once we change that across the city, then you’ll have less traffic, you’ll have less congestion.”

That free parking spot in Hamilton never really is

We always pay one way or another, environmental lawyer says

Community May 06, 2015 by Richard Leitner Hamilton Mountain News

Hamilton looks awash in free parking – at malls, plazas, corner stores, shops, rec centres, schools, workplaces and on most streets. Albert Koehl has done the math and says it doesn’t add up.

The Toronto environmental lawyer and bike-lane advocate points to a U.S. study, for instance, that examined the impact of “free” street parking on a 15-block area in Los Angeles.

It found that over a year, motorists drove an extra 1.5 million kilometres circling the block to hunt for a free spot, burning up more than 150,000 litres of gas and emitting hundreds of tonnes of additional greenhouse gases.

The drivers did so, Koehl notes, on streets mostly paid for through property taxes, including those of the neighbours living with the extra traffic and smog.

“Most cars have more living space than people do.”

Free parking lots also sell a false bill of goods, he argues. In the case of malls, the cost of land and upkeep is built into store prices, while at public institutions like schools, parking ultimately siphons away money from other priorities.

“We’ve got this idea, sort of historically, that it’s free parking. It’s never free parking,” said Koehl, this year’s guest speaker at local advocacy group Environment Hamilton’s annual meeting.

Koehl traces Canadians’ fondness for “free” parking to the 1920s, when cities like Hamilton began phasing out more efficient streetcars as cars became the more popular way to get around.

The impact on our landscape is hard to miss, he said, noting 27 per cent of space in Toronto is taken up by streets, laneways and highways.

The UCLA expert who oversaw the Los Angeles study has estimated each car in the United States takes up an average of eight spaces when work, shopping and other activities are taken into account, a figure Koehl believes is closer to four or five in Canada.

That’s an average of 130 square feet for a street spot and 330 at a parking lot because of the need for driving lanes and maneuvering room.

“Most cars have more living space than people do,” he said, suggesting the former are the ultimately slackers, sitting idle most of the time.

Koehl said although no one likes paying for parking, charging for street spaces will boost revenue that can be reinvested in the affected area while discouraging people from driving all over looking for a free spot.

Merchants may cry foul, but a recent study by the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation on a stretch of Bloor Street casts doubt on their complaints, he said.

Only 10 per cent of their business came from passing motorists, the same amount as from passing cyclists who had to battle traffic because there were no bike lanes, he said.

“The merchants will have this prejudice that motorists are bringing in all this business, which turns out not to be true,” Koehl said. “Merchants almost exaggerate the value of parking, often because they drive,” he said.

“They’ve done some studies on Bloor Street that (showed) 44 per cent of merchants drove to their store. It was only 21 per cent of shoppers that drove to their store.”

As for parking lots, Koehl said schools should charge for parking, while municipalities can “let the market decide” how many spaces to offer at malls, condominiums and other private developments.

He said the City of Toronto is already allowing condo builders to pay a fee for providing fewer parking spaces than bylaws require, money that can go towards bike lanes and public transit.

“In downtown Toronto, lots of people don’t have cars, don’t want cars,” he said. “The developers are saying, ‘I don’t want to pay to develop this spot and then have no buyer,’ and the prospective condo owners don’t want to pay for parking either.”

The goal of putting a price on all parking, Koehl said, is reduce reliance on the automobile.

“If the motorist says, ‘At the end of trip I have free parking,’ well, that goes into their equation,” he said. “Once we change that across the city, then you’ll have less traffic, you’ll have less congestion.”