The Artificially Inflated Land Use of Parking

I recently came across the work of Dr. Jens von Bergmann, who runs MountainMath Software, a data company based in Vancouver, BC specializing in analytics, modeling and visualization. In his free time, Jens has taken a look at land use in  Metro Vancouver. I found the results—and his analysis—quite illuminating, especially in regards to parking.

Even for a city without a highway within its urban limits, Vancouver has a surprisingly large amount of space taken up by roads and associated sidewalks, nature strips, and—of course—on-street parking. In fact, the City of Vancouver stands out as the municipality with the largest proportion of area dedicated to road right of ways in the region at 34%. This is second only to single family housing, which takes up over 41% of the city’s land.

Built Area Land Use in the City of Vancouver (via  MountainDoodles )

Built Area Land Use in the City of Vancouver (via MountainDoodles)

And while Vancouver prides itself on multi-modal transportation options, with less than half of trips into its downtown in cars, free parking is still sacrosanct for many. Jens makes a good point that Vancouverites pay lots of money to buy private property to live on, and then continue to pay property taxes for that privilege. However, we pay nothing to store our vehicles on public roads.

In effect, Vancouver—like numerous other cities in North America—has socialized parking. While this is poor fiscal policy in most cities, it is downright nonsensical in a city with among the highest property values in the world to continue to socialize the cost of parking. According to Jens, a  12m² (129 ft²) on-street parking space at a low-balled $3000/m² ($278/ft²) value is worth $36,000. With than average residential block having space for 30 cars parked on street, that works out to over a million dollars a block of socialized parking.

If parking was priced at a fair value, and not socialized, we could discuss using that space more effectively including re-allocated it for other uses. In residential neighbourhoods, one of these uses could include increasing lot sizes and making multi-family housing more feasible. This is one way to help address Vancouver’s notoriously high housing costs and create increased value for our neighbourhoods.