Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Driving less, and raising parking fees

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I have been reluctant to simply pass along press releases. They have to pass my own stringent tests which include relevance to Greater Vancouver and also my sense of how much the main stream media might not cover the release. I also try always to only put things on this blog that I have an opinion about. I try to write something – not just pass things along. Two press releases came my way overnight that both seem to pass this test. One talks about growth – and how it can be smarter. The other talks more about how other places do things differently to us and have had better outcomes. So I think both are worthwhile – and both point to new studies which provide evidence to support sensible policy making.

The ideas of smart growth are not new but there is a great fear here that somehow even talking about growth is going to encourage it. I think in this region growth is inevitable. The people who are already here are smart and dynamic and are going to be active in creating new activities. Vancouver has been a magnet for people for many years and the things that bring people here are unlikely to change. These increasing numbers of people will be accommodated somehow. Simply allowing a grey market to develop, as happened with secondary suites, is not a sensible response. We also need to become more critical – in the sense of not simply having the knee jerk response to any and all change. One particular example this morning is annoying me. In just the same way that the endorsement of a regional growth strategy suddenly seemed to push all sorts of panic buttons – it has been under discussion for years and no-one seemed to be very excited about it at the time – now proposals for taller buildings downtown are eliciting a predictable emotional response.  There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t like tall buildings” but there is quite a lot wrong with statements such as

the surprisingly high eco-footprint of tall condo buildings, which rank a distant last in energy efficiency to all other dwelling options (some 10 times less efficient than many houses, town homes, and small apartment buildings).

As yesterday’s blog post pointed out just looking at the building, without considering its location can be very misleading. You can have a very highly efficient building but if it is in the wrong place, where everybody has to drive to get to it, then it won’t be very energy efficient. You could put up with a less than optimal building – in terms of its heating/cooling requirement – if it was more efficient in terms of servicing and the travel patterns and choices of its users. You must always consider transportation and land use together. They are the same issue – not two separate ones.   I cannot say I like concrete canyons very much either, and I do think we need to get better at growing our own food. But not everyone wants to be a gardener, and there are all sorts of ways – green roofs, green walls – that we can better utilize space that have multiple benefits. I recognize that Damien Gills and Rafe Mair are both very effective campaigners, but they both seem to embrace a style that puts passion before reflection, and likes to see everything in black and white. Most policy debates require a more nuanced approach, and politics is still what it has always been – the art of the possible.

There are also two things that everybody hates. One is sprawl, the other is density. We can accommodate a lot more people in the City of Vancouver at densities which are currently permitted. But we would have to start building a different kind of transit system to accommodate that kind of growth. And neighbourhoods need to have a reason to embrace change, which means they need to be involved in determining what is going to done to the place they live in. We can accommodate more people in downtown, but we need the present transit system to have expansion capabilities: we forgot that with the Canada Line, and we are only just now starting to expand the Expo Line, which had long been suffering from lack of trains. We can get people to use transit, as UPass showed, but we did not have anything like enough buses for them, and when universities are located at the end of a peninsula, or on top of a mountain, more buses may not even be the most effective solution. Those failings show a lack of “joined up thinking”. We have two levels of government who cannot agree on what should be done and who should do it. It is not that considering taller buildings is wrong. It is that we do not have the ability to adapt our urban form to growth – of any kind. And then we are surprised – over and over again – when this same approach produces results we did not anticipate.

Afterthought – there is a very relevant post on “free” parking at Grist today


New Report Finds Urban Growth Strategies Provide Economic Benefits and Improve Quality of Life

“Growing Wealthier” Report Examines How Smart Growth Can Enhance Prosperity

Washington, D.C. –January 19, 2011—Efficient urban planning – known as smart growth development – enhances community prosperity and generates economic benefits for local businesses, households and governments, according to a new report published today by the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP). The study, Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity, reveals how reduced driving and efficient land use planning are strongly interconnected with economic growth and better quality of life.

