Downtown Parking

 
 

By Dom Nozzi

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

 Automobiles need quantity and pedestrians need quality. – Dan Burden

  

Introduction

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

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

 Agglomeration Economies

A Central Business District (a downtown) is healthy almost exclusively because of “agglomeration economies.” That is, downtowns survive and thrive because of a concentration of government offices, residential density, services, and cultural events in a relatively small space. Indeed, agglomeration economies are the basis for why cities (and their outlying residential areas) form. Concentrating activities, buildings, and services in a small space increases efficiency and maximizes economic health–largely by drawing large numbers of people and minimizing the distance they must travel in order to interact (or spend money). These concentrated downtown entities thrive in part based on the synergistic, spillover benefits that downtown proximity to nearby activities provide. Off-street parking detracts from each of these factors–particularly density and synergy.[1] A crucial side benefit to higher residential densities downtown is that such densities create what economists call the “24-hour downtown”(see the Emerging Trends summaries below). Such downtowns are places that do not close up at 5 pm at the end of the workday. Folks living downtown provide patronage to downtown throughout the day and night because they live there, and they are often looking for goods and services. By being more alive and less deserted throughout the day and night, 24-hour downtowns become safer places because citizens watch out for their collective security as they walk the parking-lot2streets.

Small Business Incubation

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

 Market-Distorting Subsidy

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

 Lifestyle Choice

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

 Crime Magnet

Surface parking tends to attract and promote criminal or juvenile delinquent behavior. Pedestrians tend to feel unsafe walking downtown when there are large, empty spaces, in part because the security of citizen surveillance is compromised by such vacant, unused spaces. A parking-lot3well-known Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principle states that degraded, deteriorating, blighted, or abandoned places send the message that the place is not being defended or watched over by users or owners, and is therefore seen as a safer place to engage in crime.CPTED also calls for “territoriality.” This strategy starts from the premise that design can create a “sense of ownership” over territory, which can create a “hands off” message for would-be criminals.A notable attribute of parking lots is that they tend to create a “no man’s land” that does not seem to be owned by anyone.

 Space

Per person, cars consume an enormous amount of space. If we add up the size of a parking space, and the space needed to maneuver to the space (aisles, shy distance, etc.), a car needs approximately 300 square feet of space [3]. That space must be used efficiently in order for there to be a net benefit for a downtown, where agglomeration economies means that space is very, very dear. While it is true that a Bill Gates or a Donald Trump could take up the equivalent of 30 or 50 parking spaces and still provide a net benefit for a downtown (because they will sometimes spend a lot of money when they are downtown), most of us mere mortals do not provide a net benefit when we compare the amount of downtown space we consume upon arrival to a downtown by car to the amount of money we will probably spend once we get there. Note that suburban strip shopping centers or regional malls are able to overcome this spacing constraint that downtowns face because while it remains true that each motorist consumes a great deal of space when they arrive by car, land is so ample and low in cost in the suburbs that a huge amount of car storage space can be provided with vast asphalt parking lots that dwarf the retail stores. Because the suburban parking lot is so large, because the spaces are free, and because the shopping is convenient to major roads and highways, the suburban shopping area is able to attract a regional consumer-shed of customers. The sheer number of customers is able to overcome the inefficient use of space per customer/motorist. But notice that once a person parks at a shopping mall parking lot and walks inside the mall, there are an enormous number of shops within a compact, human-scaled space that are easy to walk to (the agglomeration economies happen once the person enters the inside of the mall or “superstore”). [4]parking-lot4

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

 Business Unfriendly

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

Requiring Parking Lowers Development Densities

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

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

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

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

 

parking-lot5Well, if we don’t have those high residential densities downtown, how can we deliver to downtown the large numbers of people downtown so desperately needs without suffering the negative consequences of the vast per person loss of space that comes when each person arrives by car? An essential solution is to provide quality public transit service. Transit means that a large number of people can come to downtown without the need for parking. Of course, a prerequisite for quality transit is the existence of higher density residential development both in the downtown and in areas surrounding downtown. Therefore, by causing a reduction in residential densities, the over-provision of parking downtown undercuts the ability of a downtown to provide the transit service it needs.

Example Cities

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

How Do Peer Cities Treat Downtown Parking?

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

  

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

City

Parking Exempt CCD?

Notes

     
Tampa FL

Y

Parking exempt via parking fund payment.

Raleigh NC

Y

 
Madison WI

Y

Reductions allowed in all other districts.

East Lansing MI

Y

On-site parking requires commission action.

Champaign IL

Y

 
Ann Arbor MI

Y

Unless structures exceed Floor Area Ratio limits.

Orlando FL

Partial

Some non-residential uses are parking exempt.

Ft Collins CO

Mostly

Non-residential exempt. Residential not exempt.*

Chapel Hill NC

Y

Parking exempt via parking fund payment.

Tallahassee FL

Y

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

Athens GA

Mostly

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

Tucson AZ

Reduced & Partial

“Parking Amenity Reductions” are allowed. Reduced parking requirements. Change of use exempt.

Baton Rouge LA

Y

However, gambling uses must provide parking.

