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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.

 

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Many Cities Changing One-Way Streets Back

By Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY

12/20/06

More traffic will be coming to downtown Danville, Ill. — and that’s how Danville wants it. The city of 33,000 is converting some of its longtime one-way streets back to two-way thoroughfares. City officials hope the change will make it easier for customers to reach downtown stores and shop in them.

“The driving force behind it is economic development,” says city engineer David Schnelle, who expects to reprogram signals, change pavement markings and change signs by November 2007.

He says motorists tend to drive faster on one-way streets and go past their destinations, then lose time and patience backtracking.

Danville is one of hundreds of cities — from Berkeley, Calif., to Charleston, S.C. — switching one-way streets to two-way to improve commerce downtown, according to the American Planning Association in Chicago. The trend got rolling in the early 1990s and has expanded this year to bigger cities such as Miami, Dallas and Minneapolis. It’s part of the reinvention of former industrial cities, which are converting empty factories into loft housing and trying to convince suburbanites that downtowns are livable.

“There’s a lot of emphasis now on taming the automobile and emphasizing walking and biking. It’s all part of creating a place that people want to be,” says Marya Morris of the American Planning Association. “The bigger pieces are the major downtown housing booms and having things for people to do after 5.”

The boom in one-way streets began with the Cold War in the 1950s, when cities planned quick routes out of town for evacuation in case of nuclear attack, says John Norquist, one of the first vocal advocates of two-way-street conversion. Norquist was mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2003 and now runs the Congress for the New Urbanism, which promotes the revitalization of cities.

The growth of the suburbs contributed, too, as cities smoothed the route home from work, says Neal Hawkins, associate director for traffic operations at the Iowa State University Center for Transportation Research and Education. Now, though, there are more jobs in the suburbs, more entertainment downtown, and drivers go in all directions.

They drive less efficiently on two-way streets, according to the Thoreau Institute, an environmental advocacy group in Oregon. The slower stop-and-go traffic means cars pollute more, the institute says.

In Danville, 170 miles south of Chicago, two-way streets are meant to speed an economic revival after 15 years of plant closings left downtown streets quiet. The city set up a small-business loan program to attract stores and restaurants.

Now Danville wants to make it easier for customers to find them, especially the shops on Vermilion Street.

Marie Pribble, co-owner of the Java Hut coffee shop and cafe, looks forward to the change. “The slower people go, the more likely they are to pay attention to your business or your storefront, and the more likely they are to stop in,” she says.

Norquist was one of the first mayors to promote more two-way streets. He led a campaign to convert several downtown Milwaukee streets back to two-way. He says the increased traffic means that neighborhoods flourish: “I think people started to realize that the city was more important than the road that runs through it.”

 

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Location-Efficient Mortgages

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Mortgage lending typically does not consider the financial burden of commuting and other transportation costs for a family living in a remote, single-use (i.e., only residential land use) suburban area.

By living in a house that is remote from jobs, schools, shopping, and recreation/culture means that the household must spend more for transportation — usually by owning a relatively large number of cars. Research by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has shown that a typical family living in a more central location in Oakland drives only half as much as a similar family in a more remote location. The savings were measured at about $750 per month. Others report savings of $300 to $600 per month.

Higher overall payments (travel and mortgage) make the more remote home more risky to the lender than a comparable loan in a more central location.

The hope of groups supporting what are called “location-efficient” mortgages is that the lending formula can be changed so that a dollar a month saved on transportation can be applied to a dollar a month higher loan payment. As a result, families wanting to purchase a home in a more “location efficient” area could qualify for a higher mortgage than a family purchasing a remote, less location-efficient home.

Location-efficient mortgages create a way for banks and mortgage lenders to recognize the transportation savings that an “access rich” central location is able to benefit from. A portion of these savings can be used by such institutions to “stretch” their standard income-to-expenses ratios that are part of the mortgage application process.

Of course, this concept is a powerful affordable housing tool as well. With this approach, like the Energy Star mortgage program (commonly called “energy-efficient mortgages”), a lower income household could qualify for housing that would otherwise be “unaffordable” under conventional lending rules.