Growing Wealthier reports that pent-up demand for walkable communities is reshaping the real estate market. Cities investing in public transportation and downtown development are experiencing cost savings, growing tax revenues, increased property values and booming retail sales. The authors of the report, CCAP Transportation Analyst Chuck Kooshian and CCAP Director of Transportation Programs Steve Winkelman, encourage policy makers and practitioners to promote economic well-being by mixing land uses and providing a diversity of transportation and housing choices to enhance accessibility and promote travel efficiency.
“In our transforming economy, more and more exchanges of goods and services take place in channels unimaginable a quarter of a century ago,” said Kooshian.  “While transportation is still vital to economic activity, people and goods in motion are only a part of a much greater whole.”

Growing Wealthier demonstrates that the rate of increase in driving and income in the U.S. has been unequal. From 1967 to 2008, household driving increased by 60 percent while average household income increased by 52 percent, but median household income increased by only 25 percent. Thus, the experience for most Americans over the last 40 years was one of driving substantially more but not sharing proportionately in income growth. The report also examines how reducing “empty miles,” driving that contributes little or nothing to the economy, will help meet climate protection goals while also yielding positive economic impacts.
Communities that are realizing the economic benefits of smart growth include:

  • Dallas, Texas – downtown retail sales grew 33 percent a year after the light rail system began operation.
  • Sarasota, Fla. – downtown development costs were half that of suburban development while generating four times the tax revenue.
  • Portland, Ore. – a $100 million investment in streetcars helped attract $3.5 billion in private investments.
  • Denver, Colo. – home values within a half-mile of stations on the Southeast light rail line rose by 18 percent, while home values in the rest of Denver declined by 8 percent from 2006-2008.

Growing Wealthier documents how efficient land use planning can improve household resilience to rising oil prices by enhancing travel choices.Allowing more people to live closer to job centers can boost employment rates and income levels for low-wage workers while reducing exposure to congestion for all. Smart growth policies are also shown to cut government infrastructure costs, enhance public health and conserve natural resources.

The report provides recommendations for the federal government to “equip and empower” state and local experts to implement smart growth policies and realize their economic and livability benefits. The federal government should increase funding for research on the economic impacts of transportation and land use policies and provide technical assistance to help communities implement and evaluate smart growth and travel efficiency policies. “Do. Measure. Learn.” policy programs centered on action, measurement and analysis will give practitioners room to experiment and build upon their successes. Incentive-based programs that reward economic and environmental sustainability will encourage more communities to follow suit.

“There are many steps we must take to ensure that our children inherit a planet and an economy with a bright future,” said Winkelman. “Investing the time and money to grow our communities to be more resilient, more efficient and more satisfying to their residents will offer a tremendous payoff.”

The executive summary and full report are available at and at For more information on CCAP’s transportation program, please visit



European cities lead the way in influencing travel behavior through parking reforms

January 19, 2011, NYC:  European cities are reaping the rewards of innovative parking policies, including revitalized town centers; big reductions in car use; drops in air pollution and rising quality of urban life, according to Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation, published today (January 19th) by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Visit for a copy of the report.

The report examines European parking over the last half century, through the prism of ten European cities. It found:

•       Parking is increasingly linked to public transport. Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich and Strasbourg limit how much parking is allowed in new developments based on how far it is to walk to a bus, tram or metro stop. Zurich has made significant investments in new tram and bus lines while making parking more expensive and less convenient. As a result, between 2000 and 2005, the share of public transit use went up by 7%, while the share of cars in traffic declined by 6%.

•       European cities are ahead of the rest of the world in charging rational prices for on-street parking. In Paris, the on-street parking supply has been reduced by more than 9% since 2003, and of the remaining stock, 95% is paid parking. The result, along with other transport infrastructure improvements, has been a 13% decrease in driving.

•       Parking reforms are becoming more popular than congestion charging. While London, Stockholm, and a few other European cities have managed to implement congestion charging, more are turning to parking. Parking caps have been set in Zurich and Hamburg’s business districts to freeze the existing supply, where access to public transport is easiest.

