Tag Archives: smart growth

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.”

 

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Road Widening Worsens Conditions for Atlanta

By Brian Gist, Jim Grode

For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 11/03/06

 

Atlantans hardly need a group of researchers to tell them that traffic in the region is a mess. But a recently released study of transportation patterns shows just how bad it is.

Our average commute time is 31.2 minutes, five minutes longer than in 1990, the highest increase in the country. We have three of the worst bottlenecks in the country. Less than 4 percent of Atlantans take transit to work.

So, not only does Atlanta have some of the worst traffic in the country, but also our attempts to build our way out of congestion are failing.

Urban planners say traffic congestion can’t be eliminated simply by building roads. Atlanta’s decades-long love affair with more and bigger highways has proved them correct. Wider highways increase capacity, which encourages sprawl, generating more traffic, and pretty soon those wider highways are clogged with traffic.

The solution to traffic congestion in a modern urban center such as Atlanta lies in transportation alternatives, not more highways. We must focus on efforts that reduce the number of vehicles on Atlanta’s roads, increase access to and coverage of the mass transit network and make land-use decisions that allow people to live near transit, jobs and shopping. Building smarter rather than larger will also help relieve Atlanta’s air quality problems by reducing tailpipe pollution.

The study, Commuting in America III, by the Transportation Research Board comes as state and federal transportation agencies are considering a slate of major new projects intended to alleviate traffic congestion in metro Atlanta, such as expanding I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties. Several scenarios are proposed for the project, some of which include positive elements such as increased use of bus rapid transit and new transit stations to serve these buses.

But one serious failing in the expansion proposal is the lack of rail-based projects. The stability provided by rail infrastructure can fundamentally change metro Atlanta’s land-use patterns, allowing the region to proactively guide growth, rather than react to it. As long as Atlanta builds roads rather than rails, we will always be a step, or more, behind our transportation problems.

Even more troubling, however, is that the scenarios call for adding as many as eight lanes to I-75, creating 23-lane-wide portions of concrete — wider than the length of a football field.

These new lanes will do little or nothing to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. And in a twist that shows just how foolish our transportation planning has become, the new lanes will end at the junction of I-75 and I-285, one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the country, as the commuting study identified. All the vehicles in the new lanes will have to rejoin the existing lanes, making the bottleneck even worse. Further, the proposal also calls for between four and six new lanes elsewhere in the 75/575 project area. None of these additional lanes will solve the congestion problem. They will just relocate it, and probably make it worse.

Here’s another wrinkle: Georgia is facing a massive deficit in its transportation budget. According to the Statewide Transportation Plan, currently proposed projects will cost almost double what the state has to spend. The last thing we should be doing is spending our scarce transportation dollars on highway projects that will all too quickly worsen our traffic crisis and air quality.

The I-75/575 proposal, and all projects intended to avoid gridlock, must be given a hard look to ensure they will actually reduce congestion and not perpetuate the cycle of unnecessary highway construction that created Atlanta’s traffic crisis in the first place.

These projects frame the critical question that will determine Atlanta’s transportation future: Will we simply continue to build larger highways, or will we realize that Atlanta’s congestion problem can only be solved by building smarter?

The public will have a critical opportunity to weigh in on the I-75/ I-575 proposal when the draft environmental study is released this year.

Atlantans must demand that the transportation agencies charged with making these decisions stop building bigger and more highways, and start building a smarter transportation future. Let’s not find out 10 years from now in another study that we have added yet another five minutes or more to our commute.

> Brian Gist and Jim Grode are attorneys in the Atlanta office of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

 

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Working Families Pay More for Transportation Than They Save on Affordable Housing

Detailed Data for 28 Major Metropolitan Areas Nationwide Finds That Moving Further From Work to Afford Housing May Not Mean More Money in Your Pocketbook

Washington, DC (October 11, 2006) – Low- to moderate-income working families are finding that as they move further from work to afford housing they end up spending as much, or more, on transportation costs than they are saving on housing, according to a new study of 28 major Metropolitan areas nationwide entitled A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families (http://www.nhc.org/pdf/pub_heavy_load_10_06.pdf).

Conducted by the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference (NHC), the study also found that the combined burden of transportation and housing costs for working families was remarkably constant across all the Metropolitan areas studied at an average of 57 percent of annual income. This comprehensive study was conducted with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and was released today in coordination with NHC’s 75th Anniversary Policy Summit in Chicago, IL.

“Working families are increasingly moving further from their jobs to find affordable housing. Yet, we found that many of these families end up spending more on transportation costs than they save on housing,” said Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy.

“Ultimately, these findings emphasize the importance of coordinating the development of housing and transportation policy, as well as expanding the supply of affordable housing close to both central city and suburban job centers, improving public transit in areas with lower housing costs and reducing the costs of commuting by car for working families.”

Housing and Transportation Tradeoffs

In 17 of the 28 Metropolitan areas studied, the average transportation expenses for working families with annual incomes ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 are actually higher than their housing costs. Overall, across all 28 Metro areas, working families spend an average of 28 percent, or $9,700, of their incomes on housing and nearly 30 percent, or $10,400, on transportation. Transportation costs are based on auto ownership, auto use and public transit use and take into account the cost of commuting, as well as traveling for school, errands and other daily routines.

While the share of income that working families devote to housing and transportation differed from Metro area to Metro area, the combined burden of the two expenses was remarkably similar across all areas. These combined costs range from a low of 54 percent in Pittsburgh to a high of 63 percent in San Francisco, with 25 of the 28 Metro areas within three percentage points of the average combined burden of 57 percent.

Among all American households and income levels, and not just working families, housing and transportation are also the two largest expenses, but consume a smaller share of income at a total of 48 percent.

How Working Families Get to Work

The vast majority of low- to moderate-income working family commuters – more than 85 percent – in the 28 Metro areas studied drive to work in private vehicles. Commuters in some Metro areas take advantage of public transit alternatives such as extensive rail systems and buses. By far, public transit serves the greatest share of working families in the New York Metro area at 31 percent, followed by Chicago, IL at 14 percent and Washington, DC at 13 percent. The Metro areas of Boston, MA, Honolulu, HI, Philadelphia, PA and San Francisco, CA all have an average of 12 percent of commuters taking public transit.

Housing and Transportation Policy Recommendations

Numerous policy recommendations have emerged as a result of these findings.

Specifically, it is essential for regions to coordinate their housing and transportation policies to ensure they fully reflect the needs of working families – one example includes building more affordable housing near existing and planned transit hubs. Additional recommendations include redevelopment of inner city and older suburban neighborhoods near job centers and targeting job development in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in central cities and inner-ring suburbs. Policies to encourage car sharing and make car ownership more accessible and affordable could also help reduce the transportation cost burdens of working families who must commute by car.

 

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Around DC, a Cheaper House May Cost You

Longer Commutes Outweigh Savings of Living in Outer Suburbs, Study Shows

By Eric M. Weiss

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, October 12, 2006

One of the lures of the outer suburbs is more house — maybe even one with a big yard — for less money. But a new study shows that the savings are illusory: The costs of longer commutes are so high that they can outweigh the cheaper mortgage payments.

A study of Washington and 27 other metropolitan areas by the Center for Housing Policy found that the costs of one-way commutes of as little as 12 to 15 miles — roughly the distance between Gaithersburg and Bethesda — cancel any savings on lower-priced outer-suburban homes.

“If you save $40,000 to $50,000 by not buying that house in Montgomery County but expand your commute by an extra 30 miles a day, you can certainly see how that new house could not end up being the deal you thought it was, especially if gas is at $3 a gallon,” said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “But because of the exorbitant cost of housing closer in to [the District], they don’t have a choice if they want to live with their families in a home they can afford.”

Barbara J. Lipman, an author of the study, said that people tend to focus on all the zeroes that differentiate the price of a closer-in house from one in the outer suburbs, but they don’t realize how much they’re spending on commuting costs, such as gas, tires and insurance.

“Even if you save a couple of hundred dollars a month on your mortgage, it doesn’t nearly outweigh the costs of the cars you are driving,” she said.

