Category Archives: Parking

Transportation is Destiny: Design for Happy People, Not Happy Cars

by Dom Nozzi

The following is a summary of a talk I was invited to give at a PLAN-Boulder County forum on Friday, January 24. As a town and transportation planner, I cautioned Boulder not to put too much emphasis on easing car traffic flows—particularly by such conventional methods as adding a second turn lane at intersections or requiring a developer to provide too much car parking. I described the ingredients of a healthy, vibrant city, summarized how a seemingly beneficial city objective of reducing traffic congestion can often undermine important Boulder objectives, and offered a number of strategies that would help Boulder both properly manage transportation and promote its long-range goals.

A great city is compact, human scaled, has a slow speed center, and promotes gatherings of citizens that catalyze “synergistic interaction” (brilliant ideas and innovations, as the sum becomes greater than its parts). Most importantly, a quality city does exceptionally well in promoting “exchanges” of goods, services, and ideas, which is the most important role of a city, and is best promoted by the interaction that occurs through compact community design.

About 100 years ago, automakers, home builders, and oil companies (“the Sprawl Lobby”) started realizing that they could make lots of money by creating what has since become a self-perpetuating vicious cycle in communities. If communities could be convinced to ease the flow of car traffic by building enormous highways and parking lots (and subsidizing car travel by having everyone—not just motorists—pay for such roads, parking, and gasoline), huge amounts of money could be made selling cars, homes and gasoline. The process eventually was feeding on itself in a growing, self-perpetuating way, because the highways, parking and subsidies were forcing and otherwise encouraging a growing number of Americans to buy more and more cars, use more and more gasoline, and buy sprawling homes that were further and further from the town center. Why? Because the subsidized highways and gasoline were powerfully promoting community dispersal, high speeds, isolation, and an insatiable demand for larger highways and parking lots. Each of these factors were toxic to a city, led to government and household financial difficulties, destroyed in-town quality of life (which added to the desire to live in sprawl locations), and made travel by transit, bicycle or walking increasingly difficult and unlikely (an added inducement to buy more cars).

The inevitable result of the Sprawl Lobby efforts has been that cities throughout America are dying from the “Gigantism” disease.

The “Gigantism” Disease

One of the most important problems we face is that cars consume enormous amounts of space. On average, a person in a parked car takes up about 17 times more space than a person in a chair. And when moving, a motorist can take up to 100 times as much space as a person in a chair. Cities are Untitledseverely diminished by this level of wasteful use of land by cars—particularly in town centers (where space is so dear), and especially in communities such as Boulder, where land is so expensive.

Overemphasis on car travel breeds and spreads the gigantism “infection,” and promotes ruinously higher travel speeds. What happens when we combine the gigantism and high speeds with the “travel time budget” (humans tend to have a budget of about 1.1 hours of round-trip commuting travel each day)?

People demand larger highways and parking lots. Gigantic highways, overpasses, and asphalt seas of parking are necessary to accommodate the space-hogging, high-speed needs of the growing number of cars. This process dramatically increases the “habitat” for cars, and because such places are so utterly inhospitable to people, substantially shrinks the habitat for people.

Because it is so dangerous, unpleasant, and infeasible to travel on these monster highways by bicycle, walking, or transit (what economists call “The Barrier Effect”), an endlessly growing army of motorists and sprawl residents is thereby created, which, of course, is a financial bonanza for the Sprawl Lobby.

It is surprising and disappointing that Boulder has, on numerous occasions, shown symptoms of the gigantism disease (surprising because citizens and city staff are relatively well-informed on transportation issues). A leading concern in Boulder is the many intersections that have been expanded by installing double left turn lanes. Installing a single left turn lane historically resulted in a fair improvement in traffic flow, but when a second left turn lane is installed, intersections typically suffer from severely diminished returns. There is only a tiny increase in traffic accommodated (and often, this increase is short-lived) and this small benefit is offset by a huge required increase in walk time for crosswalks that are now very lengthy to cross on foot (which necessitates a very long “walk” phase for the crosswalk). Indeed, some traffic engineers or elected officials are so intolerant of the time-consuming long walk phase that many double-left turn intersections actually PROHIBIT pedestrian crossings by law.

These monster double left turn intersections destroy human scale and sense of place. They create a place-less, car-only intersection where walking and bicycling (and, indirectly, transit) trips are so difficult and unpleasant that more trips in the community are now by car, and less by walking, bicycling and transit. And those newly-induced car trips, despite the conventional wisdom, actually INCREASE greenhouse gas emissions (due to the induced increase in car trips).

Double left turn lanes (like big parking lots and five- or seven-lane highways) disperse housing, jobs, and shops in the community, as the intersection—at least briefly—is able to accommodate more regional car trips. Because the intersection has become so inhospitable, placeless and lacking in human scale, the double left turn repels any residences, shops, or offices from being located anywhere near the intersection, and thereby effectively prevents the intersection from ever evolving into a more walkable, compact, village-like setting.

The following chart shows that, because of the enormous space consumption caused by higher-speed car travel, land consumption rate increases are far out-pacing growth in community populations. For chartexample, from 1950 to 1990, the St. Louis population grew by 35 percent. Yet land consumption in St. Louis grew by 354 percent during that same period.

Given all of this, a centerpiece objective of the Boulder Transportation Master Plan (no more than 20 percent of road mileage is allowed to be congested) may not only be counterproductive in achieving many Boulder objectives, but may actually result in Boulder joining hands with the Sprawl Lobby.

The congestion reduction objective has a number of unintended, undesirable consequences. The objective tells Boulder that the highly desirable tactic of “road diets” (where travel lanes are removed to create a safer, more human-scaled street that can now install bike lanes, on-street parking, and wider sidewalks) are actually undesirable because they can increase congestion. The objective provides justification for looking upon a wider road, a bigger intersection, or a bigger parking lot as desirable, despite the well-documented fact that such gigantic facilities promote sprawl, car emissions, financial difficulties, higher taxes, and lower quality of life, among other detriments.

The objective also tells us that smaller, more affordable infill housing is undesirable—again because such housing can increase congestion.

The Shocking Revolution

The growing awareness of the problems associated with easing car travel (via such things as a congestion reduction objective) is leading to a shocking revolution across the nation. Florida, for example, now realizes that if new development is only allowed if “adequate” road capacity is available for the new development (which is based on “concurrency” rules in Florida’s Growth Management law), the state is powerfully promoting sprawl. Why? Because the available road capacity tends to only be found in sprawl locations. In-town locations, where new development tends to be much more desirable, is strongly discouraged by this Florida concurrency rule because in-town locations tend to have no available road capacity (due to existing, more dense development in town).

As an aside, “concurrency” is a rule that says new development is not allowed if it will lower service level standards adopted by the community. For example, standards might state that there must be at least 10 acres of parkland provided for every 1,000 residents. While concurrency is clearly a good idea for such things as parks and water supply and schools, it is counterproductive for roads.

The shocking revolution in Florida, then, is that the state is now allowing local governments to create “exception areas” for road congestion. If the community can show that it is providing adequate bicycle, pedestrian and transit facilities, the state will grant the local government the ability to create road exceptions so that the road congestion avoidance strategy brought by Florida’s road concurrency rule does not significantly encourage new sprawl and discourage in-town, infill development.

Similarly, California is now acknowledging the unintended, undesirable effects of past efforts to ensure that roads are “free-flowing” for car traffic. “Free flowing” car traffic tends to be measured with “level of service” (LOS) measures. Road LOS is a measure of traffic delay. An intersection (or road) where a car must wait for, say, three cycles of a traffic signal to be able to proceed through the intersection might be given an LOS rating of “F.” An intersection where a car can proceed through an intersection without such delay is given an LOS rating of “A.”

California now realizes that too often, building wider highways or stopping new development as a way to maintain free-flowing car traffic (LOS “A”) is substantially counterproductive. The state now realizes that maintaining or requiring easy, free-flowing car traffic increases greenhouse gas emissions (shocking, since the opposite was formerly believed), increases the number of car trips, and decreases the number of walking, bicycling and transit trips. Free-flowing road “LOS” measures are therefore now being phased out in California.

The “congestion reduction” objective in Boulder’s transportation plan is, in effect, a “happy cars” objective that equates easy car travel with quality of life and sustainability. One important reason why this “happy cars” objective is counterproductive is that cars and people have dramatically different needs and desires—needs and desires that are significantly and frequently in conflict. For example, designing shopping for happy people means the creation of smaller, human-scaled settings where buildings rather than parking lots are placed next to the streetside sidewalk. Where streets are only two or three lanes wide and designed for slow-speed car travel. Where street trees hug the street.

Designing shopping for happy cars, by strong contrast, requires huge car-scaled dimensions. Giant asphalt parking lots are placed between the now giant retail store and the street, which invites easy car parking (but loss of human scale, sense of place, and ease of walking). Streets become what Chuck Marohn calls “stroads”:  5- or 7-lane monster roads intended for dangerous, inhospitable high-speeds. They are roads where streets belong, but their big size and high speeds make them more like roads. Street trees are frequently incompatible with happy cars, as engineers fear cars might crash into them.

Again, this comparison shows that by promoting “happy cars,” Boulder’s congestion reduction objective is undermining its important quality of life and city-building objectives.

Indeed, Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Columbia, once stated that “a city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both.” Boulder’s congestion reduction objective is in conflict with this essential truth.

Fortunately, congestion regulates itself if we let it. Congestion will persuade some to drive at non-rush hour times, or take less congested routes, or travel by walking, bicycling, or transit. Congestion therefore does not inexorably lead to gridlock if we don’t widen a road or intersection, because some car trips (the “lower-value” trips) do not occur. Many of those discouraged trips are foregone because of the “time tax” imposed by the congestion.

But widening a road (or, in Boulder’s case, adding a second left-turn lane) short-circuits this self-regulation. A widened road or a double-left turn lane intersection induces new car trips because the road/intersection is now (briefly) less congested. The lower congestion encourages formerly discouraged car trips to now use the route during rush hour. Car trips that used different routes to avoid the congestion now converge back on the less congested route. And some get back in their cars after a period of walking, bicycling or using transit.

The process is very much like the infamous Soviet bread lines. The Soviets wanted to reduce the extremely long lines of people waiting for free bread. Their counterproductive “solution” was to make more free bread. But more free bread just induced more people to line up for bread. Likewise, the conventional American solution to traffic congestion is to make more free space for cars (widening the road or adding a second turn lane). The result is the same, as the bigger roads and intersections inevitably induce more car trips on those routes. The efficient and effective solution, as any first-year economics student will point out, is to NOT make more free bread or wider, free-to-use roads or second turn lanes. The solution is to price the bread and the car routes so that they are used more efficiently (and not wastefully by low-value bread consumers or car travelers). Or, to let a moderate level of congestion discourage low-value rush hour trips.

Given all of this, widening a road or adding a second left-turn lane to solve congestion is like loosening one’s belt to solve obesity. Similarly, despite conventional wisdom, car traffic does not behave like water flowing through a pipe (i.e., flowing easier if the pipe is expanded in size). Car traffic, instead, behaves like a gas. It expands to fill the available, increased volume provided.

Boulder’s Overriding Objectives

Boulder (and PLAN-Boulder County) has outlined key community objectives.

1. One is higher quality of life and more happiness. But counterproductively, happy cars lower quality of life due to clashing values and needs.

2. Another objective is for a more compact, walkable, vibrant city. Unfortunately, over-emphasizing cars means more sprawl.

3. An objective that is much talked about in the area is more affordability. By inducing more car dependence via easier car travel, the congestion reduction objective undermines the affordability objective by making Boulder less affordable (more on that later).

4. Given the growing concern for global warming, Boulder is placing more emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Easing traffic congestion, however, induces new car traffic, which increases car emissions.

5. Boulder and PLAN-Boulder County seek more travel (and lifestyle) choices. But the congestion reduction objective in Boulder’s plan is again undercutting other objectives because it leads to bigger car infrastructure (bigger roads and intersections), thereby reducing travel and lifestyle choices.

As shown above, then, Boulder’s congestion reduction objective undermines each of these five essential community objectives.

Oops.

Conventional methods of reducing congestion include wider roads, bigger parking lots, one-way streets, and huge intersections. These tactics are a “win-lose” proposition. While they can reduce congestion (briefly), they also cause a loss of human scale and charm; a loss of social gathering; sprawling dispersal; more car dependence and less bicycling, walking, transit; higher taxes; economic woes (for government, shops and households); a decline in public health; and more air pollution.

By striking contrast, other less commonly used but much more beneficial transportation tactics are “win-win” propositions. Some of these tactics include road diets, designing streets for slower speeds, and designing for travel and lifestyle choices. They can result in:

  • More parking spaces
  • More civic pride (induced by human scale)
  • More social gathering
  • A more compact and vibrant community
  • Less car dependence and more bicycling, walking, and transit
  • Lower taxes
  • Economic health (for both government and households)
  • Improvement in public health
  • Less air pollution

If we can’t get rid of congestion, what CAN we do? We can create alternatives so that those who are unwilling to tolerate the congestion can find ways to avoid it. Congestion can be better avoided if we create more housing near jobs, shops, and culture. Doing this allows more people to have better, more feasible ways to travel without a car. We can also create more travel routes, so that the congested routes are not the only routes to our destinations. Some of us can be given more flexible work schedules to shift our work hours away from rush hour. And some of us can be given increased opportunities to telecommute (work from home).

How Can We Design Transportation to Achieve a Better Destiny?

