In support of the Regional Growth Strategy policy to encourage reduced residential parking requirements in coordination with frequent transit service, Metro Vancouver conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of apartment parking supply and demand for a metropolitan area. Evidence was gathered from current and emerging trends, discussions with municipal planners and engineers, and developers, and the completion of two regional surveys. From this investigation, key findings and opportunities have been identified for consideration by municipalities and the development industry to achieve a better match between apartment parking supply and demand close to frequent transit.
Encouraging compact communities, sustainable transportation choices, and housing affordability are well-established objectives in Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy and Regional Affordable Housing Strategy. Parking is at the nexus of these objectives. Given that apartments represent over one-half of new housing starts in the region today and will remain so over the next three decades as the population grows by one million people, having current and efficient parking requirements are critical to the achievement of a sustainable region and livable neighbourhoods.
In metropolitan Vancouver, the cost of constructing on-site structured parking can range from $20,000 to $45,000 per stall, plus maintenance costs. Ensuring the parking requirements match actual demand can help reduce unnecessary housing development costs.
The Metro Vancouver Apartment Parking Study is one of the most comprehensive examinations of apartment parking supply and demand conducted on a metropolitan area. Through the exploration of emerging trends, review of past studies, discussions with municipal planners, engineers, and developers, and completion of two regional surveys, a robust evidence base was established.
Current and Emerging Trends
The amount of parking required in new apartment developments should reflect current and emerging trends. Transit ridership continues to increase year after year, in part from improved transit service levels and the expansion of TransLink’s Frequent Transit Network. Since 2008, the region has seen a steady decline in the rate that additional cars and light trucks have been added to the region. High fuel prices have become the norm. Carshare programs have exploded in popularity in recent years such that the region has one of the most competitive markets in all of North America. Whether or not these patterns will continue on to become long-term trends, the evidence does point minimally to the need to revisit basic assumptions about the supply and demand for apartment parking in the region.
Lessons from Studies in Other Cities
Previous studies from other cities have consistently showed that parking supply in apartments close to transit exceeds parking demand by a wide margin. A common limitation of some of these studies was their singular focus on proximity to rail transit and a lack of comparative data on apartments located further away from transit. The Metro Vancouver Apartment Parking Study addresses this significant research gap by surveying apartment sites close to frequent bus corridors, SkyTrain stations, SeaBus stations, and sites further away from the Frequent Transit Network.
Lessons from Current Practices
Dialogues with apartment developers and municipal planners yielded insights about current practices in the region. Most municipalities stipulate minimum parking requirements of at least 1.0 stall per apartment unit. A few municipalities stipulate reduced residential parking requirements based on proximity to transit. Most allow for reduced requirements for non-market housing or seniors housing sites. Minimum visitor parking requirements are typically set at 0.2 stall per apartment unit.
Due to the diverse urban and transportation contexts of the region, there was no consensus from apartment developers on whether current municipal minimum parking requirements are too high or too low. Developers expressed reluctance to push for parking reduction variances for fear of risking the viability or approval of a project. An increasing number of municipalities are interested in updating their parking bylaws for new apartment developments close to existing and new SkyTrain stations.
Parking practices in the region were also compared to progressive practices in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Seattle, Bellevue, Portland, and Denver. These jurisdictions offer interesting lessons for metropolitan Vancouver as illustrated in the chart.
Key Findings from the Parking Facility Survey and Household Survey
The only reliable way to evaluate whether current parking requirements are providing a good match between supply and demand is through surveys of recently built and fully occupied apartment buildings in the region. In the fall of 2011, Metro Vancouver carried out two regional surveys. In the Parking Facility Survey, the number of parking stalls and parked vehicles in 80 participating apartment sites were counted on weeknights. In the Household Survey, Metro Vancouver distributed surveys to apartment households to obtain more information about parking habits and preferences. Over 1,500 apartment households responded.
The key findings were:
- Residential parking supply in strata apartments generally exceed parking demand in the range of 18-35 percent across the region.
- Residential parking demand is lower near TransLink’s Frequent Transit Network. For apartments near the Frequent Transit Network, the parking demand range is 0.89-1.06 vehicles per apartment unit; whereas for apartments further away from the Frequent Transit Network, the parking demand range is 1.10-1.25 vehicles per apartment unit.
- Residential parking demand near Frequent Transit Network bus stops are similar to demand near SkyTrain/SeaBus stations, but the parking supply is higher.
- Vehicle holdings and parking demand for apartment renters are much lower than for owners. This is consistent with prior research. In purpose-built market rental sites, the parking demand range is 0.58-0.72 vehicles per apartment unit.
- Visitor parking supply may be over supplied. Observed parking demand rates were below 0.1 stall per apartment unit, compared to the typical municipal requirement of 0.2 visitor stall per apartment unit.
