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Is it time to get rid of parking minimums?

The cost of a parking spot in downtown Toronto has reached as high as $60,000 (per stall) in some new construction projects. If you convert that to a per square foot price (which is typically how people measure condo prices), you’re looking at over $350 per square foot for that parking stall. Is it worth it?

Most cities around the world have what is called a parking minimum. This means that to build, say a new residential condo, developers need to provide a certain number of parking stalls. In Toronto, those minimums will depend on your unit mix. Bigger units have more stringent parking requirements. 

In some cities, though it’s much rarer, they actually have parking maximums. Portland, for instance, has a maximum number of parking stalls that you’re allowed to build, which fluctuates based on the development’s proximity to transit.

And finally, there are some cities, such as Berlin, with no parking minimums or maximums at all. In those cases, the market dictates the number of parking stalls that should be built. If people want a parking spot with their apartment and won’t buy or rent it without one, then the developer builds it.

Though parking variances do happen in Toronto (for reasons such as proximity to transit), the city is generally skeptical of a market led approach to parking requirements. And there are a couple of reasons for that. They worry that investors might be buying the units (with no parking) and so the sales data may not be indicative of the end-user market.

The city also worries that developers might actively discourage purchasers from buying parking spots, as it’s usually more profitable not to build them. Underground parking is costly and often subsidized by the sale of the condo units themselves. In fact, I’ve heard of instances where underground parking has cost upwards of $100,000 per stall because of buoyancy forces and other technical details.

But I’m generally a free market guy. So I question if the market really isn’t capable of figuring out how much parking there truly needs to be. Undoubtedly, there will be families who demand 2 parking spots. I also bought a parking spot with my condo. But there may also be a number of people who would rather pay less for their home than subsidize a parking garage that they’ll rarely use.

And as I wrote in a recent post called, Is traffic the right question?, we could be losing sight of the greater goal. If we truly want to build a sustainable and livable city, then we should be considering how our development activity encourages transit usage over driving, and how we can promote a more balanced modal split across the city.

What are your thoughts? Would you buy a home without parking? Should we get rid of parking minimums, just as cities like Berlin have?

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