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Local journalism initiative

Brampton’s obsession with parking wavers over the green movement

Just the thought of living in Brampton without a car can hurt your legs. In the subdivision of the sprawling city, driveways will be converted into parking spaces. Cars line residential streets around the clock. Otherwise, isolated parts of the city are connected by a network of highways and six-lane roads on which an airplane could land. For many residents and even planners in the city, it is almost impossible to imagine life without a car. The form built by Brampton, in which around 80 percent of the city is devoted to single family homes, is an urban design exercise that releases carbon into the environment. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed directly at paved auto kingdoms like Brampton. A report from the group found that sprawling cities that incorporate autocentric assumptions into every element of their planning have increased people’s reliance on fossil fuels. As you step away from the car, you can unlock the streets of Brampton, improve health, and provide much-needed relief to our rapidly warming planet. In December 2019, Brampton City Councils showed their willingness to change and asked staff to re-evaluate the entire park model through a comprehensive review. The aim of the study is to revise outdated parking rules that oblige developers to provide a minimum number of parking spaces and to rationalize or eliminate the requirements in pedestrian-friendly areas that are served by transit. Publishing a parking review itself is not a panacea. In Mississauga, the council approved its review in 2019, dividing the project into short, medium and long-term priorities. Even the short-term elements of the plan have a two-year horizon to complete. At a recent planning and development meeting, Brampton staff confirmed to councilors that they are currently looking for a contractor to complete the review. The news, a year after the idea was first published, means a full list of recommendations for a city-wide revision of parking rules likely won’t be ready until at least the fourth quarter of 2022. As the time extends between the original plan in 2019 and its first milestone in 2022, hundreds of new units will be approved and built in Brampton. Even in a context where city councils have agreed that the culture of parking minimums needs to be revised, current regulations require developers to continue building underground, above-ground or street-level parking spaces. The subject of parking has long been criticized in urban planning circles, with city planners apparently receiving little attention. Donald Shoup, a respected professor of urban planning at UCLA, has written extensively on parking. He condemns urban design standards, arguing that there is no rhyme or reason for the park formulas that planners must obey. In his long book on “The High Costs of Free Parking”, Schoup says that the parking rules are closer to “magic” than to science. The costs associated with these parking requirements are high and variable. In financial terms, a 2012 study by Shoup in 12 American cities found that the average cost of an above-ground parking space was $ 24,000, with the average underground parking space being $ 34,000. The land required for this parking creates an artificial deficiency as buildable living spaces become designated parking spaces that builders need to build units in accordance with city regulations. Innovative redevelopment projects, including RioCan’s Shoppers World plan on Steeles Avenue and Main Street, are actively reversing this trend by turning parking lots into condominium towers. The area is one of three small rooms. City officials apply a narrow lens while waiting for the results of a full park review. On January 18, the City of Brampton held a public meeting to discuss plans to remove parking minima in the city center, Hurontario Street and parts of Queen Street. A staffing proposal, expected to return for final approval in March, describes minor changes in a small part of the city that could help reduce dependency on the car, but a transportation revolution in a suburb that dreams of getting a car to become, does not force sustainable vertical city. The plan calls for a small area on Steeles Avenue and Hurontario Street where the Hurontario LRT will turn around when completed in 2024. It also includes part of downtown Brampton at Main and Queen, which extends eastward along the Queen towards Bramalea. The logic behind these decisions is unclear and staff struggled to explain it at the planning meeting. More than once, District 7 and 8 City Councilor Pat Fortini asked why staff hadn’t proposed the entire Queen Street corridor dedicated to a Metrolinx Express Bus Transit (BRT) route due to open as early as 2026 Dem City council was advised that the comprehensive park review would include this element when it is finally released in 2022 and implemented in subsequent years. Downtown Brampton, which will be served by the future Queen Street BRT and Kitchener GO lines, was included in the minimum parking fees, but Mount Pleasant and Bramalea, both of which were served by the same GO line, were not. “We look at the city center, we look at the parking lot, but at the end of the day we cannot build because of the floodplains,” said Fortini. “Along Queen Street, a major transit line, I thought we’d look all over town to get rid of parking.” The title of the Articles of Association (“Amendment to Eliminate Minimum Parking Requirements”) is also somewhat misleading. The staff suggest removing the minimum parking spaces for everything except single, double, duplex, triplex, double-duplex, street townhouse apartments, two-unit apartments, apartment buildings and senior citizens’ homes in the three small areas listed. Citizen residences. This means that removing parking minima would mainly affect new offices or apartment towers, two types of buildings that are still relatively difficult to pin down in Brampton’s planning picture. In downtown Brampton, one of the areas slated for permanent abolition of minimum parking requirements, the city’s budget process shed light on the cost to taxpayers of half-baked parking policies. A deputation to the Budget Committee by Sylvia Roberts, an avid observer of town hall meetings who has a loyal following on social media, detailed how uncoordinated policies dating back more than a decade had cost Bramptonians dearly. Referring to a downtown parking study that the city completed in 2009, Roberts showed that City Hall was charging too little for its own visitor parking and that without asking more, it would never be able to force a change of habit. Low parking costs also meant the taxpayer was on the hook for millions of dollars in maintenance in 2021, as usage fees didn’t cover the cost of surface renovation and other works on public parking stands across the city. “The parking fees are also an important tool for influencing the travel characteristics,” says the employee report. “Put simply, public transport is at a disadvantage as long as the cost of a monthly parking permit is lower than the cost of a monthly bus card.” As long as people can park for less than the cost of a bus pass, the city will never maximize the return on its substantial investment in existing or future public transportation. “The example shows the folly of incomplete guidelines. For years Brampton had temporary parking exemptions for non-residential buildings in the city center, but the availability of cheap and abundant municipal parking meant there was no incentive to drive and when the repair bill came up, it wasn’t just the drivers who paid for it. It remains to be seen whether the reduction in the minimum number of parking spaces in the city center will reduce dependency on the car or whether residents will bypass urban garages. And until rapid transit becomes the norm in Brampton, where vision is critical to turning the community away from its distant past, a review of parking rules could catalyze a seismic cultural shift. But even with the help of the council, this could be a huge demand for parking. Changes still seem to take some time. Email: Twitter: @isaaccallan Tel: 647 561-4879 COVID-19 affects all Canadians. At a time when important public information is in hand, everyone needs confirmation. The Pointer has removed our paywall for all stories related to the pandemic and those of public concern to ensure every Brampton and Mississauga resident has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us cover important topics of public concern that the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. After that, The Pointer charges $ 10 per month and you can cancel anytime directly on the website. Thank you. Isaac Callan, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, The Pointer