The average cost of owning a 2006 Toyota Camry and driving it 15,000 miles a year with gas at $2.40 a gallon works out to $7,967 a year, according to AAA.

Higher gas prices put such a strain on Hannah and David Lynch’s budget that they decided to carpool instead of driving separately to their jobs from their Sterling home, even though she works in the District and he works in Baileys Crossroads.

Moving closer to their jobs is out, Hannah said, because “there is no way we could move into an equivalent three-bedroom house for the same amount,” she said. “We don’t want to downsize and give up a yard, for instance.”

Still, the frustrations of her 90-minute one-way commute can sometimes rankle, she said, “especially when there’s a stupidity delay on the [Dulles] Toll Road. It’s a trade-off.”

The study also found that a lack of affordable housing near job centers in the Washington area and elsewhere forces low- to moderate-income families to live in outer suburbs where transportation options are few and costs are high.

Families in the Washington area that earn $20,000 to $50,000 a year spend nearly a third of their income on housing, a figure exceeded only in the San Francisco area, the study says.

“We do have central-city job growth, but in Washington and other places, jobs are growing faster in the suburbs, and the population generally is suburbanizing farther and farther out,” said Lipman, who works for the Center for Housing Policy, which is a research arm of the National Housing Conference, a District-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for affordable housing.

Of the 20 fastest-growing counties in the United States, 15 are located 30 miles or more from urban centers, including Loudoun and Stafford counties, Lipman said.

Lipman said many communities have identified a lack of affordable housing, traffic-clogged roads and longer commutes as critical issues but have not linked them. “One thing this study shows is the need to have regional solutions about both housing and transportation,” she said.

The study found that most people in the outer suburbs pay so much for transportation not just because of long commutes but also because they have to use their cars for nearly every errand and trip.

Lipman also said many of the trends will accelerate. The study noted that 62.1 percent of the U.S. metropolitan population lived in the suburbs in 1996, up from 55.1 percent in 1970.

And although the median national household income has risen 10.3 percent from 2000 to 2005, it has been outpaced by housing costs that have gone up 15.4 percent and transportation costs that have risen 13.4 percent over the same period. Gas prices, for instance, have been rising steadily over the past four years, more than doubling from $1.42 a gallon in June 2002 to $2.86 a gallon this past June.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the data highlight a disconnect between where people live and work. Those with the highest commuting costs generally live on the eastern side of Washington, while many of the jobs are on the northern and western sides.

“A three-car family puts a lot of money into depreciating assets, instead of into mortgages and college educations,” he said.

 

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Research: Trees Make Streets Safer, Not Deadlier

From the September 2006 issue of New Urban News

Courtesy of Eric Dumbaugh

 

Proposals for planting rows of trees along the roads – a traditional technique for shaping pleasing public spaces – are often opposed by transportation engineers, who contend that a wide travel corridor, free of obstacles, is needed to protect the lives of errant motorists.

Increasingly, however, the engineers’ beliefs about safety are being subjected to empirical study and are being found incorrect. Eric Dumbaugh, an assistant professor of transportation at Texas A&M, threw down the gauntlet with a long, carefully argued article, “Safe Streets, Livable Streets,” in the Summer 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association. A follow-up article by Dumbaugh, in the 2006 edition of Transportation Research Record, will present further evidence that safe urban roadsides are not what the traffic-engineering establishment thinks they are.

Though engineers generally assert that wide clear areas safeguard motorists who run off the roads, Dumbaugh looked at accident records and found that, on the contrary, wide-open corridors encourage motorists to speed, bringing on more crashes. By contrast, tree-lined roadways cause motorists to slow down and drive more carefully, Dumbaugh says.

Dumbaugh examined crash statistics and found that tree-lined streets experience fewer accidents than do “forgiving roadsides” – those that have been kept free of large, inflexible objects. He points to “a growing body of evidence suggesting that the inclusion of trees and other streetscape features in the roadside environment may actually reduce crashes and injuries on urban roadways.”

Among the cases cited in his JAPA article are these:

• A study of five arterial roadways in downtown Toronto found that mid-block car crashes declined between 5 and 20 percent in areas where there were elements such as trees or concrete planters along the road.

