In London's fight for urban space, cars are about to lose some of their footing

London city hall has proposed drastically lowering the minimum number of automobile parking spaces required for all new developments, while at the same time raising requirements for bicycle parking, in the first major overhaul of city parking policy in three decades. 

London's 273K vehicles would fill a parking lot half the size of Point Pelee National Park

A man walks by an empty space in a parking lot.
Changes to the city's parking space bylaw would decrease the amount of automobile parking required in residential, retail and industrial areas, which in turn, aims to ween us off our car dependence and encourage biking and walking. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

London city hall has proposed drastically lowering the minimum number of automobile parking spaces required for all new developments, while at the same time raising requirements for bicycle parking, in the first major overhaul of city parking policy in three decades. 

The proposal would cut the number of vehicle parking spaces required for residential developments in half. It would also decrease the amount of parking needed for retail and industrial developments by up to one-third to half, based on floor space and type of use.

At the same time, the city would expand the number of bicycle parking spaces required in all developments to a minimum of three spaces, plus additional spaces based on floor area and use. 

The overhaul is a major plank in the city's climate emergency action plan, which aims to reduce the number of car trips in the city, believed to be responsible for about half of the city's total carbon emissions. It also aims to reduce the sheer amount of physical space cars take up when they're not being used. 

Overhaul looks to correct 'oversupply' of parking

"The current approach, where minimum parking standards are required, often leads to an oversupply of parking," said Isaac de Ceuster, a city planner in long-range planning and research for the City of London. 

"Large amounts of parking basically increases the distances between developments and requires more land and makes walking, cycling or using public transit harder." 

The proposal includes allowing developers, businesses and residents to determine on their own how much parking their property should include, but only in the city's most intensively-developed area. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Ontario is one of the most car-obsessed places in the country, according to Statistics Canada. 

In 2019, the province had more than a third of the nation's registered vehicles – at 12.5 million, vehicles outnumbered Ontario's 12 million adults.  

In London specifically, there were about 273,000 vehicles last year, according to city records. That's 0.86 vehicles for every person old enough to drive one in the city.

All of those vehicles need space, often putting them into a direct, but largely silent conflict with people, who also need a place to park themselves, especially in high density areas.

Parking makes driving cheap, but development expensive

London's abundance of parking stands in sharp contrast to its undersupply of housing, de Ceuster said. 

"Excessive amounts of parking increase the cost and reduce the viability of housing development in our city, which is of course, very important in light of the affordability crisis."

The elimination of minimum parking requirements in high density areas of the city, such as downtown, would make it easier for builders to create infill developments. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

To get an idea of just how much space parking takes up in this city, consider the fact one parking space is about 30 square metres, or two-thirds the size of an average 45-square metre studio apartment. One hundred parking spaces could fill half a football field, space for a couple of houses and a yard, or even a small apartment building. 

If you put the 273,000 vehicles registered in London last year in one parking lot, that lot would take up 8.19 square kilometres, the equivalent of about half the size of Point Pelee National Park. 

"That's a significant amount of space that we use for parking," he said.

In other words, London has grown into a sprawling city of car-friendly strip malls, office parks and suburbanite neighbourhoods because it's the easiest way for developers to comply with regulations. 

City to retain certain minimums

It's why the city is proposing to throw out the rules when it comes to minimum parking requirements on private property in London's most densely-populated areas, including downtown, main street commercial areas, like Richmond Row or Hamilton Road East, leaving it up to developers, businesses and homeowners to determine their parking own needs. 

The goal of the city's parking standards review is to reduce the amount of car trips as well as the physical space cars take up, which city officials said would to a more walkable, sustainable community. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

London will keep some minimums for certain areas in order to prevent what city planners call "parking spillover," or vehicles parking where they're not wanted, such as on arterial streets, empty lots or front lawns. 

"We're trying to encourage more active mobility, such as walking, cycling and public transit," de Ceuster said, adding its why the city is proposing a higher number of bicycle parking spaces in all new developments. 

"At the end of the day it's about convenience. In the same way we provide bicycle lanes, you have more people who will use them. It's the same way for bicycle parking spaces. If you have safe, convenient, perhaps even weatherproof storage for your bike, it becomes more attractive for people to use them."