Friday, April 13, 2012

Parking in motion

No surprise that discussions about pay parking downtown are drawing howls of outrage from the gasaholics.  They can’t wrap their heads around the idea that there are other ways to get around, or even the fanciful notion that free storage for your empty car is a subsidy everyone else is paying.

Still, the prescription has to be approached with care.  Squeezing too hard will impact downtown business and if we are going to charge for parking we need to offer alternatives.  Shellie Gudgeon has it right – free parking hours don’t necessarily translate into more customers, as those spaces are often used by people working downtown.  Ironically, it does frustrate those who may be actually shopping or visiting downtown for entertainment, services etc, who are competing for those spaces (there are more than 10,000 spaces downtown).

What’s missing from the discussion, at least so far, is that you can’t just beat people with a stick; you have to offer the carrots too.

During my short tenure on council, we were working on a plan to use parking revenues to support investments in active transportation infrastructure (bike lanes, pedestrian plan, more bike parking etc.), that would offer alternatives so people would have more options. 

Transit has to be part of that too, and Sunday service is not sufficient to be efficient.  If we charge for Sunday parking, there has to be better bus service to help people who work downtown, travel to and from conveniently and efficiently.  We did some work on the late shift – extending transit service later into the night to give downtown bar workers options, but more needs to be done.

Better still, we have to make it more attractive and affordable for people to live downtown, and vehicle storage is a real cost driver for downtown living – it can add $50,000 or more per unit in development costs (for underground parking) – making housing less affordable and driving them out to the ‘burbs.  How ironic.  Banks won’t finance development without “adequate” parking and residents too long dependent on their cars are very resistant to variances that allow developers to reduce parking minimums attached to zoning.  “Car free” or “car light” housing was also something I was working on – shelter for people, not for cars.

Still, the discussion has to be engaged, though the first iteration of easy targets to cut (bike and pedestrian plan funding, greenways), should be transparently counterintuitive to the evolutionary erosion of free parking.  You have to provide alternatives.  The discussion is a good start, but it has to be thoughtful and comprehensive rather than just reactive, on both sides of the issue.  I’ve got no problem charging more, and more often, for parking, but the bus, the walking route and the bike lane has to be in place before the grinding starts.

For those free associating on new revenue sources, or grousing at paying more, here’s a more in depth look at the high cost of free parking from Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California in Los Angeles.   See:

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