•       Revenue gathered from parking tariffs is being invested to support other mobility needs. In Barcelona, 100% of revenue goes to operate Bicing—the city’s public bike system. Several boroughs in London use parking revenue to subsidize transit passes for seniors and the disabled, who ride public transit for free.

Walter Hook, Executive Director of ITDP, commented: “This report shows that European cities lead the world in using parking as a tool to revitalize their cities.”

The ten cities featured are Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Strasbourg and Zurich.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 19, 2011 at 8:33 am

12 Responses

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  1. […] Courier] As memorial plans unveiled, Terry Fox’s family calls for museum [Globe and Mail] Driving less, and raising parking fees [Stephen Rees's […]

    re:place Magazine

    January 19, 2011 at 9:30 am

  2. “In Paris, the on-street parking supply has been reduced by more than 9% since 2003, and of the remaining stock, 95% is paid parking. The result, along with other transport infrastructure improvements, has been a 13% decrease in driving”

    Allow me to be skeptical about the last there are LOTS of indoor parking lots that didn’t exist 20-30 years ago..not just in Paris but also in other major French towns.
    As far as transit goes, the Parisians are ranting about overcrowding and delays on the Metro, RER and commuter trains…

    Talking about parking, Bordeaux has entered all its street parking spots in a computer program. An app allow cell phone users to find one close to where they are going and give them the directions to go there. It is a first in France.
    I saw it on the French TV last month (December 2010) but they didn’t explain in details how it all work. One assume that, as soon as you see a parking spot on your phone and lock on it it reserve it for you?

    Red frog

    January 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

  3. @ “the surprisingly high eco-footprint of tall condo buildings, which rank a distant last in energy efficiency to all other dwelling options (some 10 times less efficient than many houses, town homes, and small apartment buildings).”

    Where did the author get the quote for this?

    The video clip mentions talk of the R-values of different dwellings (which I cannot find a source/link for) , but the Department of Natural Resouces Canada states that high-rise households has the lowest energy consumption per household.

    “The least energy intensive dwelling types were low- and high-rise apartments, which typically have a smaller heated area and share at least one common wall. A common wall between dwellings reduces exposure to both cold and hot outside air, which reduces a dwelling’s heating and cooling requirements. Double/row houses, which also share at least one common wall, consumed less energy than mobile homes despite having a larger average heated area. Single detached houses have the largest heated area, share no common walls and consumed the most energy per dwelling.”


    January 22, 2011 at 10:57 am

  4. @mezz – you should direct the question to Damien Gillis.


    I maintain that we should not just be looking at the energy used to heat/cool a building as though that were all that mattered. While I have some sympathy for those who chose where to live express alarm at seeing the place change from what they chose, the overall concern for all of us must be to come up with developments that reduce our collective carbon footprint. And at the same time allow us to create a healthier environment for ourselves and the other species with whom we share the planet.

    Compared to the current multiple crises that face us due mainly to our use of fossil fuels, the discussion of building height seems relatively unimportant

    Stephen Rees

    January 22, 2011 at 11:45 am

  5. I agree with Stephen. There is nothing wrong with density per say. Density is just a number that doesn’t mean anything without a context. Just like age or BMI (body mass index). 2 people of the same height, age, sex, can have the same BMI yet one will have a trim muscular body while the other will be borderline obese.

    It is possible to increase density A LOT without having very tall buildings. It has been done in many cities around the world.
    Right after I moved to Vancouver I took a guided tour around the West End with a City Hall planner. I was surprised at all the low buildings along MAJOR streets in the WE and all over Vancouver.
    The planer said that having the 5-7 stories buildings I was proposing (similar to the oldest ones on Granville, East Hastings etc.) would increase density too much.
    My reply was that “density is just a number”. Higher density doesn’t mean less livability if people can WALK to shops, work etc. rather than using cars.
    Tokyo and Paris are 2 places with a high density yet the majority of the housing is not in high rise apartment buildings. In Milan I stayed a couple of times in a small B & B. A tall narrow row house that, like all the others houses in the area, had a garden in the back, something that one also finds in London and many other Euro cities.

