It is Way Past Time to Re-think Calgary’s Downtown Parking

There is nothing more emotional in urban development than parking. Those coming downtown expect to find a parking spot fairly close to their destination. If they are not familiar with downtown that task may be a little daunting. For most people, driving to the core is the most efficient mode of travel.

In the 1970s, Calgary introduced cash-in-lieu parking (CIL). The intent of CIL was good insofar as if a developer could not provide the parking required on site by the City’s bylaw, then the developer could pay a cash equivalent to the City which in turn could provide parking elsewhere. Seemed like a pretty reasonable concept.

But the “if-it-works-here-it-will-work-everywhere” mentality took over and that intellectual laziness made CIL a standard policy. All new buildings in the designated area, which was virtually all of downtown, were restricted to providing only 50% of the bylaw-mandated parking on site and were required to make a mandatory cash contribution to the City’s CIL fund at a rate, set from time to time by the City. There was a downtown parking strategy that called for parking structures located in key areas of the core and the City would construct them and the Calgary Parking Authority would operate and manage these facilities.

So, what does it mean for folks in offices? Simply put it makes convenient parking scarce. Here’s how: the rate of supply, as set by the bylaw, is one stall per 1500 sq. ft. That worked out to about 1 stall for about every five people in that building. With CIL’s limitation to 50% on site, which meant it was now 1 stall for every 10 people in that building. CIL dollars went into a City controlled fund, and on an opportunity basis it would build a parkade as provided in the downtown parking strategy. The timing of provision of stalls could now be delayed well beyond the occupancy of the building, and the location for the parking required by the building would not necessarily be where the demand was located. In fact the CIL contribution by one building owner could have a greater benefit to buildings other than their own. As well, the contributor of the funds was deprived of the revenue stream that parking would generate. A simple concept eventually became complicated.

The last structured parking for the original downtown parking strategy was the Centennial Parkade. None have been built since. Meanwhile the CIL fund continues to receive the mandatory fund contributions.

In the ensuing time, occupancy patterns in buildings have changed and the density is greater now than in the 1970s. Transit isn’t keeping up with demand, a fact which can be validated by anyone who regularly rides transit.

Point being that personal transportation is one of the dominant modes of transit and will be for the foreseeable future. We need places to store those vehicles and that means parking. So the City must be open-minded to new and innovative solutions and treatments to accommodate the cars.

We need to examine the CIL policy top to bottom and determine if it achieved its initial objectives, whether it is still applicable in its present form or whether it needs to be revised in anyway – or even abandoned all together. A process of comprehensive review is simply a demonstration of good, sound management.



Image via Gibbs Gage: