Parking pays off: How putting change in a meter changes the city

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By Joslyn Hildebrand

Edmonton’s downtown skyline has seen a lot of exciting change in the last few years, but this urban development brings with it a less exciting change for commuters: paid street parking (PSP). The new meters along almost every street in the core of the city have incited a negative response from people trying to park downtown.

The reality is, although the changes may take some getting used to, PSP is for the best.

We need to recognize we are not entitled to free parking. The city owns the streets, not citizens. This is a good thing; it means that everyone has the right to park there.

More important, PSP is actually proven to benefit the cities and communities in which it is implemented because it generates revenue, decreases vehicle traffic, and eliminates large surface parking lots.



Reports on downtown parking in Edmonton from  2015 to 2018 show revenue from PSP was $6.2 million lower than forecasted. The formerly free street parking cannot be blamed entirely for that gap, though introducing PSP is an opportunity for the city to increase revenue.

Donald Shoup, urban planning research professor at UCLA, has recommended that cities implement PSP based on what a parking spot is worth.

His reasoning is that free parking is not costless but comes at a price – paid by the government. For example, in Boston each on-street parking space is estimated to cost around $1,750 to build and $400 to maintain annually. This municipal spending comes out of citizens’ tax dollars.

“That parking doesn’t just come out of thin air,” Shoup writes in his book Parking and the City. “So, this means people who don’t own cars pay for other people’s parking. Every time you walk somewhere, or ride a bike, or take a bus, you’re getting shafted.”


In her transportation study, planning professor Rachel Weinberger found that paid parking encourages people to take public transportation, which is more energy and space efficient.

Councillor Mike Nickel pointed out that a traffic impact study revealed downtown Edmonton has enough parking space for visitors, but people tend to drive around searching for a free spot.

Additionally, research by Adam Millard-Ball of UC Santa Cruz shows that traffic significantly decreases when paid parking is in effect, reducing pollution and congestion.

“People might not like new meters or an extension of meter hours, but certainly our data suggests that they’re very effective in reducing the amount of traffic cruising for parking,” Milliard-Ball writes.

This is good news for the fight against road rage, especially during rush hours travelling in and out of the downtown core.


Surface Lots

Parking is the single biggest land use in most cities,” Shoup says. “There’s more land devoted to parking than there is to housing or industry or commerce or offices.”

Downtown councillor Scott McKeen has previously voiced his contempt for surface parking and it’s tendency to “deaden an area.”

Edmonton’s core is currently facing that challenge currently.

With the development of the Ice District, the Katz Group proposed a rezoning of space to in the Central McDougall area to accommodate large surface lots. The community rejected that idea, but it is happening anyway.

Luckily, this is a temporary solution and the surface lots north of Rogers Place are only zoned for three years.

Although the league received compensation for the zoning of surface parking in 2016, ongoing payment for that lot is not fed into the community.

Board director Warren Champion says the league is unhappy.

“You have literally no investment after the initial one, and you make a hell of a lot of money,” he says.


Land devoted to surface and garage parking generates little revenue for a city, which poses a problem when we rely on paid lots rather than PSP.

Consequently, the inconvenience of having to park farther from downtown, take public transit, or pay for a parking spot is heavily outweighed by the benefits of the new PSP in the centre of Edmonton.

For more information about current bylaw protocol and street parking data in Edmonton, click here.

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