NEWS BULLETIN file photo There’s a lot of space within the City of Nanaimo’s downtown dedicated to storing cars, says guest columnist.

Guest comment: Downtown shouldn’t cater to drivers

I’m not saying ban cars, I’m saying stop accommodating them, says guest columnist


Want a thriving downtown? Stop accommodating cars.

Before you scoff at such an idea as something only a cyclist might say, you’re correct, I’m someone who chooses to get around by bicycle. But I’m also a student pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning and I’ve learned a thing or two about cities.

I didn’t say ban cars, I said stop accommodating – there’s a difference.

Ever since Nanaimo’s development pattern trended towards sprawling plazas, mega-malls, and single-family subdivisions out on the periphery, personal mobility necessitated driving and the city’s downtown became neglected.

Abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and homelessness have compounded over the years and aren’t relenting.

Any time discussions on how to reinject vibrancy back into Nanaimo’s struggling core ramps up, the topic of finding parking for the projected influx of cars arises, as if more cars are the ultimate representation of revitalization. This kind of discourse is missing the point, which should be aimed at attracting people, not cars.

An overabundance of space for cars doesn’t equate to vibrancy, in fact, it detracts from it. Providing amenities to one mode can interfere with the proliferation of others.

Our rules are mostly to blame. Policy dictates that every development within the city must provide a minimum amount of parking. There’s a lot of space within the city dedicated to storing cars. Not to mention very expensive for developers and consumers who end up paying for all this parking even if it’s labelled as ‘free’ – it’s never truly free but rather heavily subsidized by everyone, including cyclists.

The parking bylaw needs to be more progressive if space for humans is to be prioritized over space for cars because currently, 88 out of every 100 Nanaimoites still drive each day, while only one out of 100 ride a bicycle and only one out of 40 ride transit. The downtown is also home to several very large and valuable multi-level parking structures and two giant surface parking lots at either end, with rates, if any, that are far below supporting any recouped costs to build or maintain. The encouragement to drive to downtown is clear, so why is it so lifeless?

If there’s one lesson that has stuck with me during my time as a graduate student, it’s the concept of induced demand. This dilemma occurs after the construction of an additional highway travel lane for the intention of curbing congestion. Temporary relief ensues, but because driving is made easier, more people begin to drive, which eventually creates more congestion – a futile endeavour. In 1955, urban planner Lewis Mumford said this about induced demand: “Building more roads to prevent congestion is like a fat man loosening his belt to prevent obesity.”

The same concept applies to parking.

So much emphasis has been placed on providing car parking in the downtown area as the ultimate attractant to motorists that we’ve displaced opportunities for creating exciting spaces for people. Planners need to focus primarily on placemaking elements that will entice people to the downtown rather than be controlled by how our car culture will be catered to, because paving over paradise is too easily a one-way street to motordom.

By changing the formula so that car-parking is limited, and exciting spaces are abundant, it correspondingly shifts our mobility behaviour towards enjoying our bicycle again or riding public transit. Changing our mobility paradigm would alleviate congestion, reduce noise and air pollution, decrease environmental degradation, be economically responsible, and would make you healthier. It’s not just downtown revitalization, it’s self-rejuvenation.

Aaron Dixon is a graduate student in the master’s of community planning program at VIU.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UPDATED: Young deckhands backed out of fatal Arctic Fox II trip just before fishboat departed

Inexperienced twin brothers had ‘gut feeling’ and bailed before going to open ocean

Nanaimo’s Stone Soup association ordered to stop its backyard recycling

Wisteria association uses money raised to support its charity that feeds people on Wesley Street

Beefs & Bouquets, Aug. 12

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail

Nanaimo Art Gallery summer campers explore private, public spaces in new show

Dazzle Camouflage participants to unveil painting and video projects online next week

‘Unstoppable’ Nanaimo nurse recognized for work caring for survivors of assault

Island Health’s Aimee Falkenberg receives Canadian Forensic Nurses Association’s Visionary Award

B.C. records new COVID-19 death, 85 more cases; Horgan calls on celebrity help

This brings the total number of active confirmed cases to 531 across the province

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Old-growth forest defenders in Campbell River call for B.C. forest minister’s resignation

Protestors outside North Island MLA’s office ask government to stop old-growth logging

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

High-volume littering at Cape Scott draws ire from hiking groups

Popular Vancouver Island hiking spot not closing, but frustration about crowding grows

SFU to drop ‘Clan’ varsity team name

The ‘Clan’ name is shortened from ‘Clansmen,’ and was introduced roughly 55 years ago

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

B.C. to hire 500 more COVID-19 contact tracers ahead of fall

Contract tracers add an ‘extra layer’ in the fight against the novel coronavirus

More than $800,000 in suspected cocaine seized from ship near Victoria

RCMP Dive Team suspects more narcotics had been stored below ship’s waterline

Most Read