Friday, July 01, 2005

If Less Parking is the Answer ... What Was the Questions?

Interesting piece in the latest issue of Governing magazine on parking policy and how it affects the development and fabric of urban areas. It makes a lot of sense, though getting officials to cut back on "sacred" (i.e., ITE) guidelines for required parking is not easy.

Alan Ehrenhalt writes about his thoughts on "free" parking, and also reviews concepts in the book The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shroup. They contend that parking is not really free, that it comes with a high cost in land (that the developer pays and thus affects what he's willing to build), and costs us in the way we live in urban areas. "For one thing," Ehrenhalt writes, "parking eats up a huge amount of land that could be used for more productive purposes. Many shopping malls devote 60 percent of their surface land to parking spaces and only 40 percent to the buildings. For the most part, that's not because developers insisted on all that parking. It's because zoning laws forced them to create it." And most of that parking sits empty most of the time, he says. In what other endeavors do we insist on providing capacity for the maximum demand times, when occurs only once or twice a year?

Ehrenhalt and Shroup are particularly critical of parking requirements in downtowns. "Meanwhile, in the central business districts of older cities, the amount of parking keeps increasing and the number of buildings keeps declining. Buffalo and Albuquerque devote more central-city land to parking lots than to all other uses combined. For anyone who wants to come downtown, a member of the Buffalo City Council lamented a couple of years ago, 'there will be lots of places to park. There just won't be a whole lot to do here.'" Sound familiar, Salt Lakers?

Ehrenhalt then indicates that some cities that have actually taken measures to limit downtown parking are doing better than their counterparts. "The central city districts that have done really well in recent years aren't the ones that have provided the most parking; they're the ones that have provided the least," he says. "Portland, Oregon, instead of expanding its downtown parking capacity, has spent the past 30 years restricting it. There was less parking per capita in downtown Portland in the 1990s than there was in the 1970s. And Portland, as any visitor notices at once, hs one of the most successful downtowns in America." Limiting downtown parking also enhances transit useage, they argue. Which I think is true, for those trips aimed at the CBD. But CBD trips are, at least in the Salt Lake metro area, only a small percentage of overall trips. But hey, every little bit helps.

Ehrenhalt then goes on to detail a number of cities that are actually taking some actions to limit downtown parking as first steps. His list includes Salt Lake City, which he says is using a version of trading parking costs for transit and allowing people to pocket the difference (is he talking about the U. parking program, and ones used at places like the Church Office Building?).

The venerable mayor of Salt Lake City seems to support such concepts, telling commuters and shoppers to his city (particularly those from Davis County) to come visit, but don't bring your cars. It's a great concept, but shortly after making this pronouncement, the mayor announced a new program of adding more FREE parking spaces in downtown Salt Lake by reconfiguring some streets to allow parking in the medians (like 300 South).

And, of course, just about every suburban shopping and activity center is required to have oodles of parking...

So...what principle are we really after here?


At 8:07 AM, Blogger pglauser said...

I attended a session by Don Shoup on "The High Cost of Free Parking" at the Congress for the New Urbanism in Pasadena a couple of weeks ago. (Also bought the 680-page book, which I'm just starting to go through.) In addition to the ideas Wilf highlights, Shoup emphasizes a three-point strategy for a saner parking policy: 1) charge market rates for curb parking (and a little less for parking structures, 2)reduce offstreet parking requirements, 3) return all meter revenues to the neighborhood or business district generating it - and be very public about where these revenues are going. He uses Pasadena as an example of where this strategy is working. They are raising $1.5 million annually from meter revenues & putting it into downtown improvements, & through this approach have won over the downtown merchants in favor of meters. Pasadena's old town has made a great resurgence in recent years & now attracts shoppers and other patrons late into the night, even on weeknights. I wonder how much credit for this is due to their parking strategy.

I asked Shoup how this works for a downtown which is competing against malls, etc. that offer free parking. He gave kind of a vague answer & referred me to his book. While he makes a good case for the tremendous costs free parking imposes on society, it's a little less clear how to apply his ideas in a struggling, older downtown. I guess I'll read the book and get the full story. - Paul Glauser, Provo Redevelopment Agency

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