    In the oldest neighbourhoods in Toronto, at a walking distance from everything downtown, houses are close together and have a small patch of green in the front and a bigger one in the back.
    I lived in a big Victorian house in the Annex, just off posh Bloor street and close to 2 subway stations. Originally a single family home it had been divided into 6 suites that still had the original very high ceilings, hardwood floors and doors, decorative fire places etc.
    Most of the houses in the area were similar in size, style and occupancy. But one didn’t see hordes of people in the streets. The area was quiet and very pleasant.

    “the Department of Natural Resources Canada states that high-rise households has the lowest energy consumption per household” No wonder when many of the newly built 1 bedroom are around 450-550 sq ft, 1/3 smaller than those in older buildings.

    Red frog

    January 22, 2011 at 2:36 pm

  6. @Mr Rees, sorry if there was a misunderstanding, I know you weren’t agreeing with Damien Gillis. I was saying he was incorrect in the first place about energy efficiency.

    @ Red Frog, in some ways it’s all relative. Most people in Vancouver would prefer something larger than a 550 sqft 1 bedroom if they could afford it, just as most japanese would prefer something other than a one-room studio with a unit bath. 😉


    January 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm

  7. Mez, I was talking about the energy consumption in high rises being said to be smaller than in houses or apartments in low rise building. Obviously the smaller the place the lower the consumption.

    Most people in Vancouver DO NOT live in a 1 bedroom of 550 sq ft or less. It is still possible to buy/rent bigger places that aren’t overly expensive but they will not be in the latest build downtown high-rise.

    Last year a young man was shown on TV proud of having bought a small unit for over 400 000$. You can still buy bigger places for less.

    By the same token most of the Japanese with a moderate income do not live in a small studio. Let’s not perpetuate stereotypes.

    Red frog

    January 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm

  8. “By the same token most of the Japanese with a moderate income do not live in a small studio. Let’s not perpetuate stereotypes.”
    “No wonder when many of the newly built 1 bedroom are around 450-550 sq ft, 1/3 smaller than those in older buildings.”
    “Most people in Vancouver DO NOT live in a 1 bedroom of 550 sq ft or less.”



    A more detailed reply depends on if you see living in downtown vancouver in a smaller unit as perjorative.

    Regardless, we are really off topic, and i’ll leave it at that…


    January 22, 2011 at 11:29 pm

  9. Great article Stephen. I like to think that the Gov’t will add several new Skytrain routes connecting to downtown, we sure could use one heading East/West through the DTES to port Moody. I think that would cut down traffic quite a bit. I think its only a matter of time before the DTES is developed and at least 30 floors high with mixed industrial/commercial and residential properties sprinkled throughout the area. All the technology is now available for zero emission green buildings so lets make it mandatory. Numerous developers are already on that part and good for them. I think James Schouw & Associates is leading the way.

    Jurgan Turner

    January 28, 2011 at 12:57 pm

  10. Jurgan – I would like to think that we will see more rapid transit but the present government’s priority is road building. The Evergreen Line still requires a funding mechanism but until we get a new premier there will be no action on that. And I somehow doubt it will be a priority even then. I think you could not be more wrong about the DTES. I also not going to allow you to advertise your real estate business here.

    Stephen Rees

    January 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm

  11. Hi again Stephen
    I was thinking that many of the decrepit buildings in the DTES will eventually go and the area redesigned similar to the mixes uses in the stretch around 5th-8th and Cambie. I realize that will take a long time but it will allow for growth and retain the industrial and commercial uses that are disappearing slowly from Vancouver. Your thoughts?

    Jurgan Turner

    January 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm

  12. Not 30 floors high for a start. And I would hope that we could learn some useful lessons from Gastown, where refurbishment rather than redevelopment was the preferred mode. We will need a new business model to if we are to retain industrial uses. The profit from simply changing the designation is so huge, and the pressing need for affordable housing for workers close their jobs both seem to be strong stimuli for change.

    Stephen Rees

    January 28, 2011 at 1:50 pm

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