Parking space

When you walk around downtown, they hardly even register in your mind. Parking lots. They’re nearly everywhere, and it’s not often that we give them so much as a second glance. The truth is, parking lots are terrible wastes of space. They don’t really have many alternate uses, they’re visually unappealing, and they’re not very efficient, either, especially when you have a bunch of single-occupant vehicles parked in a lot all day.

What I wanted to know was exactly how much space are we losing to these surface parking lots? While it could always be worse (take a look around downtown Phoenix on Google Maps), the answer is still a lot. I mapped out all of the at least moderately sized lots (skipping parking garages, since they’re a little better in their space usage) in Centretown north of Somerset, and in the ByWard Market. I don’t claim 100% accuracy on these (you can see where Google’s satellite imagery doesn’t match their map data, for one), but I think they should still give you an idea of just how much room we use in Ottawa to give us spots to leave our cars all day.

Parking lots in Centretown north of Somerset

Parking lots in Centretown north of Somerset

Parking lots in the ByWard Market

Parking lots in the ByWard Market

Maybe it’s just me, but I found both of these to be pretty astounding. In both the densest part of our city, an in one of Ottawa’s biggest pedestrian areas, huge amounts of land are given over to parking lots. Just imagine if some of these were turned into apartment buildings, parkettes or squares! I’m certain it would make for a much nicer urban environment, as well as make these areas more attractive to both visitors and residents.

What also gets me is the fact that there are so many parking lots around the Supreme Court. These are federal lands, near a national landmark, so why are they given over to parked cars? Surely they’d be much nicer as public parks?

Of course, I recognize that we can’t just up and eliminate parking. We’re still a car-dependent society, no matter how good public transit use is in this city. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that we should build more underground parking lots or parking garages. The latter don’t even have to be ugly, as the Rideau Centre’s new parking garage shows. Maybe it’s not as cheap as simply paving over a square of land, but it’s certainly a much better way to deal with parking in our downtown core.

19 Responses to “Parking space”

  1. April 3, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    1. don’t hate on Phoenix. they are constantly restructuring with an incredible network of bike paths which is helping them work to eliminate their traffic nightmare, and it is said to be succeeding!

    2. the sad fact that you will have to face Dave, is that downtown Ottawa is horrendously laid out. the whole thing is a one-way nightmare. lots of poorly used space in general. i even think that the blocks should have been designed larger, eliminating every second or third street, allowing for more buildings and such. i mean look at the tiny bits of property everywhere, such as the one surrounded by Frank/Gladstone/O’Connor/Metcalfe. just poor planning.

    3. while i support the parking garages, i find that they are actually not large enough. the new one at Rideau seems relatively small. sure, i only parked there when the bus strike was on so it was naturally difficult to find parking anywhere, but still, its not even as many levels as the garage it replaced. i think the best solution would be a couple of large parking towers strategically placed.

  2. April 3, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    just looking at the map again, i really like Sparks street. it has such large blocks of buildings on each side.

    cities would do well to be planned like this:

    BLOCK | PEDESTRIAN WALKWAY | BLOCK | ROAD, repeat. more walking, less driving space, or at least better laid out two way streets to simply it all.

  3. 3 David McClelland
    April 3, 2009 at 2:04 pm


    1. That’s true about Phoenix, they are starting to turn things around. They’ve got a long way to go right now, though.

    2. You’re right, of course. Our downtown core plan basically dates back to when this city was a mid-19th century logging town, something that hardly translates well into a major modern metropolis.

    I also agree that Sparks Street, despite all the problems it has attracting crowds sometimes, does make for a good model. In fact, I think if there were more people actually living on Sparks (rather than the 9-5 office crowd), it would become one of Ottawa’s nicest areas.

  4. April 3, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    I completely agree about Sparks Street. It is beautiful, but there is nothing to do there. Even the stores that are there close early. Lame! … but a nice place to walk peacefully at night lol

    Also, I’ve decided that if there are any new cities being started up from scratch, I will be there to help develop them properly lol

  5. April 3, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    I remember a time – just after I moved to Ottawa with the rest of my immediate family in ’85 – when Sparks was considerably livelier. The underground mall at Place de Ville alone was busier by a couple of orders of magnitude instead of being half-given over to federal offices and whatnot. The same for the mall at the RBC Building – now the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building – at the other end of Sparks. Cart merchants galore as well!

    The idea of residential buildings on Sparks itself – unlikely as it is that I’d be able to afford such real estate on even a rental basis – definitely appeals to me. It would kick-start the street considerably.