• Urban “village” areas in New Hampshire containing “on-street parking and pedestrian-friendly roadside treatments” were “two times less likely to experience a crash” than the purportedly safer roadways preferred by most transportation engineers.

• A study of two-lane roadways found that although wide shoulders “were associated with reductions in single-vehicle, fixed-object crashes, they were also associated with a statistically significant increase in total crashes.” A rise in multiple-vehicle crashes offset the decline in fixed-object crashes.

• An examination of Colonial Drive (State Route 50), which connects the north end of downtown Orlando to the suburbs, found fewer serious mid-block crashes on the “livable” section than on a comparison conventional roadway. According to Dumbaugh, the conventional roadway also was associated with more injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists.

DRIVERS ADJUST

In his explanation of why “livable streets” enhance safety, Dumbaugh says “drivers are ‘reading’ the potential hazards of the road environment and adjusting their behavior in response.” Dan Burden, senior urban designer for Glatting Jackson and Walkable Communities Inc. in Orlando, notes that there is research showing that “motorists need and benefit from tall vertical roadside features such as trees or buildings in order to properly gauge their speed.”

What Dumbaugh advocates appears to be consistent with, though not as radical as, the work that traffic engineer Hans Monderman has been doing in small towns in Holland. Monderman has introduced trees, paving, stones, fountains, and other features, while eliminating conventional safety devices such as traffic lights, speed-limit signs, and pavement markings. Monderman discovered that, at least in small Dutch towns, drivers therefore slow down and become alert to clues about how to behave.

JAPA accompanied Dumbaugh’s article with a counterpoint from J.L. Gattis of the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, who argued that the studies cited are not conclusive. More context-sensitive research is needed, Gattis said.

Since then, Dumbaugh has written the forthcoming Transportation Research Record article, which reports on what Dumbaugh found when he examined safety on three routes – State Routes 15 and 44 in DeLand, Florida, and State Route 40 in Ocala, Florida – that have pedestrian-friendly designs along parts of their length and conventional designs along other sections. Dumbaugh discovered that the pedestrian-friendly segments experience 40 percent fewer crashes than comparison roadways.

Burden told New Urban News that “many traffic engineers work out of a pseudo-science when it comes to trees and crash causation, and many others are not well tuned in to urban crash causation.” Research like Dumbaugh’s may help overcome that failing.

Burden has incorporated some of Dumbaugh’s findings into a new article, “22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees.” Among the benefits Burden attributes to street trees are the abilities of tree canopies to reduce temperatures at pedestrian level, absorb some tailpipe exhaust, make drivers calmer, and extend the life of asphalt paving by 40 to 60 percent. The JAPA articles by Dumbaugh and Gattis can be found at: http://www.planning.org/japa/pdf/JAPADumbaugh05.pdf.

As a general principle, Burden urges that engineers, planners, architects, and landscape architects work closely with one another to come up with functional, safe, complete, and successful urban spaces. Meanwhile, he says, city councils and other community leaders need to exercise more control over “important decisions about things like urban street trees” instead of leaving such matters solely to transportation engineers

 

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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.

 

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Local Government Opposition to Smart Growth

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Smart growth (according to Wikipedia) is a concept and term used by those who seek to identify a set of policies governing transportation and land use planning policy for urban areas that benefits communities and preserves the natural environment. Smart growth advocates land use patterns that are compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly, and include mixed-use development with a range of housing choices. This philosophy keeps density concentrated in the center of a town or city, combating suburban sprawl.

Proponents of smart growth advocate comprehensive planning to guide, design, develop, revitalize and build communities that: have a unique sense of community and place; preserve and enhance natural and cultural resources; equitably distribute the costs and benefits of development; expand the range of transportation, employment and housing choices; value long-range, regional considerations of sustainability over a short-term focus; and promote public health and healthy communities.

Are Local Governments the Champions of Smart Growth?

The conventional wisdom holds that developers in the private sector, left to their own devices, will resist or be otherwise unaware of the smart growth objectives of a community. That local government and its land development regulations are necessary to ensure that developers engage in developments that deliver smart growth.