An important way to start Boulder on a better destiny for the city is to revisit the “No more than 20 percent congested road miles” objective in the Boulder transportation master plan. Some possibilities: adopt a “level of service standard” not for cars, but for bicycle, walking and transit travel; “Level of service” standards for cars is becoming outdated because it is being increasingly seen as counterproductive, as described earlier. Other alternatives to the “congestion” objective is to have a target of controlling or reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) community-wide; or set a goal of minimizing trip generation by individual new developments in the city.

Another option is to keep the congestion objective, but create “exception” areas where the congestion rule does not apply. Those exception areas would be places where Boulder seeks to encourage new development.

Boulder needs to ensure that the community land development and transportation design tactics are appropriately calibrated within each “transect zone” of the community. (The “transect” principle identifies a transition from urban to rural, whereby the town center is more compact, formal, low-speed, and walkable; the suburbs are more dispersed, informal, higher-speed, and drivable; and the rural areas most remote from the town center are more intended for a farming and conservation lifestyle. Development regulations and transportation designs are calibrated so that the differing lifestyle and travel objectives of each zone are best achieved.) However, the difficulty with the transect principle in places like Boulder is that the demand for compact, walkable lifestyles and travel choices is much higher than the supply of such places in Boulder. There is, in other words, a large mismatch. By contrast, the supply of suburban, drivable areas is quite high. To correct this imbalance, Boulder should strive to create a larger supply of compact, walkable places similar to Pearl Street Mall, the Boulder town center, and even the CU campus. Opportunities now being discussed are the creation of new, compact villages and town centers at places such as street intersections outside of the Boulder town center.

As an aside, the community transect concept informs us that in the town center, “more is better.” That is, the lifestyle being sought in the community center is one where more shops, more offices, and more housing enhances the lifestyle, as this more proximate, mixed, compact layout of land uses provides the thriving, sociable, convenient, vibrant, 24-hour ambience that many seeking the walkable lifestyle want more of.

By contrast, in the more drivable suburbs, “more is less.” That is, the drivable lifestyle is enhanced in quality when there is less density, less development, more dispersal, and more isolation of houses from shops and offices. The ambience generally desired is more quiet and private.

While town center housing is increasingly expensive compared to the suburbs—particularly in cities such as Boulder—such in-town housing provides significant cost savings for transportation. Because such a housing location provides so many travel choices beyond car travel, many households find they can own two cars instead of three or one car instead of two. And each car that a household can “shed” due to the richness of travel choices provides more household income that can be directed to housing expenses such as a mortgage or rent. Today, the average car costs about $9,000 per year to own and operate. In places that are compact and walkable, that $9,000 (or $18,000) per year can be devoted to housing, thereby improving affordability.

In addition to providing for the full range of housing and travel choices, Boulder can better achieve its objectives through road diets, where travel lanes are removed and more space is provided for such things as bike lanes or sidewalks or transit. Road diets are increasingly used throughout the nation—particularly converting roads from four lanes to three. Up to about 25,000 vehicle trips per day on the road, a road that is “dieted” to, say, three lanes carries about as much traffic as a four-lane road. This is mostly due to the fact that the inside lanes of a four-laner frequently must act as Untitledturn lanes for cars waiting to make a left turn. Four-lane roads are less desirable than three-lane streets because they induce more car trips and reduce bicycle, walking and transit trips. Compared to three-lane streets, four-lane roads result in more speeding traffic. As a result, four-laners create a higher crash rate than three-lane streets. Finally, because the three-lane street is more human-scaled, pleasant, lower-speed, and thereby place-making, a three-lane street is better than a four-lane street for shops. The three-lane street becomes a place to drive TO, rather than drive THROUGH (as is the case with a four-lane street).

If Boulder seeks to be transformative with transportation—that is, if the city seeks to significantly shift car trips to walking, bicycling and transit trips (rather than the relatively modest shifts the city has achieved in the past)—it must recognize that it is NOT about providing more bike paths, sidewalks, or transit service. It is about taking away road and parking space from cars, and taking away subsidies for car travel.

Another transportation tactic Boulder should pursue to achieve a better destiny is to unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing. People who own less (or no) cars should have the choice of opting for more affordable housing—housing that does not include the very expensive cost of provided parking. Currently, little or no housing in Boulder provides the buyer or renter the option of having lower cost housing payments by choosing not to pay for parking. Particularly in a place like Boulder, where land values are so high, even housing intended to be relatively affordable is more costly than it needs to be because the land needed for parking adds a large cost to the housing price. Indeed, by requiring the home buyer or renter to pay more for parking, bundled parking price creates a financial incentive for owning and using more cars than would have otherwise been the case.

Boulder should also strive to provide parking more efficiently by pricing more parking. Too much parking in Boulder is both abundant and free. Less parking would be needed in the city (which would make the city more affordable, by the way) if it were efficiently priced.  Donald Shoup recommends, for example, that parking meters be priced to ensure that in general, 2 or 3 parking spaces will be vacant on each block.

Efficient parking methods that could be used more often in Boulder include allowing shops and offices and churches to share their parking. This opportunity is particularly available when different land uses (say churches and shops) don’t share the same hours of operation. Again, sharing more parking reduces the amount of parking needed in the city, which makes the city more compact, walkable, enjoyable and active.

Like shared parking, leased parking allows for a reduction in parking needed. If Boulder, for example, owns a parking garage, some of the spaces can be leased to nearby offices, shops, or housing so that those particular land uses do not need to create their own parking.

Finally, a relatively easy and quick way for Boulder to beneficially reform and make more efficient its parking is to revise its parking regulations so that “minimum parking” is converted to “MAXIMUM parking.” Minimum parking rules, required throughout Boulder, are the conventional and increasingly outmoded way to regulate parking. They tell the developer that at least “X” amount of parking spaces must be provided for every “Y” square feet of building. This rule almost always requires the developer to provide excessive, very expensive parking, in large part because it is based on “worst case scenario” parking “needs.” That is, sufficient parking must be provided so that there will be enough on the busiest single day of the year (often the weekend after Thanksgiving). Such a provision means that for the other 364 days of the year, a large number of parking spaces sit empty, a very costly proposition.

In contrast, maximum parking rules tell the developer that there is an upper limit to the number of spaces that can be provided. This works much better for the community and the business because the business is better able to choose how much parking it needs and can finance. Since financial institutions that provide financing for new developments typically require the developer to provide the conventional (read: excessive) amounts of parking as a condition for obtaining a development loan, the big danger for communities in nearly all cases is that TOO MUCH parking will be provided rather than too little. The result of setting “maximum” instead of “minimum” parking rules is that excessive, worst case scenario parking developments become much more rare.

The reform of parking is easy: simply convert the existing minimum parking specifications to maximum parking standards (“at least 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet” becomes “no more than 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet). An incremental approach to this conversion is to apply maximum parking rules in those places that are already rich in travel choices, such as the Boulder town center.

Again, what will Boulder’s destiny be? As the preceding discussion sought to demonstrate, much of that destiny will be shaped by transportation decisions.

Will destiny be shaped by striving for happy people and happy places for people? Or will it be shaped by opting for the conventional, downwardly-spiraling effort of seeking easy car travel (and thereby unpleasant places where only a car can be happy – such as huge highways or parking lots)?

Will Boulder, in other words, retain or otherwise promote place-less conventional shopping centers full of deadening parking, car-only travel, lack of human interaction, and isolation? Or will the city move away from car-happy objectives such as the congestion reduction policy, and instead move toward a people-friendly future rich in sociability, pride in community, travel choices, sustainability, place-making and human scale?

An example of these contrasting destinies is Pearl Street. West Pearl features the charm and human scale we built historically. West Pearl Street exemplifies a lovable, walkable, calm, safe and inviting ambience where car speeds are slower, the street is more narrow, and the shops—by being pulled up to the streetside sidewalk—help form a comfortable sense of enclosure that activates the street and feels comfortable to walk. The shops tend to be smaller—more neighborhood-scaled.

East Pearl Street near 28th Street is starkly different. There, the street is a “stroad,” because it is an overly wide road that should be a more narrow, lower-speed street. Shops are pulled back long distances from the street. The street here is fronted not by interesting shop fronts but enormous seas of asphalt parking. The layout is car-scaled. The setting is hostile, unpleasant, unsafe, stressful and uninviting. The shops tend to be “Big Box” retail, and serve a regional “consumershed.” There is “no there there.”

East Pearl Street was built more recently by professional planners and engineers who have advanced degrees that far exceed the professionalism and education of those who designed the more lovable West Pearl Street. Where has the charm gone? Why have our streets become less pleasant in more recent years (by better trained and better educated designers, I might add)? Is it perhaps related to our more expensive and sophisticated efforts to ease car traffic and reduce congestion?

There is an inverse relationship between congestion and such measures as vehicle miles traveled and gas consumption. At the community level—despite the conventional wisdom—as congestion increases, vehicle miles traveled, gas consumption, air emissions DECREASE. And as conventional efforts to reduce congestion intensify, quality of life and sustainability also decrease.

Again, is Boulder aligning itself with the Sprawl Lobby by maintaining an objective of easing traffic flow – by striving to reduce congestion?

On Controlling Size

David Mohney reminds us that the first task of the urban designer is to control size. This not only pertains to the essential need to keep streets, building setbacks, and community dispersal modest in size. It also pertains to the highly important need to insist on controlling the size of service and delivery trucks. Over-sized trucks in Boulder lead the city down a ruinous path, as street and intersection dimensions are typically driven by the “design vehicle.” When trucks are relatively large, excessive truck size becomes the “design vehicle” which ends up driving the dimensions of city streets. A healthy city should be designed for human scale and safety, not for the needs of huge trucks. Indeed, because motor vehicles consume so much space, a sign of a healthy, well-designed community is that drivers of vehicles should feel inconvenienced. If driving vehicles feels comfortable, it is a signal that we have over-designed streets and allocated such excessive spaces that we have lost human scale and safety.

A proposal for human-scaled streets: in Boulder’s town center, no street should be larger than three lanes in size. Outside the town center, no street should be larger than five lanes in size. Anything more exceeds the human scaling needed for a pleasant, safe, sustainable community.

It is time to return to the timeless tradition of designing to make people happy, not cars. Boulder needs to start by revisiting its congestion reduction objective, putting a number of its roads on a “road diet,” and taking steps to make the provision of parking more efficient and conducive to a healthy city.

________________________________________

 More about the author

 Mr. Nozzi was a senior planner for Gainesville FL for 20 years, and wrote that city’s long-range transportation plan. He also administered Boulder’s growth rate control law in the mid-90s. He is currently a member of the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board.

 Studies Demonstrating Induced Traffic and Car Emission Increases

Below is a sampling of references to studies describing how new car trips are induced by easier car travel, and how car emissions increase as a result.

http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/articles/hwyemis.asp

http://www.vtpi.org/gentraf.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand

https://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/1993/04/18/does-free-flowing-car-traffic-reduce-fuel-consumption-and-air-pollution/

TØI (2009), Does Road Improvement Decrease Greenhouse Gas Emissions?, Institute of Transport Economics (TØI), Norwegian Centre for Transport Research (www.toi.no); summary at www.toi.no/getfile.php/Publikasjoner/T%D8I%20rapporter/2009/1027-2009/Sum-1027-2009.pdf

Robert Noland and Mohammed A. Quddus (2006), “Flow Improvements and Vehicle Emissions:

Effects of Trip Generation and Emission Control Technology,” Transportation Research D, Vol. 11 (www.elsevier.com/locate/trd), pp. 1-14; also see

www.cts.cv.ic.ac.uk/documents/publications/iccts00249.pdf

Clark Williams-Derry (2007), Increases In Greenhouse-Gas Emissions From Highway-Widening Projects, Sightline Institute (www.sightline.org); at

www.sightline.org/research/energy/res_pubs/analysis-ghg-roads

TRB (1995), Expanding Metropolitan Highways: Implications for Air Quality and Energy Use,

Committee for Study of Impacts of Highway Capacity Improvements on Air Quality and Energy

Consumption, Transportation Research Board, Special Report #345 (www.trb.org)

D. Shefer & P. Rietvald (1997), “Congestion and Safety on Highways: Towards an Analytical Model,” Urban Studies, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 679-692.

Alison Cassady, Tony Dutzik and Emily Figdor (2004). More Highways, More Pollution: Road Building and Air Pollution in America’s Cities, U.S. PIRG Education Fund (www.uspirg.org).

http://www.opr.ca.gov/docs/PreliminaryEvaluationTransportationMetrics.pdf

Leave a comment

Filed under Bicycling, New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Parking, Sprawl and Suburbia, Traffic Congestion, Walkable Streets Speaking and Consulting

Finding a Place for Parking

Parking spaces usually diminish public spaces — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

By Ethan Kent, Project for Public Spaces

 

Despite what you may have heard, nobody goes to a place solely because it has parking. In fact, the current obsession with parking is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving livable cities and towns, because it usually runs counter to what should be our paramount concern: creating places where people enjoy spending time. As long as the myth persists that economic prosperity depends on parking, local governments will continue to waste public money and distort the public planning process.

The realization that creating a place where people want to come and spend time is more important than parking unfortunately eludes many municipalities. Worrying about and wasting public money on parking is taking over the public planning process and subsequently parking is taking over our communities. So how can we put parking in its place and draw people back to public spaces?

One big step forward is to assess the supply of parking in relation to what is actually needed. PPS often works with towns that have excess parking capacity, where the growing number of surface lots and parking structures has choked out the very reason people drove there in the first place. In Salt Lake City, for instance, PPS’s land-use map highlighted the excess parking spaces within 1/4 mile of downtown, showing that the real shortage was of places for people to go, not spaces to park.

The hang-up on parking is an indicator that a community has no broader vision for itself.

This state of affairs arises when businesses compete with each other to maximize their own parking spaces–to the detriment of the surrounding community and, inevitably, themselves. The hang-up on parking is an indicator that a community has no broader vision for itself. Get businesses and other parties to cooperate creatively with each other, and you can create the kind of parking infrastructure that supports public spaces. Here are some questions to get businesses and public officials talking about creative new ways to accommodate parking needs with the public’s desire for lively public places:

10 Questions to Help Us Get the Most Out of Parking

1. Is it a destination worth creating parking spaces for?

Public dollars are often spent on large parking areas that provide no tax revenue and serve businesses that either compete with existing downtown businesses or would better serve the community if located downtown. But why should municipalities use public funds to subsidize parking spaces for destinations that don’t enhance the community as a whole? Spending the same money to instead make development more attractive and connected to downtown means taxes better spent, space better used, and communities better served.

2. Do the parking spaces really make more people want to go there?

Think of the most popular district in your region – places like downtown Cambridge, MA, or the French Quarter of New Orleans. Is it easy to park there? No way! But do people go? You bet! They’ll walk six blocks from their car to a store, and LIKE it! Which is to say that people don’t come to an area for the parking, they come for what’s distinct and special about that place. Why should towns create excess parking spaces if all that asphalt detracts from the qualities that attracted people in the first place? Many communities that have parking shortages are actually thriving.

3. Are parking regulations being obeyed?

When there appears to be a parking shortage, the most likely explanation is that people are simply not obeying parking laws. In the business district of Poughkeepsie, NY, PPS found that more than half the on-street parking was illegal. Parking turnover studies are an easy, inexpensive way to show where violations are happening and suggest how to enforce existing regulations more effectively.

4. Are there opportunities to share business parking lots that have demands at different times of day or week?

Parking areas for churches, theaters, restaurants and bars often sit vacant during peak hours, when demand is highest. Can these businesses and institutions be encouraged to let go of their dedicated parking areas and take advantage of existing nearby parking which is available on evenings and weekends? Put another way: Would people be more likely to go to church or the theater or a restaurant if they saw their destination as simply “downtown” and could easily visit more than one place per trip?

5. Where do employees park? If they have the same shifts, can they carpool?

Merchants and their employees consistently take on-street spots early in the morning and feed the meters all day. They should be encouraged to instead park in municipal parking lots, carpool, or take transit. These alternatives can be made more attractive by designating off-street spots, creating employee incentive programs, or implementing shorter meter times.

6. Is the timing and pricing of meters optimized for each location?

Different sections of the same street may have varying parking needs. The meters in front of a post office, for instance, may provide two whole hours of parking time, but only require ten minutes. Some parking spaces should be more expensive to encourage high turnover. Again, parking turnover studies can inform more appropriate regulations that fit the context of the street.

7. Are there adequate sidewalks and pedestrian amenities connecting off-street parking areas to downtown streets?

The walk to downtown shopping areas from many municipal parking lots and garages is so abysmal that many people won’t park there. Though such lots may provide significant quantities of parking, they will be underutilized if the walk from the car is poorly lit, dull, uncomfortable, or outright hazardous.

8. Are there opportunities for angled parking?

Lane widths in downtowns and on commercial streets need only be 8-10 feet, rather than the standard 12-plus feet. This means that many commercial streets are wide enough to accommodate angled parking in some sections. Angled parking can fit almost 50 percent more cars than parallel parking, and it calms traffic, creating a safer environment that’s more conducive to pedestrian use.

9. Can curb cuts be consolidated and narrowed?

Frequently, parking lot entrances and exits can be combined, narrowed or made one-way to make room for more on-street parking and a safer, more pleasant pedestrian environment.

10. Are there opportunities to share business drop-offs that have demands at different times of day?

Some truck or passenger drop-off areas are only used for predictable early morning or weekday periods and can be used for parking the rest of the time.

Once you start asking the right questions, ingenuity and cooperation will follow. In Littleton, New Hampshire, for example, PPS worked with the town to address its nagging parking problem by making downtown streets more walkable. Following a series of small, inexpensive traffic-calming experiments, the town is now partnering with several business owners to improve the pedestrian environment, reduce lane widths (and therefore automobile speeds), and expand the pedestrian-friendly downtown area. The improvements will increase the availability of parking spots from which people will feel comfortable walking to downtown by at least threefold. How? By enabling people to consolidate their car trips and visit more places from the same parking spot.

Of course, the biggest benefit of this plan is that more people go out on the sidewalk, which creates the very streetlife that makes other people–and businesses–want to come downtown. But that doesn’t happen automatically. In order to create a more desirable street environment for pedestrians, businesses, and drivers, you need to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by rethinking parking. These opportunities include:

• Pedestrian amenities: Street corners with more sidewalk space, seating, and plantings can become the focal points necessary to bring back pedestrians and streetlife.

• Improved safety: Curb extensions make sidewalks and pedestrians more visible to drivers. Narrower lanes slow vehicles and reduce risk to pedestrians and bicyclists. Replacing parking lots with in-fill development eliminates space that is perceived as unsafe and makes possible anonymous criminal behavior.

• Shorter crossing distances: Curb extensions at intersections create shorter crossing distances for pedestrians, and therefore shorter wait times for automobiles.

• Retail kiosks and cafés: Temporary or permanent retail stalls can be placed at the street edge of parking lots or in reclaimed parking spaces.

• Programming and multiple-use spaces: Existing parking lots can be converted–whole or in part–into public squares with markets, performance spaces and seating areas.

• Transit compatibility: By reducing the supply of parking, demand for transit goes up and new destinations form around transit stops.

Spending money on such public amenities instead of parking may seem radical, but in fact it is a wise investment. Pedestrians feel more comfortable walking because of the slower vehicle speeds and reduced number of curb cuts. Businesses get more passersby and first-time walk-ins. Drivers make fewer trips, waste less time in the car, get more exercise walking, and even enjoy the experience of driving downtown more — because it is a pleasant place to be, not a parking lot.

Consider the city of Copenhagen, which has instituted a policy to reduce parking by two percent each year. The risk has paid off many times over by the number of people who now walk and bike to the city center–all of whom, you can be sure, feel at least 50 percent more devotion for their home city.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Parking

Little-Known State Law Gives No Parking Perk

Certain employers must pay a stipend to those who don’t drive to work. L.A. hasn’t enforced it.

By Jean Guccione, LA Times Staff Writer

October 10, 2006

When his boss offered him $185 a month or free parking, Tom Fleming didn’t hesitate: He bought a $52-a-month bus pass and pocketed the difference.

 

That’s exactly what state lawmakers had in mind in 1992 when they enacted a law requiring certain employers to pay a monthly stipend to employees who carpool, ride public transit, walk or bike to work.

But “a lot of employers don’t even realize they should be doing it,” said Gennet Paauwe, a spokeswoman for the California Air Resources Board, which administers the program.

 

And employers aren’t the only ones with little information about the law: State officials have no idea how many businesses are required to offer the cash inducements, much less how many of them actually do.

 

Always on the lookout for ways to reduce traffic congestion, the Los Angeles City Council’s Transportation Committee on Wednesday will consider how to go about implementing and enforcing the so-called parking cash-out law.

 

“I think it’s clear that parking policies affect how people get to work,” said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who is the committee chairwoman. She cited studies showing that free parking encourages people to drive to work alone.

 

Conversely, 17% of all drivers offered cash in exchange for their free parking space will give up their vehicles, said Donald C. Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA who helped write the state law.

 

“It treats every employee equally,” he said. “It’s much fairer than saying you get free parking or nothing.”

 

Statewide, only Santa Monica enforces the law. More than a decade ago, provisions of the statute were incorporated into a traffic management ordinance.

 

Throughout the Southland, free parking is an ingrained fringe benefit. The Southern California Assn. of Governments estimates that 95% of the people who drive to work park there for free, Shoup said.

 

Under the parking cash-out program, employers must pay a stipend equal to the cost of a parking space to workers who do not drive to the office. The law covers public and private employers that have at least 50 employees and that offer free parking in a leased lot.

 

Those restrictions mean that just 3% – or an estimated 290,000 of the state’s 11 million employer-paid parking spaces – are subject to the law, according to a 2002 report by the state legislative analyst’s office. About 84% of the free parking spaces are exempt because they are employer-owned.

 

Some larger employers offer free bus passes and other incentives to reduce car emissions under regional air quality guidelines. Those entities can satisfy smog-reduction requirements and the state law by incorporating parking cash-out subsidies.

 

Martin Wachs, director of the Rand Corp.’s Transportation, Space and Technology Program, called the cash-out program a “first step.” He said the city also should consider limiting parking in high-rises, especially those near public transit.

 

“It doesn’t make sense to me to spend billions to build subways and the buildings next to them that have seven, eight, 10 levels of parking that is provided free to those employees,” he said, noting that free parking will trump even the most easily accessible public transit.

 

Shoup studied eight Los Angeles-area firms whose workers were offered cash instead of free parking. His 1997 report concluded that, on average, 17% of the employees took the money.

 

The law does not cost employers any more than if every employee opted for free parking, Shoup said. In fact, the cash-out provision gives lower-paid employees who are more likely to take public transit benefits equal to those provided to their colleagues with cars.

 

The legislative analyst’s report found that employee participation ranged from 2% to 22% at various job sites, depending on such factors as the subsidy amount, business type, location and proximity to public transit. “High-paid employees with irregular schedules [are] not easily swayed by cash incentive,” the report states.

 

At the Century City law firm of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro, none of the lawyers has exchanged free parking for cash, firm officials said. But 17 other employees – including Fleming, the firm’s director of information, resources and management – took the money, said John Kramer, administrative operations manager. Each of the firm’s more than 200 employees gets a free parking space, valued at $185 a month, or the cash equivalent.

 

Fleming, 58, lives less than three miles away in West Hollywood. He said he was surprised when he moved here from Baltimore six years ago and was offered free parking. He takes the bus and the cash. “It’s a very nice bonus and it most definitely keeps me from driving,” he said.

 

Other companies have had greater success. More than half of the workers at an unnamed financial services firm in downtown Santa Monica cited in the legislative analyst’s report took a $200-a-month stipend and found another way to work. Since the law was enacted, Santa Monica has reduced employee parking by as much as 20% and increased the average number of passengers per vehicle from 1.3 to 1.5.

 

The city of Los Angeles does not require employers to submit annual traffic plans. But officials are exploring whether to revise tax forms to seek data essential in identifying businesses that should comply with the state law.

 

Shoup, the UCLA professor and author of “The High Cost of Free Parking,” applauded the city’s efforts. “Most of us assume that if the state passes a law, it will be enforced,” he said, noting that at the time he thought workers would push bosses to pay up.

 

But the Air Resources Board’s Paauwe said the law’s many exemptions make enforcement difficult. For now, it is “complaint driven,” she said. Possible violations may be reported by calling (800) 952-5588 or the local air district.

 

The statute includes a $500 fine per vehicle for noncompliance, but no one has been fined.

 

Shoup isn’t concerned that Los Angeles’ effort to enforce the law might take too long. “It has not been enforced since 1992,” he said. “We can wait to do it right.”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Parking

Solving the Downtown Parking Problem

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Everyone agrees that most of our downtowns have a parking “problem.” Mostly, we complain that there is too little parking available. Are there any workable strategies to improve the parking situation?

For downtown parking, we should work with the following premises.

1. Downtown Needs a Reasonable Amount of Parking. I am not a utopian. Clearly, in the world we live in, a quality downtown needs auto parking.

2. There is Usually an Overabundance of Parking Downtown. I realize that this is a shock to most people (myself included), but looking closely at the problem and reading about it has drawn me to this astonishing conclusion. For example, an inventory of parking in the typical downtown typically uncovers that there is a vast number of parking spaces consuming a vast amount of downtown real estate. Indeed, in one city I looked at, were there is a constant complaint that there is too little parking downtown, the downtown contains approximately 80 percent of the parking found at the regional shopping mall in the suburbs of that city, and those spaces consume over 20 percent of the downtown acreage. It turns out that it is not so much that there is too little parking, but that there is too little parking within a few feet of the front door of the building a person is going to.

3. The Provision of Parking is Very Expensive for Downtown Businesses. For a small business, purchasing more land for off-street parking than what is needed for the building footprint is extremely expensive – particularly in cities where the land cost is sky high. Typically, land for parking is significantly larger than the land needed for the building. This chases away not only small businesses (which are the lifeblood of a healthy downtown), but also harms the overall downtown economic health.

4. Cities Typically Lack Sufficient Funding for Adequate Downtown Capital Improvements. Not only are most all cities unable to pay for all of the essential downtown capital improvements it needs (more street furniture, new curbs, new landscaping, bulb-outs, etc.), but they are also critically short on the funding needing for operation and maintenance of downtown public facilities and services.

5. Excessive Surface Parking Downtown is Deadly. Most all downtowns provide too much surface parking, thinking that such parking is essential for the survival of downtown. Yet ironically, a significant impediment to the competitive leverage that downtown needs if it is to compete with suburban retail and office clusters is excessive surface parking. That leverage is compact walkability, and surface parking seriously degrades that objective. The loss of compact walkability degrades the health of downtown transit, because healthy transit depends on compact walkability. The downtown residential lifestyle also requires high-quality, compact walkability. Downtown economic health is much stronger when compact walkability is established. Excessive surface parking deadens a downtown, detracts from downtown appearance, character and ambience, and significantly reduces downtown vibrancy. Place-making is nearly impossible when surface parking becomes prominent.

6. Downtown Parking Garages Tend to be Underutilized. One sign of a downtown with excessive parking is a downtown parking garage that tends not to be anywhere near capacity. Many downtowns experience the paradox of a perception that there is “too little parking” in a downtown with empty parking garages.

7. On-Street Parking Downtown Tends to be Un-Priced or Under-Priced. A common mistake made by a downtown is to conclude that an essential way to attract suburban motorists to downtown is to provide free or under-priced on-street parking. But as Donald Shoup points out, this strategy simply leads to the perception that there is no parking available, because under-priced on-street parking typically leaves no on-street parking vacancy. The lack of on-street parking vacancy creates the impression that there is NO parking vacancy anywhere in the downtown, since the off-street parking vacancy tends to be less visible. As a result, underpriced on-street parking is actually more of a future deterrent to suburban motorists than properly priced on-street parking (priced so that there is always some availability of on-street parking). Put another way, free but unavailable parking is less attractive than available, priced parking

What Is To Be Done?

Given the above, it seems reasonable that the following parking program is called for in downtowns with a parking “problem”:

1. Create City-Operated Off-Street and Multi-Story Garage Parking. To the extent possible, downtown parking should only be provided by the city in city-owned, maintained and operated garages and lots. That provision would be in the form of municipal parking garages and lots that all downtown businesses and residences can lease spaces within.

2. Charge a Parking Fee In-Lieu or Parking Impact Fee. Downtown businesses and residences would be obligated to pay a parking in-lieu fee (or a parking impact fee if the downtown does not require parking). Revenue from that fee would go toward capital and Operation & Maintenance (O&M) for municipal parking garages and lots. Downtown businesses would also be able to lease needed spaces within the garages or lots. The expense of the impact fees and the leasing is generally much lower than the cost of land that the business would otherwise need to buy and maintain for their own off-street parking. These fees also tends to be significantly lower than the opportunity cost of foregoing floor area that could otherwise be available for a larger building. In-lieu or impact fees for parking range from $2,000 to $20,000 per space in the cities that use it (EPA, Parking Spaces/Community Places, 2006).

3. Increase the Amount of Metered, On-Street Parking. Create significantly more metered, on-street parking (if there is existing street space) and price the meters to create approximately 15 percent vacancy on an on-going basis, as recommended by Donald Shoup (The High Cost of Free Parking, 2005).

4. Dedicate Downtown Parking Meter Revenue to Downtown. Shoup points out that tactically, it is critical to dedicate revenue from downtown parking meters to capital improvements and O&M that benefit downtown. Not only does that provide a meaningful amount of revenue for a dramatic amount of downtown improvements (which attracts people to downtown), but it builds a vocal political constituency of downtown business owners who come to accept and defend the meters because they can see that the meter revenue is providing substantial downtown improvements.

5. Allow Downtown Businesses to Expand. Once the program described above makes off-street parking less necessary for each downtown business to provide, allow downtown businesses to construct building additions that start consuming off-street parking areas associated with their property. That is, property now used by the business on their site for parking could be put to more productive, revenue-generating, vibrancy-inducing use. Be sure that regulatory obstacles are removed in order to make this business expansion legal. Floor area ratios should be significantly increased (or better yet, removed). Exempt downtown businesses from most or all landscaping requirements. Allow buildings to abut the public right-of-way.

6. Encourage or Require Businesses to Share Parking. Many businesses have different hours of operation. Churches tend to need parking on Sundays. Offices on weekdays. Nightclubs at night. Shared parking and municipal-owned parking allows for a reduction in needed downtown parking, reduces costs for businesses, and promotes “park once” travel. Parking is therefore used and provided more efficiently.

7. Reform Taxation by Establishing a Land-Value Tax. Land value taxation (LVT) is the policy of raising tax revenues by charging each landholder a portion of the value of a site or parcel of land that would exist even if that site had no improvements. It is different from a property tax, which includes the value of buildings and other improvements on the land. The common use of the property tax therefore discourages building improvements or expansions, and encourages the speculative retention or under-use of downtown property (typically by creating a surface parking lot), because development of the property or building improvement of the property financially penalizes the property owner by increasing taxes. While not a pure LVT system, Harrisburg PA has substantially reduced the vacant land found downtown by taxing land at a rate six times higher than improvements on the land. The development of vacant land in Harrisburg has been far in excess of similar cities using conventional property taxation.

Conclusion

Each of these strategies promote an improved urban design, promote a more continuous urban fabric (instead of a downtown pock-marked with gaptooths), promote better economic health, promote a livelier downtown, promote a downtown that is more friendly to residences, promote a safer downtown, promote a downtown with more funds for improvements, and promote an overall more walkable downtown.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Parking

The Merits of New Urbanism

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

The standards and principles of new urbanism are designed to make areas more livable, more vibrant, and more people-oriented, and to build community pride in the city and the work of its developers.

The people-oriented, traditional areas of the city share a number of desirable characteristics that provide us with many benefits. We should strive to preserve, celebrate, encourage and emulate how these areas are designed because of such benefits. For example, a traditionally designed city provides the following benefits:

Gives people without access to a car, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled, more safety and independence in their world.

Enhances urban livability, which reduces the desire to flee to the suburbs, which, in turn, reduces the pressure for costly sprawl and strip commercial development.

Substantially reduces government and household costs — especially because of the enormous savings in the building and maintaining of road infrastructure, and the purchase and maintenance of cars.

Reduces the need for travel.

Helps retain historic structures instead of replacing them with parking or large suburban retail “boxes””

Features streets designed to slow traffic. It increases travel choices and reduces the length and number of vehicle trips.

Makes neighborhoods more memorable and dignified.

Contains structures built for permanence, instead of structures designed, as too many contemporary structures are, for a short-term “throw-away” life.

Integrates income groups by mixing housing types and providing a public realm available to all incomes.

Makes walking feel more enjoyable.

Is not characterized as much by strip commercial visual blight.

Increases citizen access to culture.

Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.

Puts “eyes on the street” and promotes “citizen surveillance” of public places where citizens watch over their collective security, crime is reduced, as are public law enforcement costs.

Stabilizes, reinforces the identity of, and improves the value of nearby older neighborhoods.

Preserves and promotes community character.

Promotes neighborhood and community self-sufficiency and, therefore, sustainabilty.

Reduces per capita gasoline consumption and air pollution.

Coupled with regulations that are designed to promote and preserve its features, restores the traditional citizen hope and expectation for a better future with each new development in the city, and, in so doing, reduces the extreme polarization between developers and neighborhoods.

Provides affordable housing options.

Creates a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of belonging and restores civic pride and place-based loyalty.

Strikes a balance between the needs of the car and the needs of the pedestrian. It creates a pedestrian ambiance and interesting pedestrian features, and makes the pedestrian feel safe, convenienced, and comfortable.

Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.

Increases transit viability, primarily through density, access, traffic calming, community-serving facilities, compactness, mixed use and pedestrian amenities.

Currently, developers are often reviled and their developments feared. This is manifested in the contemporary epidemic of NIMBYs (not in my backyard), NIMTOOs (not in my term of office), BANANAs (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), and NOPEs (not on planet earth). Largely, these attitudes have emerged because since WWII, developers and cities have sought to make cars instead of people happy.

Typically, American suburbs are characterized by this design. Suburban design features:

Large setbacks that are inconvenient for pedestrians and fail to define a comfortable public realm

Large parking lots in front of buildings

Large street blocks with no cross access or connecting streets

Buildings with their backs or sides turned toward the street. Instead of an entrance or windows, the pedestrian is confronted with blank walls, air compressors, dumpsters, and long walks to the building

Pedestrian-hostile features that are designed to promote car use, such as drive-throughs, single-use zoning, segregation of land uses, and “armoring” with fences and walls

To make Gainesville a safer, more livable place, and to increase citizen pride in its developments, the new urbanist standards are designed to primarily promote the health, safety, and welfare of pedestrians, while still accommodating the needs of the car. More specifically, the design is intended to make the pedestrian feel:

Safe and secure

Convenienced

Pleasant and comfortable

With enhanced safety, livability, civic pride, and visual appeal in these older parts of the city, the city will establish an important engine in job recruitment and a strengthened tax base. A downtown that adheres to these standards will be a city that provides an important incubator for new, entrepreneurial, locally-owned small businesses and entry-level job opportunities. A healthy downtown also protects the property values of surrounding residential areas.

Some Principles of New Urbanism

Build-To Line

Overly large setbacks are inconvenient and unpleasant for pedestrians. They are inconvenient because they can significantly increase walking distances from the public sidewalk. They are unpleasant because they prevent the pedestrian on the public sidewalk from enjoying the building details and the activity within the building. In addition, they prevent the building from contributing to an intimate, pleasant, comfortable street wall, which harms the sense of place and makes the pedestrian feel as if she or he is in “no man’s land.” Buildings pulled up to the street sidewalk have more of a human scale. The intent of a build-to line is to pull the building facade up to the street to abut the streetside sidewalk. By doing so, building facades along a block face will be aligned to form a street wall that frames the public realm, while retaining sufficient width for people to walk, and sufficient space to provide a formal landscape created by the shade of street trees. The street wall shapes the public realm to provide a sense of comfort and security for the public space.

Building Height of At Least Two Stories

“Low-slung” one-story buildings are more appropriate in low-density residential areas designed for motor vehicle travel. They reduce the density and intensity needed to make transit, walking, and bicycling viable, and typically are too low in profile to form a desirable, intimate, comfortable public realm with facing buildings across the street. They also reduce the opportunity to create mixed-use buildings containing, typically, both commercial and residential uses. Low-rise multi-story buildings two to five stories in height are an important component of the compact, walkable city. The building profile forms the desired street wall and the additional stories allow the establishment of the number of residents needed for a viable urban neighborhood.

Parking Located at the Rear or Side of Building Instead of in Front

Parking areas located in front of buildings are inconvenient and unpleasant for pedestrians. They are inconvenient because they significantly increase walking distances from the public sidewalk. They are unpleasant because they often make for hot expanses of areas to walk in, prevent the pedestrian on the public sidewalk from enjoying the building details and the activity within the building, and increase safety problems since pedestrians must dodge cars in the parking area. In addition, they prevent the building from contributing to an intimate, pleasant, comfortable street wall, which harms the sense of place and makes the pedestrian feel as if she or he is in “no man’s land.” Buildings pulled up to the street without intervening motor vehicle parking have more of a human scale.

Hidden Trash and Recycling Receptacles and Loading Docks

Trash and recycling receptacles and loading docks typically provide an unsightly appearance and an odor problem for pedestrians. In addition, improperly located and improperly screened receptacles and docks can cause noise problems for nearby land uses when the receptacles and packages are being loaded or unloaded. Therefore, they should be located as far from public sidewalks as possible and screened from view.

Sidewalks Sufficiently Wide and Aligned for Convenience

Sidewalks, when properly dimensioned and maintained, can provide the pedestrian with a pleasant, safe, and convenient place to walk. Sidewalks that are too narrow are inconvenient, especially in areas with large volumes of pedestrians, pedestrians walking side-by-side (which requires a minimum sidewalk width of five feet unobstructed), and people using wheelchairs. In addition, sidewalks that must wrap around large block faces are a serious impediment to pedestrian convenience.

Building Oriented to the Street, Instead of Turning Its Back to It

A successful commercial establishment is designed to provide convenience for customers by minimizing walking distances from public sidewalks and nearby buildings. Rear or side entrances, or entrances oriented toward a parking lot, make travel highly inconvenient for pedestrians and transit users. Such a design also cuts the building off from street life. In addition, a building with its main entrance directed away from the primary sidewalk and street “turns its back” to the public realm, reduces urban vibrancy, and is harmful to promoting street life. When a building is located at an intersection, the most convenient entrance is usually abutting the public sidewalks at the corner of the intersection. Often, the most convenient sidewalk is formally aligned diagonally and aligned straight to minimize walking distance.

Facade Treatment Creates Interest for Pedestrians

All building shall be designed to provide interest for pedestrians. Long expanses of blank walls tend to be boring and unattractive for the pedestrian. In addition, windows attract pedestrians, which act as a security system for the business. Buildings without such relief and interest tend to create a “massive scale”, and makes the public realm impersonal. Such an appearance is inconsistent with the “human-scaled” and pedestrian-oriented character of the a traditional area of a city, and inconsistent with a city intent to restore such character to the traditional city area.

Hidden Outdoor Mechanical Equipment

Outdoor mechanical equipment, such as heating or AC units, when improperly located on a site or improperly screened, can contribute to noise problems and create visual blight.

Formal Landscaping

In the traditional, pedestrian-oriented areas of a city, landscaping should be used both to soften the “hardness” of the urban area for the pedestrian, and make the pedestrian feel more comfortable by providing cooling, reducing glare and helping to form public spaces, “outdoor rooms,” and street corridor edges. Such formality of landscaping adds dignity to the traditional area of a city, instead of a chaotic one, thereby inspiring a sense of civic pride.

Properly Scaled Lighting

Lighting can often detract from the intimate, pleasant, romantic character a city seeks to promote in the traditional, pedestrian-oriented areas of a city. But lighting designed for cars tends to be not human-scaled. Lights on tall fixtures cause light pollution by casting light into areas not needed by pedestrians. In addition, the lights present a poor, bleached out atmosphere as the pedestrian views an area from afar, and hides the nighttime sky completely. A new urbanist, pedestrian-oriented street lighting design features shorter and more numerous light fixtures and structures.

Prohibited Auto-Oriented Uses

Certain uses are oriented toward or designed to attract motor vehicles, and therefore contribute to danger, visual blight, inconvenience, and lack of human scale for pedestrians. Therefore, such uses are not compatible with the a people-friendly downtown area.

