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Letter: Solution to roadside parking in suburban Tri-City neighbourhoods? Start by taking it away

Writer believes as the region is expected to see population growth in the years to come, municipalities still have time to fix an ongoing problem by providing car-sharing options.
Vehicles parked along a residential street. | Getty Images

The Editor:

It may seem nonsensical to suggest that we might put an end to residential parking wars, which pit neighbours against one another in an escalating battle over limited roadside parking spaces, by taking some of those spaces away.

I’m talking about adding car-sharing spaces, specifically in low-density neighbourhoods. While this does require reducing the space currently available for personal vehicles — taking parking away — it allows residents to reduce the number of vehicles they need to park.

Parking wars have escalated to news headlines in Burnaby but this problem is not exclusive to Burnaby.

As Metro Vancouver anticipates an additional one million people in the region by 2050, municipalities across the region have increasingly supported densification — for example, through secondary suites — in traditionally single-family neighbourhoods. It might be convenient to point the finger at renters, “monster houses,” or other boogeymen for parking woes, but that doesn’t solve the problem.

If you live close to everything you are far less likely to need multiple vehicles per household than if the nearest "shopping" is a 15-minute walk to the corner store. Adding more people to neighbourhoods where nothing is in walking distance, will mean more of these neighbourhoods run out of places to park. This means more nasty notes left on windshields, more Pylons of Entitlement, and more angry letters to the editor.

If we respond to this the way we’ve always done, we will see more “permit parking only” streets, more parking meters and a generally higher level of stress as municipalities try to find ways to relieve the pressure. Approaches like these are a subtle injustice. They download the responsibility for lifestyle change onto residents, without offering alternatives for people to get where they need to go.

Improved transit service and more connected bike lanes are still badly needed but they won’t solve the problem (just try doing a Costco run on transit). Car sharing fills the demand gap, giving people access to a car when and where they need it. It’s been estimated that every car-share vehicle eliminates between 5 and 11 cars, so the positive impact on parking is dramatic.

In the Mary Hill area of Port Coquitlam where I until recently lived for 20 years, I started to see pockets where this was starting to become a problem as home prices drove the rise in basement suites. More parked cars reduced visibility and in recent years made for a few testy late-night conversations with neighbours.

I recently moved to within 10 minutes walking distance of two car-share vehicles and a small-city commercial centre, and discovered that I could happily go completely car-free. My household costs are significantly lower and we make more short trips by walking or cycling. It’s a minor lifestyle adjustment with little to no downside and many benefits.

But too often, the incentives to promote new car-sharing vehicles are aimed at neighbourhoods where parking isn’t a significant problem. Municipalities and developers are natural allies in promoting car-sharing as a way to increase revenues and reduce costs in new medium- or high-density construction projects, but in areas that have an existing oversupply of parking.

If you live in a typical suburban neighbourhood where realistically you just need a car to do anything, take a look down your street. Imagine that every five cars parked were replaced with one, that you could use when you needed it.

What impact would that have on your lifestyle?

Then imagine the alternate scenario: more people move into your neighbourhood, bringing more cars that all need a space to park.

What impact would that have on your lifestyle?

That’s the cost of inaction. Fortunately in the Tri-Cities, we still have time to get ahead of this.

Like any business, car-sharing services are driven by demand. For changes like this to happen, people need to demand it. It might just be that simple.

- Erik Minty, Port Coquitlam

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