The Ongoing Battle for a Walkable Langley
We have to learn from the mistakes made in Willoughby & Willowbrook or else we will end up forcing more cars to the road and less people walking. Willoughby continues to build and Brookswood is next up.
Our most recent neighbourhood plan that was passed last October was the last one by the former council – Williams. Shockingly, despite it being an important gateway at the new 216th interchange, it is literally being turned into something almost identical to what we’ve been building for generations: another car-oriented strip mall with acres of surface parking.
Although the Williams NCP document claims that the neighbourhood will be a vibrant, walkable and connected community in the vision, Council adopted a plan that really has no incentive to build a vibrant community, is admittedly “auto-oriented” (the Mayor’s words, not mine) and is inherently disconnected with 100% of residents partitioned away from the commercial components.
“The Williams Neighbourhood is a vibrant, walkable and connected community that maintains its natural assets and views. As a gateway to the Township and Willoughby community, it provides jobs close to home while maintaining a quiet and family friendly neighbourhood. Green spaces blend the neighbourhood into adjacent agriculture lands and a mix of affordable and accessible housing for families, individuals, and those wanting to age in place is offered.”
I find this all very curious considering what was recently built in Abbotsford just a few junctions away. Although Abbotsford’s HighStreet isn’t a perfect example, it is at least a better example of what could have been in place as a “interchange gateway”. Highstreet has extensive underbuilding parking & limited surface parking, which provides a more pedestrian oriented atmosphere. Although it lacks in a residential component – which would have been awesome, it has an interesting walk between shops. Yet for some reason, we end up with a plan that is no different than something we would have built in 1979.
“Rather than parking working in the service of cities, cities have been working in the service of parking, almost entirely to their detriment.” – Jeff Speck, “Walkable City”
Creating a walkable neighbourhood isn’t always difficult because of a lack of planning or money or creativity. It can also be a struggle because the measures that need to be taken can be counter-intuitive or, at times, inconvenient. Especially when the inconvenience is directed towards the ever-prevalent “driver”. The fact that the Williams NCP was the most recent adopted, carried by several sitting members of council, doesn’t give me a lot of hope that the forthcoming Brookswood neighbourhood plans will push for walkability.
Most contemporary planners understand that it absolutely crucial to proper planning that we need to get parking right. Unfortunately the common answer to the “parking problem” is often to just make more of it. Yet progressive planners and observant residents know that acres upon acres of ground level surface parking lots is not the way to achieve walkable neighbourhoods. With a relative low density, limited commercial Brookswood-Fernridge OCP adopted in 2017, there is definitely a lack of incentive to build anything but a lot of surface parking – and all the street widening to support the increase in cars that will be “necessary” out of poor planning.
Parking isn’t free
“Initially, the developer pays for the required parking, but soon the tenants do, and then their customers, and so on, until the price of parking has diffused everywhere in the economy. When we shop in a store, eat in a restaurant, or see a movie, we pay for parking indirectly, because its cost is included in the price of [the product].” -Donald Shoup
UCLA’s Donald Shoup has been preaching about getting parking right for over 40 years and the publication of his 600-page “The High Cost of Free Parking” in 2005 signalled a pivotal shift in contemporary city planning. Due to the work of Shoup and others, we now have a full understanding of what parking really costs us. Land is not free. Asphalt is not free. Construction is not free. Maintenance is not free. When “government” is the one paying for this, we are the ones paying for it. So whether you walk, cycle, or drive, you pay for that parking spot.
“Nobody can opt out of paying for parking. People who walk, bike, or take transit are bankrolling those who drive. In so doing, they are making driving cheaper and thus more prevalent, which in turn undermines the quality of walking, biking and transit”. – Jeff Speck
How much do we pay? In 2005, Shoup estimated that the least expensive parking stall is approximately $4,000 to build and $4 per day, or one stall in an underground parking garage can cost $40,000 – a 1200 parking space can cost $73 million USD by 2012 numbers. Doing some quick Willoughby math, where developable land can be $2.5m for an acre, you can see that the typical 162 sqft stall (9′ x 18′) costs over $9,000 for the dirt alone – not including the labour and material cost of construction. I did some quick math on the recently discussed Aldergrove parkade – $8 million for around 180 stalls = $44,444 per stall. Whether or not we charge for parking, parking isn’t “free”. So who is paying?