Location-efficient mortgages acknowledge that families save money when they “live locally.” Those who shop, work, go to school, and enjoy parks or culture locally don’t need to travel as much because their more compact and populated (location-efficient) area is pedestrian-friendly and amenity-accessible.

In the neighborhood which has good accessibility, residents can walk to the grocery store, ride the bus to work, pick up the laundry on the way home from work, walk to the park on weekends, and bike to the shopping center for weekend errands. Households are more likely to own one car, instead of two or more, and drive less than 900 miles per month.

By contrast, neighborhoods that provide good mobility are ones where residents live in a more sparsely settled area with one-acre lots on cul-de-sacs and other disconnected roads without sidewalks. Households often must depend on two or more cars to provide the mobility tasks that members of the household must deal with — tasks that the “access-rich” households often perform by walking, bicycling, or using the bus. Such households must devote an enormous amount of time to travel by car, which means, among other things, loss of free time, emission of relatively large amounts of air pollution, and consumption of relatively large amounts of gasoline.

Patrick Hare claims he came up with the idea originally. He called it “Near Transit (one car) Mortgages.” His point was that if a household was in a location-efficient area, it would be better able to shed the second household car. By doing so, about $3,000 per year could be saved — which translates into being able to make mortgage payments for a mortgage of about $34,000 with this money saved.

“Location Efficiency” is emphasizes how accessible things like jobs and parks and shopping are, rather than how mobile one must be to find such needed goods and services. A strong correlation has been found between a location-efficient house and how many miles are driven each year and the number of cars owned by a household. The key correlative factors for location efficiency are:

Relatively high residential density

Good access to public transit

Good access to shopping, services, cultural amenities, and schools

Good pedestrian “friendliness” of sidewalks, bikeways, benches, lighting, and plantings

The author of the study that found these correlations states that it is possible to project auto ownership and usage, and thus average travel costs, with good reliability.

The Internet now has something called “Location-Efficient Mortgage Advisor” software that a lender could use to determine mortgage qualification. It contains an area map which shows the location of the property that the hypothetical buyer is considering buying, and any bus stops, train stations, and principal cultural features near the property. It would also indicate walking distances. This information is merged by the software, which then calculates a “Location Efficient Value” (LEV), and enters a predetermined portion of the LEV into the mortgage formula calculation. (For those of you who enjoy playing with mortgage calculations, the Web page I cite below goes into detail that I won’t bore you with about how the “location-efficient mortgage” would work.)

To summarize, the benefits of the location-efficient mortgage are:

Creates affordable housing. Encourages home ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income households.

Stimulates home purchases in low- and moderate-income urban neighborhoods.

Increases transit ridership.

Promotes infill and establishes a financial disincentive for sprawl

Supports local consumer services and cultural amenities.

Cuts energy consumption

Improves regional and local air quality.

Is all this a pipe dream that is too good to be true? Not at all. It is starting to happen. The Federal National Mortgage Company (“Fannie Mae”) was slated to do a market test of location-efficient mortgages in Chicago in February 1998.

The project is expected to help Fannie Mae achieve its “One Trillion Dollar Commitment” to expanded home ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income households.

Some of the organizations that are supporting the location-efficient mortgage initiative are:

The Center for Neighborhood Technology

National Resources Defense Council

US Dept of Energy

US Dept of Transportation

Environmental Protection Agency

Surface Transportation Policy Project

Federal Transit Administration

The Chicago Public School System

The Chicago Board of Realtors

Sources for the above info:

Earthword, Issue #4

Center for Neighborhood Technology WWW Page

Contacts:

James “Kim” Hoeveler. 312-278-4800 email: hoeveler@cnt.org

Location-Efficient Mortgage Home Page: http://www.cnt.org/lem/

Patrick Hare 202-269-9334

David Goldstein 415-495-5996

 

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The High Costs of Sprawl

Sacramento Business Journal – Nov. 14, 2005

 

Study: Sprawl costs billions; Sacramento area pays high price Residents of the area centered on Sacramento will pay $57,093 per person by 2025 to cover the additional costs caused by sprawling development, second only to Las Vegas among U.S. economic centers that face the sprawl problem, a new book asserts.