Alleys

Alleys allow the developer to place garages, driveways, waste receptacles, and overhead utilities in a less conspicuous location away from the public street and therefore less likely to detract from the pedestrian ambiance of the neighborhood. Alleys also provide an additional location for emergency vehicles to gain access to a building, and a relatively safe place for children to play.

Front Porches

When they are set back a modest (“conversational”) distance from the sidewalk, porches allow persons to sit on their porch and interact and socialize with their neighbors. They therefore add safety (by putting “eyes on the street”) and friendliness to the street. As a result, porches contribute to an enjoyable walk by pedestrians in the neighborhood.

Narrow Streets

Narrow streets force cars and trucks to travel slowly through the neighborhood, which significantly contributes to neighborhood safety, low noise levels, low traffic volumes and, therefore neighborhood livability.

Mixed Housing Types

Mixed housing types provide the neighborhood with a mixed income environment, since the mixed types provide a range of housing affordability. Mixed housing types enable lower income workers to live within walking distance of their jobs, instead of creating traffic problems by being forced to commute by car to their jobs.

Transit Links

When a neighborhood contains — or is near — safe, pleasant, and convenient bus stops, a larger number of trips are made by bus, which reduces excessive neighborhood trips to and from the neighborhood by car. This provides more transportation choice, enhances neighborliness, and reduces household transportation costs (every car a household can shed saves the household the equivalent of the monthly home mortgage payment on a $51,000 house, at 10 percent interest).

On-Street Parking

Buffers pedestrians from vehicle travel. Narrows the street in order to slow traffic to a safer, more livable speed. Provides convenient parking locations for nearby businesses. Allows businesses and residences to reduce the amount of off-street, on-site parking, which reduces the “heat island” effect and enhances urban vibrancy by improving the public realm.

Mixed Use

Reduces trip distances to the point where walking, bicycling, and bus trips are much more feasible for a number of different types of trips. Adds to neighborhood and urban vibrancy by increasing the number of places people can meet — such as a pub, on the way to work or a civic event, a grocery store, a fitness center, etc. Provides children with more of an awareness of community land uses other than parks, residences, and schools.

Resessed Garages

Enhances the neighborhood walking environment for the pedestrian. Houses appear people-oriented and interesting to walk along, instead of sending a strong message that “a car lives here.”

Narrow, Smaller Lots

Provides a more compact, walkable arrangement of houses. Provides a more pleasing alignment of houses along the streetside sidewalk, which enhances civic pride in the neighborhood and makes the residential street seem more “cozy.” Blocks are reduced in size, which makes the neighborhood more walkable. Narrower lots increase the frequency of front doors along the street, which greatly enhances the vibrancy of the street. Houses appear to be associated in a neighborly way, instead of isolated and cocooned from the neighborhood. Smaller lots also make home ownership in such a subdivision more affordable. In addition, the higher, yet livable, density that smaller lots provide makes transit more viable.

Connected Streets

Makes walking, bicycling, and using the bus more feasible by significantly reducing trip distances and increasing the number of safe and pleasant routes for such travellers. Provides motorists and emergency service vehicles with more “real time” route choices. A route that is impeded or blocked can be avoided in favor of a clear route, which is not possible on a cul-de-sac. In combination with the fact that connected streets distribute vehicle trips more evenly, real time route choices on connected streets reduce congestion on collector or arterial roads. As a result of this distribution, there is little or no need for neighborhood-hostile collectors or arterials, which, because of the volume and speed of vehicle trips they carry, are unpleasant for residences to locate along.

Terminated Vistas

A concept in which a prominent building is placed at the “visual termination” of a street. Provides dignity and prominence to important civic buildings, such as post offices, libraries, city halls, churches, convention centers and performing arts centers. Sends the message that the building is an important place for the community. In addition, terminated vistas make walking more pleasant by giving the pedestrian a “goal” to walk toward. The walk therefore does not seem endless. It also provides an impressive view to strive to reach. Such vistas also make trips more memorable by helping to orient a person as to their location in the community.

Livable, higher densities

The conventional way in which we address land use conflicts is to put distance between conflicting activities, and minimize the number of dwelling units per acre. But this does little to encourage land users to reduce the damage they do to the environment. Also, by segregating uses, we increase the amount people have to travel by car, which itself reduces the quality of the urban and natural environment.

By contrast, the more compact, higher density “new urbanist” development reduces trip length; and makes bicycling, transit, and walking more viable. For these reasons, compact development generates about half as much vehicle travel as does sprawl development, making such a land use strategy one of the most effective in reducing auto dependence.

Minimum densities necessary for a viable bus system are approximately eight dwelling units per acre. Newman and Kenworthy indicate that only when densities exceed 7,000 to 8,000 persons per square mile (Gainesville’s density is currently 2,000 per square mile) do mixed land uses and shorter travel distances become predominant enough to significantly reduce auto dependence. These researchers note that a dramatic reduction in per capita gasoline consumption occurs when population density reaches 12 to 16 persons per acre. “Low density land use ensures almost total dependence on automobiles, enormous travel distances, no effective public transit, and little possibility of walking or [bi]cycling. Below five or six people per acre, a city almost ceases to exist, and requires enormous transportation energy to hold the scattered parts together.”

A recent study found that distance is the most widely cited reason for not walking more often, thereby showing the importance of compact development as a strategy to encourage walking. People living in high-density areas are much more likely to walk than those living in low-density suburbs, even when suburban trips are less than one mile (note that higher population densities seem to be more strongly correlated with higher walking rates than does a compact land use pattern). There also seems to be a correlation between the shorter commute distances associated with compact cities and higher bicycling rates. Compact, mixed-use development has been cited as much more likely than improved bicycle facilities, congestion fees, or fuel price increases to recruit motorists to bicycling.

Residential development that averages 14 dwelling units per acre requires half as much road mileage to serve vehicle trips than development at 3.5 dwelling units per acre. Another study found that for each doubling of residential density, vehicle miles traveled is reduced 30 percent. Thus, if the population of an area doubled due to infill development, vehicle miles traveled would probably increase by only 40 to 60 percent, rather than the 100 percent it would increase if the population increase occurred in dispersed suburbs.

A recent study has confirmed that the shift from car trips to transit and walking does not occur until certain job and housing densities are achieved. For work trips, the thresholds are 50 to 75 employees per gross acre, or 12 dwellings per net acre. For shopping trips, it is 75 employees per gross acre and 20 dwellings per acre.

One way to increase development densities is to remove land development policies that reduce development densities, such as minimum lot size zoning and minimum parking requirements.

Public service vehicles scaled small enough so that they do not dictate unsafe, wide streets

New urbanism encourages the use of public service and emergency vehicles (such as fire trucks) that are scaled to be compatible with neighborhoods. Increasingly, such vehicles are quite large, and their size often dictates rather wide streets and unsafe turning radii. Yet studies show that the dangers of such street design typically far outweigh the safety benefits that larger streets and turns will provide for emergency vehicles. In general, this is because the probability of traffic injury or death due to over-sized streets is much higher than the chance that injury or death would be averted because the emergency vehicle can shave a few seconds off of a trip. Therefore, smaller service vehicles can help a City keep average neighborhood vehicle speeds lower, make the streets safer and less noisy, make the neighborhood more walkable and, in general, more livable and sociable.

Streets and sidewalks straight, not curvilinear

Streets are more memorable and less disorienting when they are straight. They are more dignified, and can be terminated with a prominent vista. It is important that sidewalks be straight, since pedestrians have a strong desire to walk the distance that provides the minimum trip length. Curving sidewalks promote the creation of “cow paths,” as pedestrians take short cuts along their route. In general, curvilinear sidewalks are only appropriate when needed to avoid a large tree or other important physical feature, or in an area in which most pedestrians are walking strictly for optional recreation or exercise. This is generally not the case in an urban area, where almost all trips are utilitarian. Mostly, curving sidewalks are intended to improve the view of motorists driving along a road, and provide no important benefits for the pedestrian.

One-quarter mile walking distance

It is generally recognized that the convenient walking distance ranges up to one-quarter mile, or roughly a five- to ten minute walk. It is therefore important that for a neighborhood to be walkable, most homes should be within one-quarter mile of public parks, schools, civic buildings, retail, office, and various forms of culture. The one-quarter mile design yardstick also enhances the viability of transit.

Short, walkable block faces

In general, a neighborhood or commercial block face length should not exceed approximately 500 feet. Longer blocks tend to create inconvenient walking distances. When long blocks must be created, they should be shorted with cross-access walkways.

Ground-floor retail. Offices and residential above.

This form of mixed use enhances vibrancy and provides more affordable housing choices. It reduces the need for trips by car, since employees of the retail establishment can live above the shop. It is important that such “vertical mixing” of uses not place residential on the first floor, since it is disruptive for the residence when users of the office or retail must walk through the residence. It is also important that such mixed use include retail on the first floor so that more energy and interest is at the street level – -thereby benefiting pedestrians.

Eyes on the street. Citizen surveillance

Law enforcement agencies increasingly see the merits of citizen policing, in which citizens are able to watch out for their collective security. Such “eyes on the street” are promoted when buildings, windows, entrances and porches are near the street and sidewalk. Citizen surveillance is also promoted when the neighborhood or commercial areas are designed for regular, frequent pedestrian activity. Areas without pedestrian activity are areas where illegal, inappropriate, or unsafe behavior can occur more easily since there is no one to observe the deed and report it or intervene.

Diagonal usually the shortest walking distance

In general, the shortest walking distance is a diagonal route. Frequently, sidewalks are designed with right angle turns, which increases the walking distance and increases the likelihood of “cow path” shortcuts.

Centrally-located schools, parks, squares, civic w/in walking distance of most homes

When schools, parks, squares, and civic buildings are within easy walking distance of most residents, a sense of community and neighborliness is promoted, and vehicle trips are greatly reduced. If children are able to walk to school or a park, such areas can become social and recreational gathering places for students, because they are able to go to the school or return home on their own, as opposed to being required to leave when the bus leaves at the end of the class day.

Parks, squares and civic uses are more frequently used when residents have easy, non-vehicular access to them. When centrally located, they become the focal point of the neighborhood, and maximize the number of residences that are within walking distance.

Square street curbs

Square street curbs provide more safety for pedestrians, and provide a more attractive, urban appearance for the neighborhood.

Modest curb radius

A larger curb turning radius at an intersection or a parking area ingress and egress point allows vehicles to negotiate a turn rapidly, whereas a smaller radius forces a vehicle to slow down. Conventional traffic engineers often prefer a larger radius for vehicle convenience and curb protection, but such a radius makes life more inconvenient and dangerous for pedestrians. A larger radius also significantly increases the distance for crossing the street, which exposes the pedestrian to more danger from moving vehicles.

Note that large garbage trucks or delivery trucks or buses or fire trucks should not dictate the design of neighborhood curb radii. To do so is equivalent to obligating an architect to increase the size of the front door opening so that an overly large TV set can be brought into the house. No, the correct solution is to request that service and emergency vehicles be scaled for neighborhoods…

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Bicycling, New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Parking, Sprawl and Suburbia, Traffic Congestion, Visioning

Downtown Parking

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Suburbanization is the biggest threat to cities in North America. – Paul Bedford, Toronto Planning Director

Automobiles need quantity and pedestrians need quality. – Dan Burden

 

Introduction

Perhaps one of the most common suggestions for “improving” downtowns in America is to recommend that more free parking be created to address what is perceived to be a parking “shortage.” That “lack of parking” is the primary cause of downtown decline.

However, a large number of cities throughout the nation have long exempted new development from needing to provide parking in their downtowns, as can be seen below. This paper describes some of the important reasons why it is common for a city to exempt businesses from downtown parking requirements, despite the near consensus that downtowns “need more parking.”

Agglomeration Economies

A Central Business District (a downtown) is healthy almost exclusively because of “agglomeration economies.” That is, downtowns survive and thrive because of a concentration of government offices, residential density, services, and cultural events in a relatively small space. Indeed, agglomeration economies are the basis for why cities (and their outlying residential areas) form. Concentrating activities, buildings, and services in a small space increases efficiency and maximizes economic health-largely by drawing large numbers of people and minimizing the distance they must travel in order to interact (or spend money). These concentrated downtown entities thrive in part based on the synergistic, spillover benefits that downtown proximity to nearby activities provide. Off-street parking detracts from each of these factors-particularly density and synergy.[1] A crucial side benefit to higher residential densities downtown is that such densities create what economists call the “24-hour downtown”(see the Emerging Trends summaries below). Such downtowns are places that do not close up at 5 pm at the end of the workday. Folks living downtown provide patronage to downtown throughout the day and night because they live there, and they are often looking for goods and services. By being more alive and less deserted throughout the day and night, 24-hour downtowns become safer places because citizens watch out for their collective security as they walk the streets.

Small Business Incubation

Because a healthy downtown has high agglomeration economies and can support some forms of business activity with little or no need to provide parking, healthy downtowns tend to be an effective and important incubator for small, locally owned businesses-a large percentage of which would not be possible without what a downtown delivers. Small businesses are strongly promoted when start-up costs are low and there is a concentration of pedestrian traffic. The higher residential densities found in agglomerated downtowns also provide a stimulus for small businesses, as such densities are essential for creating viable small businesses that depend on walk-in customers and not just auto-based customers. Off-street parking undercut these benefits for small businesses by substantially increasing start-up costs, reducing walk-in traffic, and substantially reducing potential residential densities.

Market-Distorting Subsidy

Free parking is a market-distorting, enormous subsidy inequitably available only to motorists (it is a subsidy not offered to pedestrians, bicyclists or transit users). As Todd Litman [2] points out, minimum parking requirements clearly create economically excessive parking supply. That is, substantially more parking must be offered than would be provided based on market principles of supply and demand.