It is expected that democratically-elected local governments would champion smart growth, as opinion polls consistently show large majorities who are opposed to suburban sprawl, and one would expect that local government representatives would “carry out the will of the people.”

However, while majorities pay lip service to opposing sprawl, surveys also show that nearly all of the tactics necessary to effectively slow sprawl are also opposed. More and more, “not in my backyard” (NIMBYs) neighborhood activists attend public meetings to fight against smart growth tactics.

How can this be?

Simply put, a number of factors in our world have come together to create an environment in which we have become our own worst enemies – unintentionally working against our own interests.

For example, the emergence of the car, as a form of travel, has been coupled over the past century with exceptionally low-cost oil necessary to power this form of travel. This enabled a population flight from the pollution and crime of the city into the suburbs. Home mortgages and enormous road widening campaigns further promoted an escape from the city. Free and abundant auto parking was not only provided but required for new developments as a way to accommodate a population that was now traveling by car.

Unfortunately, the car carries with it some tragic consequences.

First, creating a world that provides for car travel inevitably results in a growing inability to travel by foot, by bicycle or by transit. Economists call this the “barrier effect.”

Because the barrier effect continuously recruits new motorists who were formerly walking, bicycling or using transit, a growing percentage of the population travels by car.

The distorted market (subsidized gas, roads and parking) combines with a growing number of motorists (many of which have been created by the barrier effect) to create an enormous and ever-growing number of vocal, aggressive advocates for community design which promotes car travel.

This state of affairs could perhaps be tolerable except for one simple fact: The interests, needs and values of people are nearly the opposite of the needs of cars. Cars work best when roads are wide and high-speed. When parking lots are endless in size and easy to find. When building setbacks are large. When there are only a tiny number of other cars on the road. People, on the other hand, largely seek the reverse. The human habitat is most desirable when roads are narrow in size and slow in speed. When parking lots are small and hidden away. When building setbacks are modest. And as a gregarious species by nature, humans enjoy the sociability of congregations of people in our travels.

The tragic dilemma, then, is that as people are increasingly finding themselves compelled to travel by car, they increasingly find themselves obligated, unintentionally, to request community design that works against their own quality of life.

In the end, the decline in civic pride and sociability that comes from car travel advocacy leads to a “cocooning” tendency in which people increasingly turn inward. People turn away from the public realm. Houses and commercial buildings pull themselves away from hostile, raceway roads and turn their backs to it. The public realm declines in quality as it is increasingly neglected and held at arms length.

Instead, quality of life is to be achieved by creating a luxurious private realm. The insides of our SUVs, the insides of our commercial buildings, and the insides of our suburban homes become palatial. Outside, our streets, sidewalks and squares become ignored, unkempt “no man’s lands” where only a tiny number (of those without the money to own a car) are found.

What follows is a list of common regulatory strategies that most communities use to block smart growth efforts proposed by developers and promote car travel.

 

1. FAR (floor area ratio) limits in areas intended to be walkable. The higher the percentage of floor area for a given parcel of land, the more compact and walkable the design can be. Therefore, setting FAR limits tends to inhibit walkability.

2. Maximum residential densities in areas intended to be walkable. Higher densities promote walking, discourage excessive car travel, reduce energy consumption, improve the health of small- and neighborhood-based shops, increase citizen surveillance, promote independence of travel for seniors and children, promote affordable housing. Therefore, setting density limits in areas intended to be walkable tends to inhibit walkability.

3. Environmental regulations that are not relaxed in-town. Strict in-town environmental regulations (where the environment tends to be relatively degraded anyway) add another layer of discouraging costs for in-town development and redevelopment. Such infill is already disadvantaged by enormous public subsidies promoting sprawl (mostly road and parking). In addition, the habitat for wildlife tends to be incompatible with the habitat for humans (spaces tend to be too large to walk, nuisances such as insects, unkempt vegetation and water tend to be extreme, etc.).

4. Mixed use limits (and overall employment of use-based instead of form-based coding, the latter of which increases predictability and therefore infill investment). Mixed-use promotes transportation choice, affordable housing, sidewalk vibrancy, citizen surveillance, reduction in excessive car travel, improved business climate (less need for costly rezonings). Most communities prohibit residences in commercial areas and commercial in residential areas.