The Sacramento “economic area,” made up of the traditional metro area plus neighboring rural counties, is No. 14 in the U.S. when ranked by sprawl costs, the authors say. The markets facing the highest costs are Los Angeles, Washington/Baltimore and the San Francisco Bay area, with costs associated with sprawl estimated at $535 billion, $384 billion and $378 billion respectively for the period from 2000 through 2025.

But while the total cost for Sacramento is $129.8 billion over that same span, the cost per person is much higher. Only Las Vegas — No. 15 in overall sprawl costs at $109.2 billion — had a higher per-capita cost, at $72,697 per person.

The authors of “Sprawl Costs: Economic Impacts of Unchecked Development” tapped the results of 10 years of research to conclude that shifting to more compact forms of development could save billions of dollars over time.

“Sprawl has direct and quantifiable costs to our economy and in our individual lives,” said Robert Burchell, co-author of the book and co-director of the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University.

“We are all paying a staggering price for sprawling development in this country, and that price will only go up as gas prices increase,” Burchell said. “Sprawling communities need longer public roads, increase the cost of new water and sewer hookups by 20 percent to 40 percent, impose higher costs on police and fire departments and schools, and more. These costs are passed on to businesses and residents through higher taxes and fees and sometimes through fewer public services. And in most cases, sprawling developments do not generate enough property taxes to cover these added costs.”

The additional costs amount to some $84 million a day nationwide, the authors concluded.

But shifting 25 percent of the anticipated low-density growth to more compact forms would save billions in the years ahead, the book said. Such a shift in the Sacramento area would translate to savings of $8.2 billion, or more than $3,600 per person, by the study’s calculation.

Planners in this region have been working to encourage more compact and transit-oriented development through a variety of means, including the Blueprint Project coordinated by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments .

Along with Burchell, the authors are Anthony Downs, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Barbara McCann, a transportation and land use policy writer; and Sahan Mukherji, research associate at the Rutgers center.

 

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Principles of Walkable Communities

By Dan Burden

 

From http://www.walkable.org

Walkability Items to be rated are always on a scale. A 1-10 scale can be personalized and applied to each of the below twelve categories. Common sense and powers of observation are used to make these determinations. The categories are in no particular order. Never pick a town that you have not visited. Always ask for second and third opinions.

If I were making a commitment to move to a town I would want the town to have high scores on 6 or more of the following 12 categories:

Walkable Communities Have:

1. Intact town centers. This center includes a quiet, pleasant main street with a hearty, healthy set of stores. These stores are open for business a minimum of 8 hours a day. The stores include things like barbers/beauticians, hardware, druggist, small grocery/deli, sets of good restaurants, clothing, variety store, ice cream shop, stores that attract children, many youth and senior services, places to conduct civic and personal business, library, all within a 1/4 mile walk (5 minutes) of the absolute center. If this is a county seat, the county buildings are downtown. If this is an incorporated town the town hall is in the town center. The library is open for business at least 10 hours a day 6-7 days a week. There is still a post office downtown.

2. Residential densities, mixed income, mixed use. Near the town center, and in a large town at appropriate transit locations there will be true neighborhoods. Higher densities are toward the town center and in appropriate concentrations further out. Housing includes mixed income and mixed use. A truly walkable community does not force lots of people to drive to where they work. Aspen, for example, is a great place to shop and play…but fails to provide housing for anyone who works there. Granny flats, design studios and other affordable housing are part of the mix in even the wealthiest neighborhoods.

3. Public Space. There are many places for people to assemble, play and associate with others within their neighborhood. The best neighborhoods have welcoming public space within 1/8th mile (700 feet) of all homes. These spaces are easily accessed by all people.

4. Universal Design. The community has a healthy respect for people of all abilities, and has appropriate ramps, medians, refuges, crossings of driveways, sidewalks on all streets where needed, benches, shade and other basic amenities to make walking feasible and enjoyable for everyone.

