How digital transformation & sharing economy can alleviate the burden on city planning and our everyday parking headache
A photo, downtown toronto at night along the Gardiner express highway
Looking for free parking in the Downtown Toronto? Well, it might come to surprise you that the solution to more parking is much more complicated than simply providing more spaces. The government of Toronto and its different municipalities have been tackling the problem of both the excessive and the limited supply of parking spots across the city for years. The constraints of land, money, and time are just some of the few problems that city planners have to deal with when deciding where and when to add more parking spaces to an area. While it could be hard for ordinary citizens like you and me to predict where the next wave of the city’s development may happen, there are a few interesting observations we could see from the city’s zoning reports.
According to a report from the City of Toronto, city planners go through a series of steps before giving input to the city’s parking policies. The objectives of newly proposed parking standards are as follows:
Ensure sufficient off-street parking to meet essential needs including business visitors and patrons, persons who require a car for work, and persons with disabilities, and prevent inappropriate spill-over into adjacent areas.
Support land- and cost-efficient forms of development to promote the vibrant mix of developments envisioned for the Centres and street-related uses
Encourage transportation alternatives to the automobile by ensuring that parking standards do not result in free parking for the majority of site patrons. This can be achieved through low minimum parking standards and maximum parking standards in some cases.
Allow for quick understanding and easy application by limiting the number of land use categories and zoning by-law boundaries in the proposed standards.
From these objectives alone, it is not hard to see that the city is trying to develop Toronto into a more urban metropolitan that achieves a good balance between the growing needs of a younger, more concentrated population, and the comfort of a more old-school, driving-to-the-strip-mall-every-Sunday demographic that is common across so many suburban areas.
A photo, a modern and clean parking underground facility
However, it is this very difference between the two lifestyles that create the uneven uses of parking spaces in the city. According to the same report, only one-fourth of the surveyed office parking facilities outside of the downtown areas were effectively at full capacity. About half of these office parking lots are at less than 30% of their capacity. Similar trends can also be observed in non-business areas. In large format retail, average peak parking occupancy is at 1.4 space per 100 square meters, while bank and large grocery uses are much higher at 3.6 and 2.6 spaces per square metres.
From the statistics above, it is not hard to see that there is an uneven use of parking spots in the city. While less-dense, suburban areas have an excess of parking spots, downtown areas, or even those with more business needs are having limited parking. With the advent of parking maximums, it is not hard to see that the municipality is encouraging more compact, and dense city developments to meet the demands of a growing population. In fact, gone are the days where city developments in which “more parking is better.” It is evident in this report that the city will be building more “higher-density, compact, and pedestrian-friendly developments” that will inevitably lessen the number of parking spaces in some of the high-demand areas.
A Photo, downtown area with parking lots
With the decrease in parking spaces and the desire from the city to encourage public transportation over private cars, parking spaces could be harder to find in the future. For ordinary folks like you and me, websites like torontofreeparking.ca could be a real lifesaver when it comes to finding free parking. However, most of their spaces are concentrated in busy areas like UoT’s campus, Cabbagetown, and China Town. For folks going to other places, it is extremely hard to find parking lots. For those cases, tools like GoParkr’s free parking spot matching app could help users to find ‘hosts’ that rent out spaces in their vicinity at reasonable costs. While free parking spots are attractive propositions in a major city like Toronto, these gems are few and far in between. The notion of connecting users to hosts with extra spaces available could be part of the solution to the city’s rising parking demands. Using flexible hourly rates, GoParkr could provide a good incentive for hosts to list their unused spaces for extra income while making the parking experience more convenient for drivers. Given that people looking for parking spots produce about 30% of traffic on our roads, solutions like GoParkr could be an important tool for those who value their time over saving money by spending unnecessary time finding a spot. Nevertheless, commercial parking such as Impark, Metro Parking, or Canada Wide Parking can also stay competitive by being going through the digital transformation through mobile and web platform and pricing itself accordingly in the updated market place.
Toronto is just one of the many big cities that face parking problems. From San Francisco to New York, similar trends are happening in major cities where the advent of the sharing economy calls for significant changes in our cities’ future zoning. Still, some of the temporary solutions could be useful at least for the meantime.
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A photo, aerial view of a busy street
Author: Vincent Chen, Data Scientist & Marketing Lead at GoParkr