Land Use, Roads (and Parking)

How do we use land in Metro Vancouver?

Jens von Bergmann

3 minute read

The other day at the SFU’s City Conversations someone asked a question about space dedicated to roads, and how that could be unlocked to aid housing. He mentioned what percentage of space is currently dedicated to roads. I forgot the number, but I thought to myself that I should look that up for all Metro Vancouver communities. So here we go.

Actually, it would be interesting to compare how land is allocated to all kinds of land uses across Metro Vancouver, not just roads. And with their excellent land use dataset it’s easy enough to do, justifying spending two hours on this. Looking at the land use map one can see that there are some issues with using the dataset for that purpose, for example the roads within Stanly Park are missing, as parking lots in Vancouver parks. So this slightly overestimates the green space. But when added up this won’t do much to change the overall area of each land use.

Land Use Breakdown

Let's start with a simple chart summing up the land use in each of Metro Vancouver's Municipalities. Just select the one you are interested in from the dropdown.

City of Vancouver stands out as the municipality with the largest proportion of area dedicated to roads right of way. The right of way includes nature strips, sidewalks, and of course on-street parking.

Built Area Land Use

For some of the municipalities large “Natural Areas” and “Undeveloped Area” make it difficult to discern the makeup of the built up areas. So here comes the same graph with some of the large space-cosuming categories taken out.

What’s remarkable is that City of Vancouver still is the clear winner in terms of space taken up by roads right of way.

Roads right of way

It might be interesting to compute more precisely how the roads right of way is used. But that requires a lot more work. The City of Vancouver has a dataset with road widths, which would help separate area taken by roads from area taken by sidewalks and nature strips. One could use google maps to estimate to estimate the amount of space taking up by on-street parking by sampling a couple of roads and scaling this according to road area. Too much work for me right now, maybe one day I will have a good enough reason to dedicate some time to this.


Parking in particular is a land use that is artificially inflated. We pay lots of money to buy private property to live on, and then continue to pay property taxes for that privilege. But we pay nothing to store our vehicles on public roads.

At current land values in Vancouver it just does not make any sense to socialize the cost of parking. A 12m² on-street parking space at a low-balled $3000/m² value is worth $36,000. If we were to price parking at value, rather than socializing the cost we could have a discussion about using that space more effectively. Killing the parking subsidy would have a substantial impact on demand (and car ownership), freeing up space to be re-allocated for other uses. For example for housing by increasing lot sizes and making multi-unit structures more feasible, especally on corner lots.

## Update Saw a [great little data visualization fly by today]( that is just the missing link in the above visualizations. A simple way to visualize where all the municipalities stand in relation to one another. Thought I would throw that in real quick.
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