5. Key Streets Are Speed Controlled. Traffic moves on main street and in neighborhoods at safe, pleasant, courteous speeds. Most streets are designed to keep speeds low. Many of these streets are tree lined, have on-street parking and use other methods that are affordable means to keep traffic speeds under control. There is an absence of one-way couplets designed to flush downtown of its traffic in a rush or flight to the suburbs. In most parts of the nation the streets are also green, or have other pleasant landscaping schemes in dry climates.

6. Streets, Trails are Well Linked. The town has good block form, often in a grid or other highly connected pattern. Although hilly terrain calls for slightly different patterns, the linkages are still frequent. Some of the newer neighborhoods that were built to cul-de-sac or other fractured patterns are now being repaired for walking by putting in trail connectors in many places. These links are well designed so that there are many eyes on these places. Code for new streets no longer permits long streets that are disconnected.

7. Design is Properly Scaled to 1/8th, 1/4 and 1/2 mile radius segments. From most homes it is possible to get to most services in 1/4 mile (actual walked distance). Neighborhood elementary schools are within a 1/4 mile walking radius of most homes, while high schools are accessible to most children (1 mile radius). Most important features (parks) are within 1/8th mile, and a good, well designed place to wait for a high frequency (10-20 minutes) bus is within 1/4 to 1/2 mile. Note that most of these details can be seen on a good local planning map, and even many can be downloaded from the web.

8. Town is Designed for People. Look for clues that decisions are being made for people first, cars second. Does the town have a lot of open parking lots downtown? Are a lot of streets plagued with multiple commercial driveways, limited on-street parking, fast turning radii on corners. Towns designed for people have many investments being made in plazas, parks, walkways … rarely are they investing in decongesting intersections on the far reaches of town. Towns designed for people are tearing down old, non-historic dwellings, shopping plazas and such and converting them to compact, mixed use, mixed income properties. Ask to review the past year of building permits by category. Much is told about what percentage of construction that is infill and independent small builder stock versus big builder single price range housing or retail stock.

9. Town is Thinking Small. The most walkable towns are boldly stepping forward requiring maximum parking allowed, versus minimum required. Groceries and other important stores are not permitted to build above a reasonable square footage, must place the foot print of the structure to the street, etc. Palo Alto, for instance, caps their groceries at 20,000 square feet. This assures that groceries, drug stores and other important items are competitive at a size that is neighborhood friendly. Neighborhood schools are community centers. Older buildings are rebuilt in place, or converted to modern needs. Most parking is on-street.

10. In Walkable Communities There Are Many People Walking. This sounds like a silly statement at first … but think again. Often there are places that look walkable, but no one walks. Why? There is always a reason. Is it crime? Is it that there is no place to walk to, even though the streets and walkways are pleasant? Are the downtown stores not open convenient hours? You should be able to see a great diversity of those walking and bicycling. Some will be very young, some very old. People with disabilities will be common. Another clue, where people walk in great abundance virtually all motorists are courteous to pedestrians. It is true.

11. The Town and Neighborhoods have a Vision. Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas are just three examples where neighborhood master plans have been developed. Honolulu sets aside about $1M per year of funds to be spent by each neighborhood. Visionary, master plans provide direction, build ownership of citizens, engage diverse people, and create opportunities for implementation, to get past sticky issues, and deal with the most basic, fundamental, necessary decisions and commitment. There are budgets set aside for neighborhoods, for sidewalks, trails, links, parks. The community no longer talks about where they will get the money, but how they will change their priorities.

12. Decision Makers Are Visionary, Communicative, and Forward Thinking. The town has a strong majority of leaders who “get it”. Leaders know that they are not to do all the work … but to listen and respond to the most engaged, involved, broad minded citizens. They rarely are swayed by the anti-group, they seek the opinions and involvement big brush citizens and retailers. They are purposefully changing and building policies, practices, codes and decisions to make their towns pleasant places for people … reinvesting in the town center, disinfesting in sprawl. These people know the difference between a green field, brown field and grey field. They know what Active Living by Design is all about. The regional government understands and supports the building of a town center, and is not attempting to take funds from the people at the center to induce or support sprawl. Often there is a charismatic leader on the town board, chamber of commerce, planning board, there is an architectural review team, a historic preservation effort, and overall good public process. Check out the web site of the town … if they focus on their golf courses, tax breaks, great medical services, scenic majestic mountains, or proximity to the sea … fail to emphasize their neighborhood schools, world class library, lively downtown, focus on citizen participation … they are lost, bewitched and bewildered in their own lust and lure of Walt Disney’s Pleasure Island.