5. Minimum parking requirements. Such requirements create an excessive amount of free, unwalkable, unpleasant, unsafe seas of asphalt. Such car storage areas deaden the financial and social vibrancy of an area. They encourage excessive car use and discourages transportation choice. They enable long-distance travel by car. They increase the cost of goods and services (because parking is not free for businesses which must provide it). They make housing less affordable.

6. Minimum lot size. Such a regulation makes housing less affordable. It creates a less compact, less walkable design. It therefore tends to reduce transportation choice.

7. Minimum lot width. Like minimum lot size, such a regulation makes housing less affordable. It creates a less compact, less walkable design. It therefore tends to reduce transportation choice. It also tends to reduce sidewalk vibrancy.

8. Large and required building setbacks. Such a regulation makes development less walkable, thereby reducing transportation choice. It reduces housing affordability. The public realm is degraded as a human-scaled sense of enclosure (through the creation of “outdoor rooms”) is extinguished.

9. Minimum public school playing field size. This requirement chases a large number of neighborhood-based, walkable public schools from in-town, walkable neighborhoods, since such neighborhoods tend not to have the space to accommodate such large school sites. Such a requirement also discourages the retrofitting of walkable, neighborhood-based schools into existing neighborhoods.

10. Large stormwater basin requirements (and allowing basins at street). This requirement frequently creates unwalkable site development design. The public realm is degraded as a human-scaled sense of enclosure is less possible.

11. Allowing parking lots in front of buildings and at intersections. This requirement frequently creates unwalkable site development design. The public realm is degraded as a human-scaled sense of enclosure is less possible. (This issue pertains to a lack of a regulation.)

12. Prohibition on awnings, canopies, colonnades, cafes in ROW. This makes the character-rich, romantic, walkable, weather-sheltering traditional design of storefronts illegal.

13. Large vision triangle and huge turning radius. Tends to increase the turning speed of motor vehicles and reduces the attentiveness of drivers. Tends to increase crossing distance exposure of pedestrians across street intersections. Tends to reduce the likelihood of a human-scaled sense of enclosure.

14. ADUs often not allowed. Accessory Dwelling Units (often called “granny flats”) are an easy way to create affordable housing and higher neighborhood densities, as well as improving household and neighborhood security.

15. Property tax based on building value rather than based only on land value. This tax system, used in nearly all American communities, financially penalizes development, redevelopment, infill and intensification of in-town properties, which promotes sprawl, reduces in-town vibrancy and retail health, reduces local government tax revenue, and strongly incentivizes the speculative holding of property in low-value uses such as surface parking.

16. Limiting the number of “families” (particularly in single-family residential zoning). This regulation is designed to indirectly control problems associated with too many cars (spillover parking, etc.). By limiting the number of families, we inhibit smart density increases and make affordable housing less likely.

17. Applying “One Size Fits All” Building Codes to Downtown. Nearly all communities have a building code that applies citywide. Often, as a result, property owners find that it is not cost-feasible to rehabilitate older, dilapidated buildings downtown because it is too costly to meet code requirements that would require, for example, hallways or doors to be widened for fire safety. Therefore, to incentivize the re-use of existing buildings, the State of New Jersey has adopted a “Rehabilitation Code.” The code resulted in a substantial increase in the amount of rehabilitation work in New Jersey urban areas during the first year the code was in place The code relaxes certain requirements without compromising safety. Overall, the argument could be made that because of the successful rehabilitation of New Jersey urban buildings, public safety has improved. (Healthier downtowns means less suburban motor vehicle travel, and the rehabbed buildings are often or always safer than in their previous state-even if they are not built to the statewide code for new buildings.)

18. Use-Based vs. Form-Based Codes. Most land development codes are focused on separating uses, ensuring that “sufficient” car parking is provided, and specifying what is not allowed. Very few, if any, of the regulations indicate what should be built. In addition, the quality of the public realm tends to be ignored (unless it is to provide a nice view for the passing motorist).