Lifestyle Choice

To meet the needs of all residents of a community, there is a need to provide for the full range of lifestyle choices, from walkable urban, to suburban, to rural. In cities throughout the nation, the walkable urban lifestyle is rapidly vanishing. Since such a lifestyle has been desired throughout history by all cultures by at least a segment of the community, and will always be desired by a segment of the community into the future, it is essential that such a lifestyle be provided for. Off-street parking significantly detracts from the ability to provide for such a lifestyle.

Crime Magnet

Surface parking tends to attract and promote criminal or juvenile delinquent behavior. Pedestrians tend to feel unsafe walking downtown when there are large, empty spaces, in part because the security of citizen surveillance is compromised by such vacant, unused spaces. A well-known Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principle states that degraded, deteriorating, blighted, or abandoned places send the message that the place is not being defended or watched over by users or owners, and is therefore seen as a safer place to engage in crime. CPTED also calls for “territoriality.” This strategy starts from the premise that design can create a “sense of ownership” over territory, which can create a “hands off” message for would-be criminals. A notable attribute of parking lots is that they tend to create a “no man’s land” that does not seem to be owned by anyone.

Space

Per person, cars consume an enormous amount of space. If we add up the size of a parking space, and the space needed to maneuver to the space (aisles, shy distance, etc.), a car needs approximately 300 square feet of space [3]. That space must be used efficiently in order for there to be a net benefit for a downtown, where agglomeration economies means that space is very, very dear. While it is true that a Bill Gates or a Donald Trump could take up the equivalent of 30 or 50 parking spaces and still provide a net benefit for a downtown (because they will sometimes spend a lot of money when they are downtown), most of us mere mortals do not provide a net benefit when we compare the amount of downtown space we consume upon arrival to a downtown by car to the amount of money we will probably spend once we get there. Note that suburban strip shopping centers or regional malls are able to overcome this spacing constraint that downtowns face because while it remains true that each motorist consumes a great deal of space when they arrive by car, land is so ample and low in cost in the suburbs that a huge amount of car storage space can be provided with vast asphalt parking lots that dwarf the retail stores. Because the suburban parking lot is so large, because the spaces are free, and because the shopping is convenient to major roads and highways, the suburban shopping area is able to attract a regional consumer-shed of customers. The sheer number of customers is able to overcome the inefficient use of space per customer/motorist. But notice that once a person parks at a shopping mall parking lot and walks inside the mall, there are an enormous number of shops within a compact, human-scaled space that are easy to walk to (the agglomeration economies happen once the person enters the inside of the mall or “superstore”). [4]

“In order to meet modern parking requirements, historic property owners must often demolish adjoining structures to accommodate the parking,” according to Constance Beaumont. [5] “This destroys not only the buildings, but the visual cohesiveness of historic areas. It forces people to rely even more heavily on cars for transportation because it makes the urban environment less hospitable for pedestrians. Over time, the community loses its social cohesiveness along with its identity.”

Business Unfriendly

It is very costly, particularly for small businesses, to provide 300 square feet of land to store a vehicle for each employee and each customer. With typical minimum parking requirements, for example, Donald Shoup [6] estimates that the average restaurant must purchase and maintain approximately three times as much land for the parking as for the land needed for the restaurant itself. “Although some suggest limiting parking supply in CBDs [Central Business Districts, also called downtowns] puts downtown areas at a competitive disadvantage within a region, requiring too much parking can also discourage development by forcing developers to dedicate valuable CBD space to parking.” [7]

Requiring Parking Lowers Development Densities

Because each off-street parking space consumes 300 square feet of land, requiring new developments downtown to provide off-street parking would reduce the potential density of the project substantially, [8] which is counter to the objective of most cities to promote downtown density. “At the requirement of 2.7 spaces per 1,000 gross square feet, the square footage of parking equals the square footage of building area,” according to Richard Willson. [9] “At any greater parking requirement, there is more parking area than building area…If advocates of slow growth proposed density reductions of 30-40 percent, they would raise a vigorous debate. Yet parking requirements indirectly restrain densities without any substantive policy debate…When a jurisdiction adopts high parking requirements, it is enacting a form of growth control…Suburban locations with low-cost land are more desirable, because parking can be provided at a lower cost than in central suburban or urban areas…Reformed parking requirements could be a powerful factor in supporting a community’s goals, whether they concern environmental quality, urban design, transportation systems or economic development.” Indeed, as Shoup has pointed out, “form no longer follows function, fashion, or even finance; instead form follows parking requirements.” [10]

Many who live in or near a downtown are often puzzled that the downtown is not able to harbor successful hardware stores or grocery stores. After all, aren’t people going to be much more willing to patronize a shop that is nearby, instead of driving several miles to a suburban shopping center? Wouldn’t downtown revitalization be so much more likely and attractive if it included such stores?

Unfortunately, one of the lessons we have learned in recent years about Big Box retail “superstores” is that a great many Americans are perfectly willing to drive 10 or 20 miles simply to save 10 cents on a pair of underwear. After all, when roads are high-speed and free, gas is cheap, and there is ample free parking at the destination, distance becomes almost irrelevant to the decision about where to shop.

For these downtown grocers and hardware stores to have a chance, they must rely on very high residential densities within easy walking distance. Since such densities are only found in the largest American cities, these much-adored “corner grocery stores” and “mom and pop hardware stores” are typically not found at all in small- or medium-sized cities.

 

Well, if we don’t have those high residential densities downtown, how can we deliver to downtown the large numbers of people downtown so desperately needs without suffering the negative consequences of the vast per person loss of space that comes when each person arrives by car? An essential solution is to provide quality public transit service. Transit means that a large number of people can come to downtown without the need for parking. Of course, a prerequisite for quality transit is the existence of higher density residential development both in the downtown and in areas surrounding downtown. Therefore, by causing a reduction in residential densities, the over-provision of parking downtown undercuts the ability of a downtown to provide the transit service it needs.

Example Cities

There is a very strong, inverse correlation between the amount of free parking provided in a downtown per capita and the health of the downtown. The less attractive, more crime-prone, more deserted the downtown is, the more it can afford to provide free parking (because there is so little demand for buildings and people to be there). Conversely, the more attractive, safe, healthy and exciting a downtown is, the more costly and scarce the downtown parking becomes (because there is so much demand for buildings and people to be there). Cities such as Detroit, Houston, Buffalo, St. Louis, Dallas, Cleveland and Newark are prime examples of compromised cities with excessive parking. The downtowns of these cities contain a vast amount of surface parking (much of it free). Yet for several decades, they have also been dying, moribund, scary places that few want to visit or live in. By contrast, the most economically and socially healthy, exciting, attractive cities are all known for their scarce, expensive parking-Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, D.C. Indeed, it has been said by at least one urban designer that “anyplace worth its salt has a “parking problem.” Another once said that “the best indicator of a successful city is lack of parking.”

How Do Peer Cities Treat Downtown Parking?

Looking at what “peer cities” do about an issue a community is struggling with is a common strategy. However, such an analysis should be used with an extreme level of caution, particularly when it comes to parking policies. A parking management expert discussed with me the advisability of using peer cities to determine what to do about parking problems, and he noted that this is usually a strategy to “see what everyone else is doing, so we can duplicate their mistakes. This is one of the biggest problems when it comes to planning for parking: a belief that we should simply do what everyone else does, because they must know what they are doing.”

 

Table 1. How Various Cities Treat Downtown Parking (as of 5/05)

City Parking Exempt CCD? Notes

 

Tampa FL Y Parking exempt via parking fund payment.

Raleigh NC Y

Madison WI Y Reductions allowed in all other districts.

East Lansing MI Y On-site parking requires commission action.

Champaign IL Y

Ann Arbor MI Y Unless structures exceed Floor Area Ratio limits.

Orlando FL Partial Some non-residential uses are parking exempt.

Ft Collins CO Mostly Non-residential exempt. Residential not exempt.*

Chapel Hill NC Y Parking exempt via parking fund payment.

Tallahassee FL Y Also has “Urban Pedestrian” zoning districts that are parking exempt.

Athens GA Mostly Residential/hotels not exempt. On-street parking credits are allowed.

Tucson AZ Reduced & Partial “Parking Amenity Reductions” are allowed. Reduced parking requirements. Change of use exempt.

Baton Rouge LA Y However, gambling uses must provide parking.

Austin TX Reduced Min. is 20% of normal. Max. is 60% of normal. Exempt uses less than 6000 sf in existing buildings.

Mount Dora FL Y

Ft Myers FL Y

Eugene OR Y Also exempts “small” sites in their C-1 zone.

Ft Lauderdale FL Y

Corvallis OR Y

Kissimmee FL Y

Charlottesville VA Y

Olympia WA Y

Bellingham WA Y Hotels/motels not exempt.

Stuart FL Y

Flagler Beach FL Y

Iowa City IA Y

Columbus OH Y

Denver CO Y For buildings built before 1974

Sarasota FL Partial Some uses exempt.

West Palm Beach FL Y Payment in lieu of parking.

Palo Alto CA Y

*Downtown residential less common than non-residential.

Example Shopping Centers

Many cities have vast, abundant, never-scarce off-street parking found at large, older, dying shopping centers. This has not saved these centers from a long period of downwardly spiraling retail health and appalling levels of building vacancy.

How Many Parking Spaces are in downtown?

An inventory of all public and private downtown parking spaces might lead to eye-opening surprises. For example, in a recent inventory of a downtown for a city in Florida, it was learned that more than one out of every five acres of Central City District land is consumed by parking.

Astonishingly, despite all the talk about downtown parking “shortages” in this city, the downtown has 84 percent of the total amount of parking found at a regional shopping mall at the western periphery of the urban area.

What Is the Proper Amount of Downtown Parking?

Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy, internationally acclaimed transportation and livable cities experts, surveyed 32 cities around the world. [11] They sought to compare the amount of lane mileage and parking provided in the downtowns of these cities, and then look for correlations between these factors and both gasoline consumption and the livability of the city.

Based on this analysis, they came up with a rule of thumb for a CBD. The rule of thumb is a parking-to-CBD employment ratio. Their conclusion was that beyond 200 parking spaces per 1,000 jobs, a city becomes noticeably ugly, polluted, auto dependent, energy intensive and deteriorated.

Here are the numbers for well-known American cities (note that the totals are from 1990):

Phoenix = 1,033

Los Angeles = 524

Detroit = 473

D.C. = 264

Chicago = 96

New York = 75

Downtown Parking Less Necessary

Unlike the suburbs, car parking is less necessary downtown because travel by car is less necessary. It is significantly easier to walk, bicycle or use transit downtown primarily due to the proximity that downtown provides between homes, offices, retail, services, cultural activities, and government affairs. [12] This proximity inherently provides a concentration of transit services, since transit is most efficiently provided where such proximity exists. As a result, it is relatively easy to get to and from downtown via transit. Census data consistently shows that per capita walking, bicycling and transit use is higher in a downtown than any other part of the urban area. Because of this, per capita car use and parking is therefore lower in a downtown than any other part of the urban area. Per household car ownership is also lower downtown than elsewhere in the city. [13] The “Park Once” environment that downtown provides due to its proximity benefits means that quite often, when a person arrives in downtown, they are able to park upon arrival and walk to multiple destinations in the downtown area, instead of needing to find a new parking space each time there is a desire to go to another downtown destination, such as an office, a retailer or a restaurant.

What Type of Parking is Preferred?

The highest value, most preferred parking in a downtown is on-street, curb-side parking. Such parking provides rapid, convenient parking for motorists seeking to quickly dash into an office or shop. It also provides substantial benefits for pedestrians, because it forms a protective buffering layer between moving traffic and the sidewalk that protects pedestrians from the noise and danger of cars. Most importantly, on-street parking creates “friction” which slows cars and obligates drivers to travel more safely and attentively. It is well-known that on-street parking is immensely beneficial to retail shops that abut such parking. In general, the second best form of parking is within parking garages. Garages provide longer-term parking than on-street parking, and provide more protection of the car from weather and perhaps vandalism. Garages take up substantially less downtown land than off-street surface parking, and their “verticality” helps define and enclose the public realm-a form of urban design that pedestrians tend to enjoy and feel safe in. This is particularly true when the first floor of the garage is wrapped with retail or office uses that can activate the sidewalk-rather than creating a dull, sterile, unsafe blank wall (or car grill) experience. By far, the least preferable downtown parking is surface parking lots. Surface lots fail to define space. They create ugly, dead zone gaps in the downtown fabric. They leave pedestrians feeling exposed and unsafe. They tend to attract undesirable behavior by students and teenagers. They increase downtown maintenance costs much more than on-street or garage parking. They detract from the human-scaled, unique, walkable ambience so important to downtown. And as is pointed out elsewhere in this report, they do nothing to contribute to the agglomeration economies that are essential for activating the healthy downtown.

How Should Curb-side Parking Meters Be Priced?

Shoup talks about the proper pricing of parking meters in the Fall 2003 issue of Access Magazine:

“The right price for curb parking is the lowest price that keeps a few spaces available to allow convenient access. If no curb spaces are available, reducing their price cannot attract more customers, just as reducing the price of anything else in short supply cannot increase its sales. A below-market price for curb parking simply leads to cruising and congestion. The goal of pricing is to produce a few vacant spaces so that drivers can find places to park near their destinations. Having a few parking spaces vacant is like having inventory in a store, and everyone understands that customers avoid stores that never have what they want in stock. The city should reduce the price of curb parking if there are too many vacancies (the inventory is excessive), and increase it if there are too few (the shelves are bare).”