- Participation in carshare programs was highest in Vancouver (16% of surveyed households) and UBC (15% of surveyed households), where carshare programs predominantly operate. Households with carshare memberships have fewer vehicles than do non-members.
- Proximity to transit was consistently cited by over half of the households surveyed as one of the top three factors when choosing their current home.
Apartment Parking Near the Frequent Transit Network
Updating parking requirements for apartments is not something that is regularly completed for various reasons. What the study provides is objective evidence that communities and developers can use when determining the appropriate amount of parking in new apartment developments.
The greatest opportunities for change are new apartment sites near the Frequent Transit Network (generally within 400 metres of a frequent bus stop and/or within 800 metres of a SkyTrain station). High density communities with a robust network of frequent transit services offer the best opportunities to put these findings into practice. For suburban communities lacking the coverage of frequent transit services, these opportunities may be treated as long-term goals.
In the long-run, the benefits of taking action will be more efficient and livable neighbourhoods in Urban Centres and Frequent Transit Development Areas, improvements to housing affordability and housing choice, and greater use of sustainable transportation choices.
- Treat On-Site and Street Parking as a System: A more holistic approach toward parking supply and parking demand management for new apartment projects is warranted. Attention should be paid to the availability, type, and relative permanence of street parking (e.g., free, paid, permit-only, and/or time-limited) and surrounded land uses, in association with any reductions in on-site parking requirements.
- Encourage Parking Supply to Match Demand Near the Frequent Transit Network: Parking requirements should be set based on actual or expected demands with further reductions based on transportation demand management measures or other site-specific conditions.
- Encourage Parking Unbundling/Opt-Out: Selling parking stalls separate from apartments or allowing consumers to opt out of a parking stall will increase choice, and provide the opportunity for consumers without cars to realize some modest improvement in affordability.
- Encourage Rental Apartments Near the Frequent Transit Network: Apartment renters generally have lower parking demands than do owners, and living close to the Frequent Transit Network provides an opportunity to be less reliant on a private vehicle. For these reasons, it makes sense to encourage development of more rental apartment units close to the Frequent Transit Network.
- Encourage Expansion of Carshare Programs where Feasible: Municipalities and developers should encourage carshare providers to expand beyond current operating boundaries to such places as emerging Urban Centres and Frequent Transit Development Areas in suburban areas where practical and feasible.
- Consider Allowing Amendments to Parking Supply after Pre-Sales: It is often only after apartment pre-sales that developers will have better data to support modifications to residential parking supply. By adapting municipal processes to accommodate amendments before construction, the parking efficiency of new apartment developments can be improved.
- Conduct Regular Post-Occupancy Surveys: Regular and frequent post-occupancy surveys of apartment projects should be conducted to provide timely information on parking demand in recently-built and fully-occupied apartment developments. Industry groups, such as the Urban Development Institute and the Urban Land Institutes, should contribute resources to these research efforts and support widespread dissemination of the findings.
- Coordinating Frequent Transit Network Expansion: Uncertainties in the future stop or station locations of the Frequent Transit Network, and the staging of expansion, can be addressed effectively through enhanced collaboration and information sharing between TransLink and municipal partners.
Metro Vancouver’s role is largely leadership through research, outreach, collaboration, and advocacy. Metro Vancouver is committed to working with stakeholders to advance the study findings. A summary booklet accompanies this technical report to be shared with a wider audience. Metro Vancouver will continue to cooperate with partners to further the implementation of the Regional Growth Strategy and Regional Affordable Housing Strategy, including matters related to parking, through timely research of best practices and empirical data collection and analysis.
Metro Vancouver acknowledges and thanks all individuals and parties who provided their expert opinions and feedback. They include the development community who provided insight about the apartment development design, approval and marketing process and, municipal planners and engineers who provided information about current parking practices, challenges, and opportunities. The study could not have been completed without the cooperation of apartment property managers who provided building contact information, the condominium strata organizations that granted access to their parkades, and the individuals who took time to complete the household surveys.
Acuere Consulting Ltd., led by Clark Lim (principal) and Ken Tseng (survey manager) provided solid and dependable technical assistance in the design and implementation of the surveys. Special thanks go to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia for providing timely data on vehicle licensing, BC Hydro and the City of New Westminster for providing electricity consumption data, and to municipal and TransLink staff for their feedback.
All analyses presented in this technical report were prepared by Metro Vancouver staff.
Metro Vancouver Project Staff
- Raymond Kan (Project Manager/Senior Regional Planner)
- Eric Aderneck (Senior Regional Planner)
- Janet Kreda (Senior Housing Planner)
- Meredith Seeton (2011 summer technical assistant)
- Rosa Shih (2012 summer technical assistant)