Opinion

Why Calgarians should have to pay for the parking spot in front of their house

Maybe you should have to pay to park in front of your own home. Richard White offers a curbside reality check. And we want to hear from you. Let the seething begin.

Let the seething begin

A Calgary mother is asking neighbours for empathy after receiving complaints about caregiver staff parking on the street in front of their home (not shown here). (Google Maps)

This article was originally posted on Nov. 30.


Hey Calgarians, you don't own the street!

One of the biggest misconceptions among Calgary homeowners is that they own the street parking in front of their house.

They don't.

It is a public space anybody can use.

I know, I know. This is a third-rail issue. The kind of thing that can cause people to become explosively angry. You drive home from a crappy day at the office, with a trunk full of groceries and a couple screaming kids, and some thoughtless jerk has the audacity to be parked in your spot.

But you best make peace with that — your perception just ain't reality.

Justin Kern made headlines in 2016 with this sign he put up in his front yard, which he said was an effective deterrent to people parking in front of his home, even though they are legally allowed to. (Jonathan Love/CBC)

Unfortunately, by issuing residential parking permits for street parking, the City of Calgary gives homeowners the impression the street in front of their house is indeed their personal parking spot.

And this is becoming a bigger problem as the city wants to diversify and densify our inner-city neighbourhoods.

All those hundreds of thousands of parking spots along our streets are a valuable asset the city must manage in a more creative manner. It's a way to enhance the vitality of our inner-city communities for both commercial and residential development.

And so, maybe you should have to pay to park in front of your own home.

Let the seething begin.

Nothing is free, not even parking

Residential permit parking gives Calgarians the solid (and defendable) position the street in front of their homes is their personal parking spot. All those signs that say "permit only" make us feel special — privileged — especially if we've gone to the trouble to secure the privilege for ourselves.

Currently, the city allows residents of a block who gather up enough signatures to restrict the parking on their street to area residents only — for free, and for life.

Hence, those "permit only" signs.

A sign indicates residential permit parking only during certain hours on a Calgary street. (James Young/CBC)

The system doesn't look at whether or not the houses on the street have garages or parking pads — just the number of signatures. The permit parking provides private privilege to permit holders at no cost. Yet the city is still obligated to maintain, repair, plow, sand and protect the public right of way.

And this is important. A lot of people claim, "But I pay a shwack of property tax, and should be allowed to park in front of my home."

Well, no.

There's a lot of people in the city who don't live on a permit street; they also pay property tax and they should be able to park in front of your house when they are in the neighbourhood.

The free permit system is also a missed revenue source.

Parking could pay for snow clearing

The city is always looking for new cash, and this is an obvious one.

A quick check with Calgary Parking Authority determined there are about 39,000 residential parking permit households (each house gets 2 permits) in Calgary.

If the city were to charge, say, $1,000 a year for each household permit (remember that is for two vehicles), it would generate $39 million a year. That would cost you about $1.37 a day per vehicle. We could take that down to $500 and we'd still have nearly $20 million to add to, oh, snow removal or something.

Parking revenue could be used for street maintenance, including snow clearing, says Richard White. (CBC)

In this, Calgary would be joining a list of cities that already charge people to park on the street.

In Toronto, they charge $17.91 (with tax) a month if you don't already have access to on-site parking — like you don't have a garage or driveway. If you want a second permit, you need to add another $39.70 (plus HST). Now, if you actually have a garage or driveway, then the fee is $62.79 (with tax) a month to buy a permit. So those Torontonians are paying about $750 a year for two cars to park on the street.

Over in Vancouver, they charge an annual fee that ranges from $39.72 to $378, depending on which community you live in.

Back here in Calgary, in a few places, the city already charges a nominal $50 fee for a two-year permit in a few locations. So the concept and administrative process is in place.

But what I'm suggesting isn't just a cash grab for city hall, or some weird kind of punishment for homeowners. There are practical reasons.

Traffic issues in your 'hood

Often the biggest complaints when a new infill development is proposed for an inner-city community is that it will create parking issues — especially if it has commercial uses.

And this is exactly the kind of development the city is trying to encourage, so we get more of those mixed-use buildings in residential neighbourhoods, like a condo tower with stores on the ground floor.

Too often, inner-city residents say they want more amenities in their neighbourhood — cafés, bistros, urban grocery stores, medical offices, etc. But, as soon as one is proposed, the complaints roll in about parking and traffic issues.

Locals demand underground parking be built. But construction can cost $40,000 to $70,000 a stall. Ouch. And then we wonder why the cost of the condos are so high. Or why restaurants and cafés are so expensive.

What people are really talking about when they complain about congestion in their neighbourhood are the cars driving around looking for a parking spot. In a lot of cases (and this will only get worse as the inner city develops) people are driving around looking for somewhere that isn't a permit-parking-only spot.

You can't have it both ways Calgary: the cozy corner coffee shop next to the nifty local bakery — and your personal permit parking.

Why shouldn't businesses have access to the street parking near them? After all, they pay way more in taxes on a per-square-foot basis than residential property owners. Don't they and their customers also have a right to the street parking?

They should.

Fair's fair

We all pay taxes, and yet, there are loads of places we can't park because we don't have the right home address.

For those living near LRT stations, hospitals or large schools, the concern is that unless the street is permit parking, people will park there all day while at work, rather than pay to park on site. The fear (and it's not unjustified) is that you will never be able to park near your home.

Students at Mount Royal University have received threats after parking on a residential street roughly 20 minutes from campus. 2:17

The easy solution is something we already do in other parts of town: limit street parking in the area to a specific time period — say, two to four hours. Sure, some people will just come out and move their car, but that is the exception, not the rule.

And yes, I know there are parking issues in places near special events, but come on, it is just a few times a year. Can't we just suck it up and let people park on the street. Can't we (gasp!) learn to park in our garages?

Currently, there is not enough oversight to the parking permit process. It essentially happens automatically once a street gathers up enough signatures. There needs to be more thought, more planning and more fitting it in with redevelopment opportunities.

Generating commercial activity and balanced communities should take a higher priority than private car storage for free.

And fair should be fair.


This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca


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About the Author

Richard White

Author Everyday Tourist blog

Richard White has served on the Calgary Planning Commission (Citizen at Large), the Calgary Tourism Board, The Calgary Public Art Board, and the Tourism Calgary Board. He writes a blog called Everyday Tourist about our city, and has written extensively on Calgary's urban development.