“Underpricing curb parking cannot increase the number of cars parked at the curb because it cannot increase the number of spaces available. What underpricing can do, however, and what it does do, is create a parking shortage that keeps potential customers away. If it takes only five minutes to drive somewhere else, why spend fifteen cruising for parking? Short-term parkers are less sensitive to the price of parking than to the time it takes to find a vacant space. Therefore, charging enough to create a few curb vacancies can attract customers who would rather pay for parking than not be able to find it. And spending the meter revenue for public improvements can attract even more customers…”

“…Old Pasadena had no parking meters until 1993…Customers had difficulty finding places to park because employees took up the most convenient curb spaces…The city’s staff proposed installing meters to regulate curb parking, but the merchants and property owners opposed the idea. They feared that paid parking would discourage people from coming to the area at all. Customers and tenants, they assumed, would simply go to shopping centers like Plaza Pasadena that offered free parking…To defuse opposition, the city offered to spend all the meter revenue on public investments in Old Pasadena. The merchants and property owners quickly agreed to the proposal because they would directly benefit from it…The…proceeds paid for street furniture, trees, tree grates, and historic lighting fixtures throughout the area. Dilapidated alleys became safe, functional pedestrian spaces with access to shops and restaurants…Dedicating the parking meter revenue to Old Pasadena has thus created a ‘virtuous cycle’ of continuing improvements…Old Pasadena’s sales tax revenues quickly exceeded those of Plaza Pasadena, the nearby shopping mall that had free parking. With great fanfare, Plaza Pasadena was demolished in 2001 to make way for a new development-with storefronts that resemble the ones in Old Pasadena.”

“Would Old Pasadena be better off today with dirty sidewalks, dilapidated alleys, no street trees or historic street lights, and less security, but with free curb parking? Clearly, no. Old Pasadena is now a place where everyone wants to be, rather than merely another place where everyone can park free…”

“…Tellingly, although Westwood Village [a business district in LA] has about the same number of parking spaces as Old Pasadena, merchants typically blame a parking shortage for the Village’s decline. In Old Pasadena, parking is no longer a big issue…curb-space occupancy rate in Old Pasadena was 83 percent…In contrast, Westwood’s curb parking is underpriced and overcrowded…curb-space occupancy rate was 96 percent during peak hours, making it necessary for visitors to search for vacant spots. The city nevertheless reduced meter rates…in response to merchants’ and property owners’ argument that cheaper curb parking would stimulate business…The result is a shortage of curb spaces, and underuse of the off-street ones…Nevertheless, the shortage of curb spaces (which are only 14 percent of the total parking supply) creates the illusion of an overall parking shortage.”

Free Parking is Not Free

As Shoup convincingly points out, free parking is not free, even for those who do not drive. The cost of buying and maintaining it is high, and that cost is ultimately paid by customers (through higher costs for goods and services), by higher taxes (since costly parking discourages creation of new businesses [14]), and by higher unemployment (since costly parking discourages job and business creation or expansion). Because of the initial cost and the on-going maintenance for the needed “free” parking, housing is more expensive, [15] and businesses must pay higher rent for their premises. We don’t pay directly for the parking as motorists. But we pay for it through higher housing and rent costs, higher costs for a meal at a restaurant, higher costs for a haircut or a pair of slacks we buy, and higher costs to see a theatre production. The “free” parking therefore has hidden costs that distort how we behave, how we travel, and what we buy.

Competitive Leverage

Downtown can never compete with suburban areas on product or service price, availability of parking, access via large capacity roads, or diversity of goods. (Cheaper goods and services are necessarily an advantage of the suburban shopping because suburban shops are able to always provide lower prices than downtowns simply by the much larger volume of customers they are able to serve through regional consumer-sheds.)

The only competitive leverage downtown can have over the suburbs is:

 

1. Agglomeration economies, which are discussed above; and

2. A compact, walkable, delightful, “park once” ambience.

Each time a downtown adds more surface parking, it further deadens a downtown. It subtracts from the very thing that makes the downtown competitive with outlying suburban shopping: compact walkability. Surface parking lots put a “gaptoothed” tear in the urban fabric so important to the pleasant, interesting ambience sought after by many downtown pedestrians. For an enjoyable experience, most pedestrians need to feel a sense of enclosure. They need the engaging experience of active shopfronts next to them on the sidewalk. Downtown parking lots take away from those essential pedestrian experiences. As a German architect once said, putting a parking lot in a downtown is like putting a toilet in the middle of your living room.

Business Owners

As has been demonstrated over the long period within which many cities have had a downtown parking exemption, a city need not worry much about the exemption leading to a shortage of parking because it is quite unlikely that a business would “cut its own throat” by not voluntarily providing what it believes is sufficient parking. Indeed, the key these days is to not require minimum parking, but to establish a parking maximum for walkable parts of the community, so that the competitive leverage and walkable lifestyle is not subverted by sub-optimizing car storage.

Is More Downtown Parking, as Shoup says, a Poison Masquerading as a Cure?

A dead or dying downtown strives to revive itself, typically, by seeking to provide more parking to attract people. But because there is a net loss in terms of downtown space given up per motorist, this becomes a losing proposition. Additional parking-because it consumes so much space-chases away opportunities to establish or strengthen agglomeration economies (there is less downtown land available for buildings/activities/services when more parking is provided). The result is that more parking is akin to “destroying a village in order to save it.” The added parking delivers relatively few people to downtown (because of how much space is needed per person), and most of those people are spending only trivial amounts of money-if any-once they get there, thereby not compensating for the valuable downtown space they are consuming. Each time more parking is provided downtown, the downtown loses opportunities to attract people. Remember: People are attracted by buildings/services/activities. They are not attracted by parking, in and of itself. How many people, for example, would be attracted to a downtown if the downtown consisted of nothing more than a giant surface parking lot?

The Need for a Downtown Parking Occupancy Analysis

It is important to note that a large percentage of cities have not conducted any sort of downtown parking space occupancy analysis for decades, if ever. A city would be ill-advised to engage in any sort of change regarding downtown parking without such an analysis and the use of a parking management consultant to prepare a parking management plan.

I asked a parking expert about the above recommendation that a city conduct a parking occupancy analysis for downtown. He stated that he thinks “recommending a parking occupancy analysis is a very important step.” He pointed out that if such an analysis showed a “parking shortage,” that a city “should consider whether any ‘parking shortage’ is really a supply problem or a pricing problem.” He reiterated that “off-street parking requirements-especially those found in the Institute for Transportation Engineers Parking Generation manual [16]-really do lead to a large oversupply of even free parking. Both Shoup and Richard Willson, a former Shoup student, have commented on the magnitude of [how the manual regularly recommends an] oversupply of free parking.”

Existing Buildings Would Be Illegal or Much Less Financially Feasible

In most every large- and medium-sized cities, requiring the same level of parking downtown that is required elsewhere in the city would make nearly all downtown businesses non-conforming with city land development regulations (unless the developer/owner paid the usually enormous costs for providing such parking). Rarely is a business or civic building able to find or afford sufficient land downtown to provide the parking that is required elsewhere in the city. This is true not only for existing buildings but for most potential future developments downtown.

Summary

The key for a downtown to remain healthy (or return to health) is to build on its strengths. Those strengths are, and will always be, walkable, compact, vibrant, human-scaled ambience. Essential ingredients to achieve this is providing higher density residential development downtown; nurturing a “24-hour downtown;” maximizing active buildings, services and activities downtown; minimizing underutlized land (such as with parking lots); creating a downtown conducive to walking and bicycling; and the providing quality public transit service. This leverage is showing itself to be quite successful and profitable in places throughout America where it is skillfully deployed.

Requiring downtown parking makes downtown housing less affordable. It makes retail business less healthy and makes their goods and services more costly. Required downtown parking makes downtown less walkable. It makes the downtown less safe and less convenient for walking, and makes the downtown less interesting and less enjoyable. Oversupply of parking deadens downtown vibrancy. Required downtown parking would make it impossible to site a number of potential, important uses downtown and would make a number of existing businesses non-conforming. Additional downtown parking would make downtown a less profitable investment and would reduce the ability of downtown to attract new, desirable residents. It would add more of the least desirable of the three forms of parking. It would harm the ability of downtown to spawn and sustain small businesses. It significantly reduces the potential density and intensity of downtown.

Requiring ample, free surface parking downtown is therefore ruinous to a healthy downtown, because it effectively cuts the competitive legs out from under a downtown.

 

Research Regarding Downtowns

See attached article from the most recent issue of Planning Magazine from the American Planning Association.

Excerpt from “Sustainability and Cities” (1999), by Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman, Part III.

“Many urge that the way to improve the health of a downtown is to provide more cheap parking. However, the most livable big cities in North America are Portland and Toronto-with much of their success due to putting a cap on downtown parking and providing a quality transit system. Downtown Toronto has reduced parking supply per 1,000 jobs by 11 percent between 1980 and 1990. But in “Detroit’s city center, as in so many other car-dominated cities, the downward spiral appears to continue, despite the efforts to bring people there to shop with the promise of free and easy car parking.” In Toronto, “becoming more transit-oriented and ‘centered’ was something that the mayor said they were never confident about; they were not sure that they would be able to achieve a city that was moving away from the automobile. But they were surprised by how well it worked.” The mayor stated that “good, efficient public transit and scarce, costly parking is a key to being a successful city…The other significant policy in Toronto was bringing people to live in the city center and subcenters.”

Emerging Trends in Real Estate-1998

[“Emerging Trends” is a highly respected, predictive, annual report originally prepared by ERE Yarmouth and Real Estate Research Corporation (ERE Yarmouth is the largest manager of real estate for pension funds in the U.S.). In 2004, the report was being prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute, and is now based on consensus outlook from interviews of over 350 real estate investment experts in America.]

Excerpts:

1. Many people just want to be closer to work, coveting a 24-hour lifestyle…

2. Regions that ignore the need to provide alternatives to the automobile will become increasingly troubled…

3. Watch many 50-year old boomers, with or without aching backs, start returning to 24-hour cities for shorter commutes and easier-to-care-for apartments…

4. …convenience is a must and people want the 24-hour model. They want proximity to work, proximity to the demands of life and to the things they want to do. They want convenience.

5. The 24-Hour Model:

The best cities to invest in have:

o Attractive neighborhoods rooted in and around business districts. “Strong residential is a must.”

o A multidimensional environment-entertainment, museums, theater, restaurants, activity day & night.

o Convenient shopping-supermarkets, drug stores and other neighborhood merchants within walking distance in addition to area department and specialty stores.

o Relative safety and security.

o Established mass transportation modes to move people in and out as well as around the city.

The antithesis of the 24-hour city is the 9-to-5 downtown. Typically without strong residential fundamentals, its core empties out after the workday is over. Few people visit or stay in these downtowns at night or on the weekend. Generally, they have lost or are losing retail businesses, have few entertainment or cultural attractions, and often are perceived as “unsafe” after dark.

6. Emerging Trends predicts the next quarter century will be kinder to cities and harder on some suburban areas, especially for investors.

 

Emerging Trends in Real Estate-1999.

 

1. As expected, the traditional 24-hour core cities dominate the list of favored markets as the real estate cycle enters a period of greater stability and equilibrium. Past forecasts have touted these markets as the best places to invest in because of their strong residential fundamentals and multifaceted environments, including mass transportation alternatives to the car.

2. Emerging Trends has said it before, but it bears repeating: People want to live closer to where they work and play. Hectic lifestyles demand convenience. Golfers may gravitate to more suburban locations, and art collectors and restaurant lovers to the city. Whatever the orientation, commercial real estate markets will thrive if they have attractive adjacent residential districts. Areas cut off from good neighborhoods, or showing residential deterioration, will suffer and should be avoided.

3. Until recently, the consequences of suburban sprawl were “far enough off on the horizon” that the average investor neither cared nor thought seriously about them. That indifference is changing. The demographic shift generated in the years following World War II has left half of the U.S. population living in suburban areas. America is dominated by a culture of single-family homes, lawns, and endless shopping strips, punctuated by turning lanes, gasoline stations, and blacktop parking lots. Many cities-particularly Sunbelt agglomerations like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and all of Southern California-have actually lost their original urban cores.

4. People are coming to understand that without strong urban cores, areas will ultimately founder. Increasingly, better suburban areas look like smaller versions of traditional cities, featuring attractive neighborhoods, easily accessible retail and office districts, and mass transportation alternatives to the car. Local government officials are focusing more on sidewalks and parks than on parking lots. In fact, successful suburbs actually are mini urban cores, following the time-tested models. In the suburban agglomerations, it’s the urbanizing centers like Buckhead in Atlanta or Ballston, Virginia, outside of Washington, that will be the glue holding these areas together. These places aren’t “edge cities.” They’re cities and 24-hour markets in their own right and they are the best places in the suburban mix to invest in.

 

Emerging Trends in Real Estate-2002.

 

“Interviewees have come to realize that properties in better-planned, growth-constrained markets hold value better in down-market and appreciate more in up-cycles. Areas with sensible zoning (integrating commercial, retail, and residential), parks and street grids with sidewalks will age better than places oriented to disconnected cul-de-sac subdivisions and shopping strips navigable only by car.”

 

Emerging Trends in Real Estate-2003.

1. Familiar problems – catalogued in past Emerging Trends- persist in many suburban markets, contributing to less-satisfying lifestyles and potentially more compromised environments for businesses and property owners. They include:

 

• Traffic congestion and car dependency (pedestrians are an endangered species).

• Lack of planning that would integrate retail, office, and residential districts (adjacent subdivisions and shopping centers aren’t connected).