 

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Enrique Penalosa on How to Design Cities

Former Bogotà mayor Enrique Peñalosa interviewed by Susan Ives (U.S.A.)

If you could wave a magic wand and create the perfect city, what would that city be like?

We really have to admit that over the past hundred years we have been building cities much more for mobility than for people’s well-being. Every year thousands of children are killed by cars. Isn’t it time we build cities that are more child-friendly? Over the last 30 years, we’ve been able to magnify environmental consciousness all over the world. As a result, we know a lot about the ideal environment for a happy whale or a happy mountain gorilla. We’re far less clear about what constitutes an ideal environment for a happy human being. One common measure for how clean a mountain stream is is to look for trout. If you find the trout, the habitat is healthy. It’s the same way with children in a city. Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children we will have a successful city for all people.

Given the rapid growth of Third World cities, is this possible?

Many Third World cities today are really only half built. Many are still surrounded by undeveloped land that will be overtaken by the city very soon. We still have the opportunity to learn from the successes and mistakes of other cities around the world. We need to think about how to create cities that produce more convivial, creative, and happy human beings. Where is the urban expert who decided that cities had to be structured around cars? Why not begin to think differently? Why not dream of a city where half the streets would be for pedestrians, where the heart of the city would be a giant avenue lined with benches and trees, a meeting place for the community, where people go to jog, ride bicycles, talk, kiss, eat in cafes? A city doesn’t have to be a bunch of roads for cars with some buildings around them.

As mayor, you made it your platform to transform the city’s transportation system.

When I got to city hall, I was a handed a transportation study that said the most important thing the city could do was to build an elevated highway at a cost of $600 million. Instead, we installed a bus system that carries 700,000 people a day at a cost of $300 million. We created hundreds of pedestrian-only streets, parks, plazas, and bike paths, planted trees, and got rid of cluttering commercial signs. We constructed the longest pedestrian-only street in the world. It may seem crazy, because this street goes through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Bogotá, and many of the surrounding streets aren’t even paved. But we chose not to improve the streets for the sake of cars, but instead to have wonderful spaces for pedestrians. All this pedestrian infrastructure shows respect for human dignity. We’re telling people, “You are important–not because you’re rich or because you have a Ph.D., but because you are human.” If people are treated as special, as sacred even, they behave that way. This creates a different kind of society.

How was your idea of putting pedestrians needs ahead of cars received?

I was nearly impeached when I said that cars shouldn’t be allowed to park on the sidewalks. My opponents were business owners who said there was enough space on the sidewalks for cars to park and for people to still walk by. In Bogotá only 25 to 30 percent of the households have cars.

Yet we use public money to build roads for the cars that so few people can afford, while the majority walk or use public transit. Democracy isn’t just about casting a vote. It’s about public good over private. If we can ban cars, isn’t the majority better off?

What steps were you able to take?

We began to experiment by instituting a car-free day on a weekday. In a city of about 7 million people, just about everybody managed to get to work by walking, bicycling, bus, even on horseback– and everybody was better off. There was less air pollution, less time sitting in traffic, more time for people to be productive and enjoy themselves. Every Sunday we close 120 kilometers of roads to motor vehicles for seven hours. A million and a half people of all ages and incomes come out to ride bicycles, jog, and simply gather with others in community. We took a vote, and 83 percent of the public told us they wanted to have car-free days more often. Getting people out of their cars is a means of social integration. You have the upper-income person sitting next to the cleaning lady on the bus. This may be something you take for granted in your country. But in the Third World, society isn’t so integrated. This is extremely powerful and revolutionary.

 

Source: CHILD- AND YOUTH-FRIENDLY LAND-USE AND TRANSPORT PLANNING GUIDELINES FOR BRITISH COLUMBIA by Richard Gilbert and Catherine O’Brien, April 30, 2005

 

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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.

 

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