David Cohen, The Hamilton Spectator
(Dec 4, 2009)
You need a roof over your head. But does your car?
We take for granted the automatic parking space that goes with our living space.
At present, a new apartment building in Hamilton must provide one parking space for each unit. (It used to be 1.25 spaces per unit, to add parking spaces for visitors. But this requirement has been dropped.)
Built-in parking spaces don't come cheap: each costs upwards of $30,000 to build.
You may not mind the extra outlay, but it may price folks, with lower incomes, out of the market.
And providing a parking space for each tenant/condo owner (whether they want it or not) promotes car use and its problems -- pollution, traffic congestion and the human and property costs from car collisions (said to be in the billions each year in Ontario).
Is there another way?
Yes. Many apartments exist in Hamilton without in-built parking spaces. But they tend to be older buildings, some going back to the First World War. Car ownership was not widespread then.
Is it possible to go back to the future?
Yes. And a modest attempt is being made at 427 Aberdeen Avenue, at the corner of Dundurn Street.
You probably know the spot if you reside in the southwest Kirkendall neighbourhood: a Tim Horton's outlet was there for years. Prior to Horton's they pumped gas on the site.
Urban Core Developments acquired the site and this spring will erect a seven-storey condo on it.
The developers wanted to reduce the required number of indoor parking spots in the building. They introduced innovations: indoor bike parking and curbside share-a-car service, both designed to reduce the reliance on cars and the need for space to park them.
The building was at first supposed to have 42 condo units for which 28 parking spaces were to be provided. The number of units were subsequently reduced to 32.
In spite of this quite modest reduction from the city's parking requirements, alarm bells rang in the neighbourhood. Not providing a spot for each of the building's residents would force them to park on neighbourhood streets, cause on-street parking shortages, etc.
These fears, however, were quieted by the city planning department. Citing a study provided by the developer, it assured citizens an adequate supply of parking spots would continue to exist on the surrounding streets.
The city approved the building. In doing so, it followed the trend in Ontario to intensification -- housing more people on less land, in such a way that they can rely more on public transit, walking and bikes to get to work and shop.
Aberdeen, indeed, is a good candidate for intensification. It's a main drag well-served by transit. The intersection of Aberdeen and Dundurn already has a mix of uses -- convenience store, dry cleaner, pharmacy and restaurant.
And it should be pointed out that apartments are no strangers to Aberdeen -- it has several older examples dating back to the '20s and '30s as well as more modern versions (notably at 436).
Could/should apartments be built with no indoor parking? Bottom line: Developers need to market their buildings -- and they need to get them approved by the city. But Hamilton needs multiple, affordable housing near transit. Sacrificing a roof over your car may help to bring this about.
With the LRT possibly coming, we should be thinking about public transit, bikes and car-sharing, etc. as better ways of getting around.
And doing away with indoor parking has other advantages. For example, it eliminates the need for parking entrances -- a space that has the potential use as a retail outlet that provides revenue for the owner and convenience for the building's tenants. Not to mention something more interesting to look at for passersby than a blank garage door.
Hamilton has any number of avenues that cry out for mixed-use intensification (such as Main and King streets). It also has a need for reasonably priced housing. Reducing parking spots in buildings -- even eliminating them -- merits consideration.
David Cohen is a freelance writer. He served on Dundas council from 1991 to 1994.