  6. April 3, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    As to parking garages…I don’t see why they shouldn’t be built to look appealing to the eye either.

  7. 7 Chris B
    April 4, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Well, you look at this map and you think of the developers arguing that there is no room to expand inside the greenbelt….

  8. 8 David McClelland
    April 4, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    Chris: Yeah, that’s a good point. And I can only imagine what a similar map for Gloucester, Nepean, Carlington, etc. would look like… there are a lot more of these lots out there.

  9. April 5, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Note to City Council: print off copies of the above maps for future reference in such confrontations.

  10. April 7, 2009 at 7:31 am

    I wanted the do the same thing for Hull, where I think it is even worst!
    I’ll let you know when it will be done.

  11. April 7, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Honestly I don’t think it looks that bad. It could be better for sure, but there needs to be parking space in the city. It’s unrealistic to think everyone going downtown should walk or take the bus. I think it would be good if Ottawa took the Japanese approach to parking in the city, or even something like the self parking garage in Munich. I should definitely be more attractive and more efficient in terms of space.
    – Marie

  12. April 28, 2009 at 9:25 am

    Parking lots do provide an interim land use function between one “real” land use and another, for eg, consolidating several obsolete old buildings and lots in order to build a new, larger project. The problem lies in the length of time between the ‘uses’.

    The city imposes fairly low taxes on parking lots. There are even lower aesthetic requirements, although in some areas the imposes a requirement that lots have a landscaped edge. The result of this for land owners is thus: low cost of holding vacant land, profits from renting it out for parking, potential longer term profits from selling to a developer. I argue we get lots of parking lots because they are underpriced land uses, and the underpricing is aided and abetted by the city.

    Consider this option: if a owner demolishes his existing buildings, he must apply for and get a permit for a parking lot as a land use, said permit would include landscaping and aesthetic requirements. The permit might be for two years only. After that, the land tax reverts to the tax rate as if the land had been developed to its zoned potential, eg highrise condos, office building etc. This would make long term holding of parking lots uneconomic. Builders would then demolish only when they foresaw immenent redevelopment.

  13. April 28, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I think the issue was touched upon that Ottawa’s streets are a mess of one-way streets in many parts of downtown. The streets here are much more oriented to moving people than being any sort of destination. I think we could probably use existing infrastructure for parking much better, freeing up space for redevelopment. Case in point: if Sussex is largely to be a one-way street, can we not turn one lane over to parking in non-peak hours? This would actually create a buffer from traffic for pedestrians, and help free up some space along York Street, here the parking stalls there could be replaced with more vendor’s stalls. I think that’s a fair swap. There are many streets in Ottawa where there is no compelling reason to ban parking in non-peak hours.

    Regarding the comment that we should close some of the smaller side streets, I fundamentally disagree. I think shorter blocks, that allow for more pedestrian permeation are good things, and help keep streets from beginning to feel like traffic sewers. all those long stretches along south Bank street, where streets can be several hundred meters apart only encourage traffic speed. also, those little side streets are good for providing parking, mitigating the need to turn developable land over to the automobile.

  14. May 14, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Here is a similar analysis on Hull.


    sorry, it is in French, but I guess the images speak for themselves…

  15. May 25, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Interesting analysis! When I first moved to Ottawa, I was surprised at the number of downtown surface lots (not to mention underground options).

    However, I think it is worth noting commercial developers (as well as the federal government) own many of these sites currently used for surface parking. There are plans for office towers ready to go at Elgin and Gloucester, Slater and Bank, and Queen and Kent, to name just a few. All they need is a preleasing commitment (and in this city, that generally needs to come from Public Works) and those parking lots will start to be ripped up. Look how quickly Broccolini started digging at Slater and O’Connor once they were selected to build the new Export Development Canada HQ tower. Not too sure about residential developers, but I can think of several condo towers currently under construction in Centretown and downtown. Change happens slowly. But I bet several of those parking lots will disappear over the next decade.

  16. January 20, 2010 at 11:49 am

    1) Don’t diss small blocks. In fact, the blocks of old Uppertown (now the CBD and Centretown) are, to my mind, too big already. Compare to the even older original town layout of what is now downtown Halifax, where the blocks are even smaller…. or to Prairie cities where they are much bigger (Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton) and the city centre is even deader.

    2) As much surface parking as there is in Ottawa…. it used to be a lot, lot, worse. Check out aerial photos from the late 1970s. (National Air Photo Library out at Booth is worth the price of admission.)

    3) That’s free, BTW.

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