December 3, 2013

What would Commercial Drive look like with Surrey parking standards?

It would look like this:

Drive 2


As opposed to this, with existing parking:

Drive 1


Matt Taylor took the City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program put on by SFU. This is the presentation he did at the end – and when he gets into the economic implications for small business, it’s devastating:


Charles Marohn will be impressed.


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  1. How does Surrey’s requirements compare to Vancouver’s?

    Any particular reason he chose to create surface parking lots instead of underground lots?

    Many streetfront stores in Vancouver have parking off the alley behind the businesses, which are hidden from view in the pic above (i.e. the bottom of the pic is cropped to remove the view of the alley, and the alley on the far side of the street is hidden by the buildings. Seems like subtle manipulation to amplify the visual difference.

    1. Vancouver’s are sometimes quite a bit lower but not always. Many places on commercial drive would be sub-standard for Vancouver – a lot don’t have any off street parking. The block would still look quite a bit different with enough parking to meet City of Vancouver’s standards but not quite as extreme as with Surrey’s.

      The reasons for surface parking as opposed to underground lots are cost and development pattern. It costs around $40,000 dollars per parking space for underground parking, so this is prohibitively expensive for smaller developments and still imposes a huge cost on larger developments. That is the reason why when you look at an overhead map of Surrey you see many large Surface parking lots like this – it is the only financially viable options given the requirements. Also because this is a series of small developments that took place over time as opposed to one large project it can’t really be done, it is not technically feasible for a restaurant on a small lot to provide it’s own underground parking facility.

      There is some parking provided behind the buildings which you can see in the picture. In the presentation I outline that there is about 10 times less off-street parking currently provided than the City of Surrey standards would require. There are no surface parking lots hidden from view across the street and no parking garages nearby.

      – Matt

    2. It also looks like the area of commercial drive close to the skytrain station – (you can see the skytrain guideway – an even more unique ares of commercial drive well-served by rapid transit). I understand the point trying to be made, but the comparison needs some qualification.

      on a realted note, i always wonder about the expansive surface parking at fraser street by ~ 49th avenue. these would be large surface lots behind the commercial stripm on fraser. are they private or owned by the city? are there any development plans for the area? it’s certainly anomalous in the CoV but also seeming stuck in time in the 1960s…

      1. Right, because the skytrain in the 1980s caused Commercial Drive to be created in the 1910s… Viable transit service is a product of good building arrangements, specifically ones that people want to be in (i.e. that attract pedestrians).

        You might have more of a case with privately developed streetcar lines, but I believe the developer would have owned the lot space then and so have been better incentivised not to waste it.

      2. What were the minimum parking requirements in 1910? 😉

        It would further suggest that the comparison needs qualification unless the development in the surrey example came from a similar era.

        IMO comparing an area like commercial drive to ~ 1950s type development is important but here it’s like preaching to the choir. I’d be interested in where things aren’t so clear cut – how will the commercial drive safeway be re-developed? what does one make of the plans for an area like east clayton in surrey where they are trying to make greenfield pedestrian-scaled SFH development?

      3. The point being made is not about what is the correct amount of parking, but on who makes the decision.

        The decision of how much parking to provide will be a complex trade off that takes into account your business plan, the surrounding land use and transportation choices, and probably most importantly the cost of property in the area. Of course businesses would all like more parking but it is a balance between benefits and costs. This complex trade off can not be contained within top down zoning codes.

        Sure, there are parts of Surrey where this much parking might make business sense at present. There are also large swaths of land in the northwest that have comparable levels of transit service. In the presentation I wanted to point out some of the long term implications of trying to force decisions about parking through zoning codes.

  2. Great analysis and presentation, Matt. Thank you. I trust you intend to present this to Surrey staff and Council?

    Now, if municipalities could reduce the duration of or eliminate entirely the stripping of on-street parking on streets like Commercial Drive during peak hours, I’m sure the small business owners would be happier. (As the COV will be doing on West End shopping streets – good show!) So would pedestrians, who wouldn’t be subject to the curbside lane being used for moving traffic. Further, curb extensions, parklets and other interventions could be employed where needed or wanted.

    While I haven’t looked at the traffic aspects of the Grandview Woodlands draft plan that closely, I wouldn’t be surprised if staff are heading in a similar direction. I hope so.

    1. This was presented to City of Surrey transportation staff, along with a number of other great presentations from students in the Surrey Transportation Lecture Program including quite a few more on parking reform.

