Hey Calgarians you don’t own the street!

One of the biggest misconceptions by Calgary homeowners is that think they own the street parking in front of their house. They don’t.

It is a public parking space anybody can use. Unfortunately, by issuing residential parking permits for street parking, the City of Calgary gives home owners the impression street in front of their house indeed their personal parking spot.  

Note: An edited version of this blog was posted online as part of CBC Calgary’s “Road Ahead” feature on December 1st 2018.

 Residential parking signs like this one is very common in Calgary’s inner-city streets. 39,000 households in Calgary have exclusive use of their street parking even though most have garages or parking pads in the alley.

Residential parking signs like this one is very common in Calgary’s inner-city streets. 39,000 households in Calgary have exclusive use of their street parking even though most have garages or parking pads in the alley.

No Free Parking?

And this is becoming a bigger problem as the City wants to diversify and densify our inner-city neighbourhoods as parking is a key barrier to new development. (We will get to this later.)

Street parking is a valuable asset the City must manage more creatively to enhance the vitality of our inner-city communities for both commercial and residential development.  

One idea could be to charge residents fair market rate for street parking and make street parking a bigger cash cow for the City! 

  I always smile when I pass by this “One Minute” parking zone in West Hillhurst.

I always smile when I pass by this “One Minute” parking zone in West Hillhurst.

Cash Cow?

Residential Permit parking gives Calgarians the solid (and defendable!) position the street in front of their homes is their personal parking spot.  Currently, the City allows residents of a block who gather up enough signatures to “privatize” the parking on “their street” in front of their houses for FREE.  And FOR LIFE.  

The residential permit parking process doesn’t look at whether or not the houses on the street in question have garages or parking pads, just number of signatures.  The permit parking provides private privilege to permit holders at no cost, no additional property taxes paid for the exclusive use.

Yet the city is still obligated to maintain, repair, plow, sand and protect the “public” right of way.

Perhaps one way to even the playing field between residents and short stay visitors is to charge residents for street parking permits based on fair market rates. For example, if the fee for monthly parking at the nearby institution is $200/month, then charge $100/month for a residential street parking permit. 

If the street parking fee is $2.00/hour on the nearby commercial street then charge the residents $1.00/hr over the same period i.e. $10/day for a permit i.e. $250/month (or $3,000/yr.).  

The City is always looking for new sources of revenue. Here is an obvious one. If there are 39,000 residential parking permits in Calgary and if the City were to charge, on average, $1,000/year/household for each permit it would generate $39 million/year.  This could be used to spruce up neighbouring “main streets.”

Let’s see how many people apply for residential parking permits when they have to put some skin in the game.  

  A typical inner city street in Calgary is lined with cars evenings and weekends even though every house has a garage or parking pad in the back alley.

A typical inner city street in Calgary is lined with cars evenings and weekends even though every house has a garage or parking pad in the back alley.

  A typical inner city alley in Calgary two car garages or parking pads for every house. There is no need to park on the street unless you have two or more vehicles and if that is the case perhaps you should pay to park them on the street in high demand areas.

A typical inner city alley in Calgary two car garages or parking pads for every house. There is no need to park on the street unless you have two or more vehicles and if that is the case perhaps you should pay to park them on the street in high demand areas.

Infill Development Barrier 

Often the biggest complaint when a new infill development is proposed for an inner-city community is it will create parking issues, especially if it has commercial uses at the street. 

Too often inner-city residents say they want more amenities in their neighbourhood - cafés, bistros, urban grocery stores, medical offices etc. - but as soon as one is proposed, the complaints roll in about parking and traffic issues. They demand underground parking, which costs $40,000 to $70,000 a stall and then wonder why the cost of the condos and the restaurant or café prices are so high.    

In some cases, part of the traffic issue is people driving around looking for a parking spot even though there are dozens of empty street parking spots, but they are all reserved for those with FREE residential permits. 

Why shouldn’t the businesses have access to the street parking near them also? After all, they pay twice the taxes on a per square foot basis as residential property owners.  Don’t they and their customers also have a right to the street parking?

Ironically, if we want to make our inner-city communities more walkable we will have to share the street parking. Small businesses need the patronage of people driving from other communities to make them viable. 

  This homeowner has installed his/her own parking signage. I am wondering if any senior can use it.

This homeowner has installed his/her own parking signage. I am wondering if any senior can use it.

LRT / Hospitals/ Schools

For those living near LRT stations, hospitals or large schools, the concern is people will park on the street all day when at work, rather than pay to park on site.  The easy solution: limit street parking in the area to a specific time period (could be two to four hours depending on what is appropriate).  Yes, some people will just come out and move their car, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Rather than building more parkades that take up valuable land and drive up housing costs, we need to put our existing street parking to better use.  An added benefit is people will be parking and walking further to their ultimate destination which will make them healthier. It will also put more eyes on the street, creating a safer neighbourhood. 

And yes, I know there are parking issues in places near special events, but “come on,” it is just a few times a year. Can’t we just suck it up and let people park on the street.  

Link: Petition to eliminate parking fees at hospitals

  This corner lot near the Foothills hospital has room to park 6 cars even though the home owner has a large driveway and two car garage. Why not allow 2-hour parking for hospital visitors? Park and walk would be good for their health.

This corner lot near the Foothills hospital has room to park 6 cars even though the home owner has a large driveway and two car garage. Why not allow 2-hour parking for hospital visitors? Park and walk would be good for their health.

Parking Ombudsman 

Currently, there is no oversight to the parking permit process. It essentially happens automatically once a street gathers up enough signatures.  No council oversight, no planning oversight, and essentially little consultation with businesses or potential redevelopment opportunities.

Permit parking should be based on true need balanced against society or Municipal Development Plan goals, not the rule.  Generating commercial activity (to generate more taxes, employment, complete communities) should take a higher priority than private car storage for FREE. Most residential parking is only “needed” at night as most residents go to work during the day leaving lots of empty parking spots.  

Perhaps we need a parking ombudsman who can review existing and future requests to determine what is best for the city-at-large.  Some might say the Calgary Parking Authority acts as an ombudsman, but I would disagree.  

Their mandate is to generate revenue for the City. I have seen them convert 2-hour street parking that was working just fine into paid parking as a means of generating more revenue.  In some cases, their system has both paid and 2-hour free on the same street! How confusing is that?

What we don’t need is Council reviewing every residential parking permit request!  

Not a divine right…

If City Council really wants to foster innovative initiatives for the redevelopment of established neighbourhoods into more mixed-use complete communities, they should abolish residential street permits ASAP.  

Obviously, there will be some special cases like handicap parking but these should be very limited. 

Politicians will have to tell Calgarians “it is not your divine right to park your car on the street, in front of your house.”  

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