19. Wide travel lanes for roads. Tends to increase the speed of motor vehicles and reduces the attentiveness of drivers. Tends to increase crossing distance exposure of pedestrians across street intersections.

20. Resistance to “spot” zoning. Nearly all community planners and elected officials have a policy that dates back to the beginning of zoning regulations from the early part of the 20th century. Known as “spot” zoning, this strongly discouraged change in the use of land constitutes, usually, a proposal to change the zoning designation from residential use to commercial use on a piece of property that is surrounded by other properties zoned for residential. In the anachronistic interest of “segregating” dissimilar uses of land from each other, the underlying premise is that a rezoning is not appropriate when the proposed new zoning is unlike any zoning for adjacent property. Again, the idea harkens back a century ago when it was deemed important to separate noxious industrial activities from residential properties. Today, most of the opposition to “spot” zoning is based on a desire to minimize the nuisance of excessive car trips drawn by an isolated office or shop to surrounding residences – an important concern in an auto-dependent society. Ironically, resistance to “spot” zoning (often specifically prohibited in the community long-range plan) leads to a growth in per capita car travel, since such efforts squelch changes that would introduce neighborhood-based shops and offices that could be walked or bicycled to.

21. Road concurrency (and exceptions without meaningful design requirements). This rule strongly promotes suburban sprawl and suboptimizes the needs of cars over the needs of people and community. Most communities require that new development in urban areas not “degrade” free-flowing traffic conditions on nearby roads or otherwise create congested conditions. Because cars consume so much space, striving for free-flow results in the requirement that either enormous, unsafe and unwalkable roads be built, that density or intensity be kept as low as possible, or both. (Only a tiny number of people are necessary to congest a road, given the large size of cars. Striving for “tiny number” densities deadens an area and makes lively urbanism impossible.)

For nearly every planner, every elected official, and every citizen, when a new development is proposed, the overwhelming question (and often the only important one) is this: “Can the roads serving this new development handle the car trips that will be generated by the new development.” Regularly, the answer is “no.” Two “solutions” are generally suggested, both of which are deadly for city-building: (1) require the roads to be widened, at great expense to the developer, the local government, or both; or if this is not feasible, (2) deny the development permission to build. The first “solution” takes precious dollars away from much-needed community services and facilities. It also degrades the community quality of life because wider roads inevitably harms the human habitat. Cars become faster, louder, more dangerous and more necessary. The second “solution” takes away from the health of the city, as healthy cities require agglomeration economies. That is, a city is stronger and more fit as it adds more people and activities within a compact, diverse space. And denying projects on the basis of “insufficient” road capacity works at cross-purposes with the essential need of a city to strive for agglomeration. Life-giving energy and vitality are denied when a development is stopped due to insufficient road capacity. Conversely, over-sized roads diverts energy and vitality to outlying areas. In effect, then, contemporary local government planners are single-mindedly and ironically obsessed with a quest to strangle the life-blood out of a community.

Some communities in Florida grant exceptions to the statewide requirement that new development maintain free-flow conditions, but such communities generally do not require meaningful urbanism in exchange for the exception.

Each of these 20 items share at least one characteristic in common: they all profoundly and systematically degrade the public realm – the streets, the sidewalks, the public square, and other spaces where citizens have an opportunity to interact, and where the character and vibrancy of a community is perceived.

An overriding desire in an auto-dependent society is that new development should minimize the number of cars that would congest our roads and take up our parking spaces. That largely means that new development must either be stopped, or its density minimized (to reduce the number of cars that will hog our roads and parking lots). And unlike in the past, when this opposition came mostly from environmentalists, this form of anti-city advocacy now comes from all groups: Not just “Greens,” but also Republicans, Democrats, business owners, liberals, conservatives, the Chamber of Commerce, and even libertarians.

Increasingly, it is the private developer who most often leads the way in proposing smart growth developments, and must frequently face a barrage of time-consuming, costly and often fatal obstacles, such as those above. Rather than “evil” developers, all too often the most serious barrier to smart growth are obstacles, such as those listed above, put in place by local governments still trapped in the auto age.

 

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Sprawl and Suburbia