• Banal commercial strips and gasoline alleys (“if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”).

• Regional infighting and ruinous competition for tax base among local governments.

 

1. As sprawl proceeds and families stream into new subdivisions, these issues become more severe. Except within urbanizing sub-city nodes and better infill locations, suburban properties are hostage to random development pressures, becoming little more than commodity investments over time. Increasingly, local governments and developers realize “they must create enduring main streets and real places” which at least mimic 24-hour environments. Not only are many suburbs “not cool anymore,” they also “don’t work” very well.

 

Emerging Trends in Real Estate-2004.

 

1. Traffic congestion and sprawl encourage “the move back in.” Underutilized, inner-suburban-ring retail is ripe for mixed-use makeovers, including large residential components. Main Street concepts based on new urbanist planning can resurrect dead malls and provide a shot in the arm to struggling communities.

2. Denver and Houston take encouraging steps to refashion their downtowns into more multifaceted 24-hour cores-both featuring growing, though small, residential components. In fact, efforts to revive once-moribund nine-to-five downtowns like these-redeveloping empty office space into loft apartments, turning parking lots into parks, and transforming gloomy side streets into neighborhood shopping districts-will become a major driver of development activity in the next decade. Dallas and Phoenix will need to follow the example.

 

3. Baby boomers continue to influence market trends as they shy away from suburban perimeters and look back toward the urban cores. In the 1970s and 1980s, boomers extended the suburban envelope, raising families en masse in single-family expanses close to good schools and far from big-city problems. Now, some “front-end” empty nester boomers (in their late 50s) are trading those roomy split-levels for more manageable urban condominiums. Not coincidentally, urban life has become more attractive-cities are cleaner and safer, and “there’s a lot more to do than in your sleepy backyard.” That means more high-rise apartments… Baby boomer offspring, the generation X crowd, seek jobs and action closer to city centers, too, pushing demand for rental apartments near urban nodes.

4. “Areas that stand the test of time are generally the older towns with street grids and retail centers.” Convenience counts: walkable communities near mass transit hubs “have caught on,” and smart-growth projects-which emulate traditional town centers-enjoy increasing success. “If people like it, the market will push its growth,” says an interviewee. “Smart growth is better than dumb growth, and it’s about to become more predominant.” It responds to what people are most concerned about-“quality of life and the environment.”

5. The confluence of the “move back in” trend, growth controls that limit new construction, and suburban degeneration have refocused developer and investor attention squarely on infill opportunities. While Emerging Trends interviewees give overall development prospects an anemic 3.5 on a rating scale of 0 (terrible) to 10 (excellent), they award a healthy 5.9 to infill redevelopment.

6. “We’re only in the first chapter of the changeover from growth and sprawl to infill and mixed use,” says an interviewee…Rehabbing underused nine-to-five downtowns and other urban infill will also move to center stage for developers.

 

“Vital Signs: Circulation in the Heart of the City”, by Gerald Forbes, Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal, August 1998.

One of the advantages of a downtown is that it provides a variety of goods and services in a relatively compact area. By converting some of this compact area to parking, we either remove goods and services or displace them. In either event the loosening of the compact land use minimizes one of the advantages of downtown. The current wisdom with respect to downtown is to minimize off-street parking in order to retain a compact form.

The construction of surface parking lots in many instances has little to do with the need for more parking in the CBD. High property taxes combined with the currently depressed economic situation in the downtown have caused many owners to demolish their buildings (thus lowering taxes) and provide surface parking lots while waiting for an upturn in the economy.

Empty surface lots, besides affecting the compactness of the downtown, also give the downtown a look and feel of desolation. Landscaping does little to disguise the inactivity of these areas.

 

“Traffic Issues for Smaller Communities”, by John D. Edwards, Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal, August 1998.

Far too much blame has been placed on parking as the reason for the decline of CBDs. Most small city downtowns have enough parking if used efficiently…Most small community CBDs need to have parking within one to one and one-half blocks for retail customers and two to three blocks for employees and other long-term parkers. This is considerably less than for large cities (population over 500,000), where long-term parkers expect to walk up to six or eight blocks…the perception of parking shortages is more serious than the reality. Simply telling people how many spaces there are and where they are is a big step toward solving the problem.

 

Footnotes

[1] “Parking is important where the place isn’t important,” says Fred Kent… “In places like Faneuil Hall in Boston, it’s amazing how far people are willing to walk. In a dull place, you want a parking space right in front of where you’re going…arbitrary minimum parking requirements ‘assure that a place will be uninteresting.'” – Lisa Wormser, “Don’t Even Think of Parking Here.” Planning. June 1997.

[2] Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

[3] Walking cities typically devote less than 10% of land to transportation, while automobile-oriented cities devote up to three times as much.” – Todd Litman, “Why and How to Reduce Road and Parking Requirements.” Victoria Transport Policy Institute. November 1998.

[4] As Lewis Mumford pointed out, “the right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar, in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city.” And James Marston Fitch, similarly, notes that “the automobile has not merely taken over the street, it has dissolved the living tissue of the city. Its appetite for space is absolutely insatiable.”

[5] “Flexible Parking Codes for Older Downtowns,” APA PAS Memo, November 1993.

[6] Professor or urban planning at UCLA and a nationally prominent authority on parking management.

[7] “Rethinking Parking Policies and Regulations,” – Jason Wittenberg. APA PAS Memo. August 1998.

[8] “…increasing parking requirements from one to two spaces per unit reduces the maximum potential density for two-story, 500 square foot…apartments from 88 to 64 units per acre, representing a 37% decline…requiring one off-street parking space per unit reduced dwelling units per acre in new multi-family developments by 30%, and increased construction costs by 18%. This significantly reduced the amount of urban land available for infill housing and gave developers an incentive to develop fewer, larger and lower quality units. The resulting reduction in affordable housing construction caused an overall increase in local rents…To provide housing that can be purchased at $80,000 per unit…a subsidy of only $4,000 would be needed if no parking is required, a $12,792 subsidy would be required for one parking space per unit, $26,251 for two parking spaces, and $51,376 for three.”- Todd Litman, “Parking Requirement Impacts on Housing Affordability.” Victoria Transport Policy Institute. March 1999.

[9] “Suburban Parking Requirements,” APA Journal, Winter 1995.

[10] Allowing businesses that are adjacent to share their parking with other businesses with different hours of operation is one way to reduce the undesirable land use patterns that can result from excessive off-street parking provision downtown. Because less land needs to be consumed when downtown businesses share parking instead of building a separate parking lot for each business, “…higher overall densities and fewer interruptions in the urban fabric…” can be achieved. ( Jason Wittenberg. APA PAS Memo. August 1998.)

[11] Cities and Automobile Dependence (1989).

[12] Minimum downtown parking requirements can detract from desirable city travel patterns. “…the amount of surface parking in and around CBDs [can be] the single most important factor in determining the modal split for trips to the CBD. Municipalities might consider first setting modal split goals (e.g., 60 percent transit use during morning peak hours) and then determining parking policies and standards that will help meet those goals.” – Jason Wittenberg. APA PAS Memo. August 1998.

[13] “Minimum parking standards are often either avoided or set much lower in Central Business Districts…downtown residents tend to own fewer cars compared with the general population.” – Jason Wittenberg. APA PAS Memo. August 1998.

[14] “Parking lots exert a powerful undertow on local economies by taking up space that could be put to more profitable uses…each unused parking space wastes $600 to $900 a year in land development costs; vacant spaces in parking structures cost more…In auto-dependent Texas and California, office and shopping developments typically have nearly twice the parking they need…the average parking requirements…exceed demand by 16 to 63 percent…” – Lisa Wormser, “Don’t Even Think of Parking Here.” Planning. June 1997.

[15] “Each additional dollar of land costs for parking therefore increases housing prices by three dollars. Developers cannot afford to build a simple, lower priced housing when their land costs increase, so they target higher end markets…Parking requirements reduce developers’ incentive to produce affordable housing.” – Todd Litman, “Parking Requirement Impacts on Housing Affordability.” Victoria Transport Policy Institute. March 1999.

[16] This manual is considered throughout the nation as the most authoritative source for determining parking demand.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Parking

Parking: A Poison Posing as a Cure

by Philip Langdon

April/May 2005

New Urban News

 

 

Pave paradise? No, ditch the parking lot

 

For years urbanists have tried a wide assortment of tactics to reduce the damage that parking inflicts on communities. Now comes UCLA urban planning professor Donald C. Shoup with a radical, yet carefully argued prescription: Governments should stop requiring off-street parking. In The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup systematically attacks ingrained ideas that have prevented urbanists from asking the most basic question of all: Why should governments require parking other than on the streets?

“Few people now recognize parking requirements as a disaster because the costs are hidden and the harm is diffused,” Shoup says in the 734-page, $59.95 hardcover from APA Planners Press. He contends that “parking requirements cause great harm: they subsidize cars, distort transportation choices, warp urban form, increase housing costs, burden low-income households, debase urban design, damage the economy, and degrade the environment.” His verdict: “Off-street parking requirements have all the hallmarks of a great planning disaster.”

A Yale-trained economist and former director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA, Shoup says the longstanding municipal practice of assigning parking requirements is nonsense. “Urban planners set minimum parking requirements for every land use, but the requirements often seem pulled out of thin air or based on studies that are poorly conceived,” he says. “In turn, these faulty standards and policies are perpetuated as they are copied from one city to the next.” The planning profession, in its eagerness to be comprehensive, has identified more than 600 different uses, each with its own parking requirement. “A gas station must provide 1.5 parking spaces per fuel nozzle, and a mausoleum must provide parking spaces per maximum number of interments in a one-hour period. Why?” he asks. “Nobody knows.”

Shoup has written a biting volume that presents detailed examples and exhibits high ambition. His goal is to transform future debates about parking and save cities and towns from what he sees as misguided attempts to make parking “free” and plentiful. After they have considered the evidence, Shoup says, “I believe planners will eventually admit that off-street parking requirements are a well-intentioned folly similar to lead therapy – a poison prescribed as a cure.”

In assailing the parking-requirement enterprise, Shoup argues:

* “Off-street parking requirements encourage everyone to drive wherever they go because they know they can usually park free when they get there.” Those who don’t drive nonetheless subsidize the parkers, through higher prices that are charged to everyone for goods and services.

* “Parking requirements create especially severe problems in older commercial areas,” where it is often impossible to erect new buildings at traditional densities while satisfying municipal parking ratios. Shoup says such requirements “have hindered the rebuilding of Los Angeles’s older retail corridors that were destroyed in the 1992 riots.”

* “Off-street parking requirements especially harm low-income and renter families because they own fewer cars but still pay for parking indirectly.” Nonprofit developers in San Francisco have estimated that parking requirements add 20 percent to the cost of each affordable housing unit and reduce the number of units that can be built on a site. “We’re forcing people to build parking that people cannot afford,” observes Amit Ghosh, the city’s chief of comprehensive planning. A study in Oakland, California, found that requiring one parking space per dwelling “increased housing costs by 18 percent and reduced density by 30 percent.”

* “Past some critical point, more parking spaces harm rather than help” the central business district. They reduce compactness and proximity – chief advantages of an urban location.

* “Popular historic styles like courtyard housing cannot be replicated with today’s parking requirements.”

NEW URBANIST, ALSO

New urbanists need to pay close attention to parking, Shoup says. He notes that the SmartCode produced by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company and intended to facilitate urban development nonetheless includes parking requirements, such as three spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail in a city center. “Even at the fountainhead of new urbanist thinking, parking requirements dictate density, and cars rule the city,” Shoup asserts.

Much of the solution to the parking morass lies in letting the market decide how much parking is provided, and where, Shoup suggests. Presumably the result will be fewer parking lots, a higher density of development, and a shift toward mass transit, bicycling, walking, and other forms of movement. The money saved can be put to other uses. He notes, “In 2002, the total subsidy for off-street parking was somewhere between $127 billion and $374 billion a year. If we also count the subsidy for free and underpriced curb parking, the total subsidy for parking would be far higher.”

“Reducing or removing off-street parking requirements … can increase the supply and reduce the price of all housing, without any subsidy,” Shoup contends. “Many brownfield sites that are now difficult to redevelop may suddenly find economic uses if cities remove off-street parking requirements.”

If less off-street parking were supplied, wouldn’t motorists tend to park on the streets, especially where spaces are free? Yes, Shoup acknowledges. So he suggests changing municipal policies on curb parking, too. “I recommend charging for curb parking (which does not necessarily require conventional parking meters, of course) whenever there would be a shortage of curb spaces in the absence of charging,” Shoup told New Urban News. If parking is not in short supply when it’s free, there is no reason to charge for it, according to Shoup. “I recommend the classic Goldilocks method of setting the prices for curb parking: the price is too high if too many spaces are vacant, and the price is too low if no spaces are vacant. When about 15 percent of the spaces are vacant, the price is just right.”

Charging market-rate prices for on-street parking would bring in revenue from parkers and, in his view, it would discourage unnecessary automobile use. He notes that free or low rates at meters encourage motorists to cruise the streets, generating congestion and pollution while looking for spaces that are cheaper than those in parking garages. Cities could review their parking rates and adjust them to the demand. In entertainment and shopping districts that stay busy until late in the evening, meters might charge $2 an hour during the day, $3 in the evening, and become free after 2 a.m.

One way to make the shift from free on-street parking palatable would be to establish “parking benefit districts.” These are organizations, possibly at the neighborhood level, that would decide the rates for curb parking in their area and receive at least part of the revenue. They could spend the money on public benefits for the neighborhood, Shoup says.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Parking