      I was very impressed with the staff that put on the program and they are definitely working hard to keep surrey moving i the right direction. Next year Surrey is undertaking a comprehensive update to their parking standards and their transportation staff seemed receptive to the input they were getting.

  3. As a general comment I think that areas go through transition phases that may take decades to evolve. It may be that an area is currently developed with strip mall retail with surface parking because the area is low density (sparse local population), not well-served by transit and it woud be uneconomical to bury the parking lots. But over time – a very long time – the land value will change, transit conditions may change and poulation density may increase – at that time, that natural evolution would lead to a redevelopment of the area.

    Within the City of Vancouver, historically consolidated parcels (i.e. stores with surface parking lots or light industrial sites) are ready-made targets for opportunitistic rezonings at higher density (because you aren’t displacing single family home residents).

    Those densified “store with parking lot” sites (completed or in progress) include:
    – Safeway @ Kingsway & Knight (King Edward Village)
    – Safeway @ Granville & 70th
    – Safeway @ Robson & Demman
    – Safeway on Davie
    – Canadian Tire @ Cambie & 7th
    – The Rise on Cambie
    – Canadian Tire on KIngsway (Kensington Gardens)
    – Wally’s drive-in on Kingsway (Skyway Tower)
    – numerous auto-oriented sites along Broadway, Kingsway or other arterials (including former White Spot drive-ins)
    and the biggies:
    – Oakridge Centre
    – Brentwood Town Centre
    – Lougheed Town Centre

    I’d even expect the strip plaza at Cornwall & Cypress to be replaced by denser development some time soon.

    Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend that planning should yield the “final” result, rather than just the next step in an evolution.

    i.e. The present boom of auto dealerships along Terminal Ave. is just providing a placeholder until the area matures enough for office park style blocks to proceed on those sites (a few others have proceeded with office blocks).

    Likewise, even above grade parkades are not built to last forever. Two parkades on Richards Street were demolished to build Telus Garden, parkades at 320 Granville (opposite the CP Station) and the Vancouver Centre parkade on Seymour will be replaced by office towers (albeit with parking, but densifying the use of the sites).

    Just because an area may be built with surface parking intially doesn’t mean it will stay that way forever – it may be instrumental in drawing people to an area (i.e. there’s a reason that historic shopping strips die when a nearby mall opens up – convenience).
    Next up for densification will be all of the surface parking lots on No. 3 Rd. in Richmond.

    1. “Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend that planning should yield the “final” result, rather than just the next step in an evolution.”

      The point I try to get across in this presentation is that you don’t see these evolutionary steps in development is because of the off-street parking regulations in place. Moderate redevelopment will not be economically feasible and minor redevelopment such as a small new restaurant will not be technically feasible either. This is not so much a trend in planning but a market response to the parking regulations.

  4. I think the point is being missed. It’s not about deciding how much parking a particular area needs, it’s about taking the government out of the decision making process.

    Businesses should be perfectly capable of deciding for themselves how much parking they wish to build. There doesn’t need to be laws mandating businesses build X amount of parking.

    Land owners are very clever at deciding what is the most efficient, profit maximizing way of using their land. If left to their own devices, some businesses would choose to keep the parking that exists because the waste of space is worth it in increased customers, and other business would choose to develop the land into a revenue generating project. We should let them do whatever they feel will generate more profit.

    1. Indeed, but people also abuse the free land. So, for example, in Point Grey they park 2 or even 3 cars on the street and convert the “garage” into a rental unit, a storage unit or an office.

      If cars would have to pay $300/month for that stall on the street, the decision might be different.

      As such, the issue is pricing of public land. Roads in Point Grey are not owned by the house owner. They are public land, yet residents get almost free parking there or for $100/year. That is a core issue we ought to change. Free parking is essentially vote buying !

      Once parking is based on market value, say $200 per sq ft or $40,000/stall or $200-$400/month then people will think twice to buy a second or third car.

      See here: page 9:

    1. I should note that if you were to walk up commercial drive for 20 minutes away from the Skytrain you would still see a similar pattern of developmnent

  5. I love this presentation, good show. I would say that I entirely agree that businesses should make a business decision about how much parking they want to provide – with the proviso that they do not complain when public land is transformed from parking spots to infrastructure that moves people such as bike lanes or bus priority lanes. We have a situation here in Victoria where businesses that successfully argued for parking variances (based on the argument that they didn’t need parking) are now trying to block bike lanes in front of their businesses. Businesses should be providing whatever parking they believe they need to succeed. As someone who doesn’t drive, I want my fair share of city infrastructure – which means folks who drive need to start paying the full cost!

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