“the cost of all parking spaces in the U.S. exceeds the value of all cars and may even exceed the value of all roads.” – Donald Shoup, “The High Cost of Free Parking”
Bad Parking Bylaws = More Cars, Less Walking
Being the “Community of Communities”, the Township of Langley offers itself as prime example of how parking is done right and wrong. In our community alone we can witness how a focus on smart parking principles (Fort Langley) built upon a 19th century street grid has led to a pedestrian-friendly commercial core, whereas the 1950’s & 60’s style car-oriented parking standards has led to an area basically void of pedestrians. (Willowbrook & Walnut Grove).
Our obsession with creating more parking does not solve our parking problems. The same induced demand principle that applies to road planning can be applied to parking. If its “free” and plentiful, you invite more cars and less pedestrian activity: just compare your local Walmart parking lot with downtown Fort Langley.
Fort Langley is an interesting example because the commercial core was given a partial exemption to the Township bylaws that forces developers to give a certain number of parking stalls per building (by square footage). What the Township bylaw usually does is creates a ton of surface parking, less innovative buildings and less incentive to walk. I’ve watched many able-bodied people drive from Walmart in Willowbrook to Booster Juice… 290 meters away.
I’m not making fun of these people. I’m acknowledging human psychology. This walk among cars is uninteresting, inconvenient, and possibly dangerous. If you wanted to go from Walmart in the picture above to Urban Barn, you’re not going to use the sidewalk because its so out of the way. If you were to walk, you are going between the hundreds of cars.
Meanwhile, let’s look at what a 270 meter walk can do when you remove the suburban parking bylaw in favour of a more urban rule:
Instead of having to supply seemingly unlimited and always under used parking, you can walk from the Fort Langley Barber, pass by almost every single shop in historic Fort Langley, grab ice cream and finish up getting a drink at Trading Post. This is only possible due to an exclusion from the usual parking norm.
Fort Langley is almost universally accepted as one of the most desired locations in the Fraser Valley to live (proven by its premium housing prices) and considered one of the most walkable communities. It also isn’t necessarily “anti-car”. It has achieved a high amount of walkability despite having a truck route roll through Glover Road AND a lack of densification.
The Inconvenient Truth
Is parking in Fort Langley a bit inconvenient? Yes, for sure, I won’t deny that. I use to work daily in Fort Langley and there may have been a few times that I did a drive around the block and had to walk 100-200 meters to work. However, that’s the point. By having less convenient parking, we will walk. If parking is convenient, we won’t. Simple. You won’t have a walkable neighbourhood if you have blocks of surface parking – it is inherently contradictory.
That isn’t to say that you can’t still provide parking. But due to the high cost of free parking, as explained above, supplying this parking requires the density to support it. This is one of the reasons why Coulter Berry in Fort Langley ended up being 3 stories. It is financially not feasible in today’s market to provide underground parking at 2 stories. So it’s either up and down or sprawling out.
Fixing parking isn’t necessarily about taking it away. Fixing parking is about planning for proper urbanization and multi-modal access to commercial buildings. Limiting parking won’t take away from business. It does create incentives, however, for carpooling, transit use, and walking.
We MUST do better than what we did in Willowbrook. We MUST do better than what is being proposed for the Williams neighbourhood. Fort Langley and many other commercial areas are proof of how just a change to parking requirements can lead to a vibrant pedestrian-oriented community that is still accessible by the all-to-prevalent automobile.
More Articles in the “Walkable Langley Series”:
“Why Making Langley Walkable is So Important” (March 4, 2019)
“Stop Demanding More Lanes!” (March 20, 2019)