Austin TX

Reduced

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

Mount Dora FL

Y

 
Ft Myers FL

Y

 
Eugene OR

Y

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

Ft Lauderdale FL

Y

 
Corvallis OR

Y

 
Kissimmee FL

Y

 
Charlottesville VA

Y

 
Olympia WA

Y

 
Bellingham WA

Y

Hotels/motels not exempt.

Stuart FL

Y

 
Flagler Beach FL

Y

 
Iowa City IA

Y

 
Columbus OH

Y

 
Denver CO

Y

For buildings built before 1974

Sarasota FL

Partial

Some uses exempt.

West Palm Beach FL

Y

Payment in lieu of parking.

Palo Alto CA

Y

 

*Downtown residential less common than non-residential.

 Example Shopping Centers

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

How Many Parking Spaces are in downtown?

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

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

What Is the Proper Amount of Downtown Parking?

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

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

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

 Phoenix = 1,033

Los Angeles = 524

Detroit = 473

D.C. = 264

Chicago = 96

New York = 75

 Downtown Parking Less Necessary

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

What Type of Parking is Preferred?

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

How Should Curb-side Parking Meters Be Priced?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note that downtown business owners often claim that parking meters discourage people from visiting or shopping downtown. However, free parking often leads to an absence of unoccupied parking spaces. By creating an impression that there is “no parking available downtown,” therefore, free parking can ironically be more discouraging than priced parking, since lack of parking is more distasteful than priced (yet available) parking.
 

 Free Parking is Not Free

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

 Competitive Leverage

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

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

 

  1. Agglomeration economies, which are discussed above; and
  2. A compact, walkable, delightful, “park once” ambience.

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

 Business Owners

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

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

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

The Need for a Downtown Parking Occupancy Analysis

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

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

 Existing Buildings Would Be Illegal or Much Less Financially Feasible

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

 Summary

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

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

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

 

Research Regarding Downtowns

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

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

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

Emerging Trends in Real Estate-1998

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

Excerpts:

  • Many people just want to be closer to work, coveting a 24-hour lifestyle…
  • Regions that ignore the need to provide alternatives to the automobile will become increasingly troubled…
  • Watch many 50-year old boomers, with or without aching backs, start returning to 24-hour cities for shorter commutes and easier-to-care-for apartments…
  • …convenience is a must and people want the 24-hour model. They want proximity to work, proximity to the demands of life and to the things they want to do. They want convenience.
  • The 24-Hour Model:

The best cities to invest in have:

  • Attractive neighborhoods rooted in and around business districts. “Strong residential is a must.”
  • A multidimensional environment-entertainment, museums, theater, restaurants, activity day & night.
  • Convenient shopping-supermarkets, drug stores and other neighborhood merchants within walking distance in addition to area department and specialty stores.
  • Relative safety and security.
  • Established mass transportation modes to move people in and out as well as around the city.

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

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


Emerging Trends in Real Estate-1999.

  • As expected, the traditional 24-hour core cities dominate the list of favored markets as the real estate cycle enters a period of greater stability and equilibrium. Past forecasts have touted these markets as the best places to invest in because of their strong residential fundamentals and multifaceted environments, including mass transportation alternatives to the car.  
  • Emerging Trends has said it before, but it bears repeating: People want to live closer to where they work and play. Hectic lifestyles demand convenience. Golfers may gravitate to more suburban locations, and art collectors and restaurant lovers to the city. Whatever the orientation, commercial real estate markets will thrive if they have attractive adjacent residential districts. Areas cut off from good neighborhoods, or showing residential deterioration, will suffer and should be avoided. 
  • Until recently, the consequences of suburban sprawl were “far enough off on the horizon” that the average investor neither cared nor thought seriously about them. That indifference is changing. The demographic shift generated in the years following World War II has left half of the U.S. population living in suburban areas. America is dominated by a culture of single-family homes, lawns, and endless shopping strips, punctuated by turning lanes, gasoline stations, and blacktop parking lots. Many cities-particularly Sunbelt agglomerations like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and all of Southern California-have actually lost their original urban cores. 
  • People are coming to understand that without strong urban cores, areas will ultimately founder. Increasingly, better suburban areas look like smaller versions of traditional cities, featuring attractive neighborhoods, easily accessible retail and office districts, and mass transportation alternatives to the car. Local government officials are focusing more on sidewalks and parks than on parking lots. In fact, successful suburbs actually are mini urban cores, following the time-tested models. In the suburban agglomerations, it’s the urbanizing centers like Buckhead in Atlanta or Ballston, Virginia, outside of Washington, that will be the glue holding these areas together. These places aren’t “edge cities.” They’re cities and 24-hour markets in their own right and they are the best places in the suburban mix to invest in.

 Emerging Trends in Real Estate-2002.

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

 

Emerging Trends in Real Estate-2003.

  • Familiar problems – catalogued in past Emerging Trends- persist in many suburban markets, contributing to less-satisfying lifestyles and potentially more compromised environments for businesses and property owners. They include:
  •  Traffic congestion and car dependency (pedestrians are an endangered species).
  • Lack of planning that would integrate retail, office, and residential districts (adjacent subdivisions and shopping centers aren’t connected).
  • Banal commercial strips and gasoline alleys (“if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”).
  • Regional infighting and ruinous competition for tax base among local governments.
  • As sprawl proceeds and families stream into new subdivisions, these issues become more severe. Except within urbanizing sub-city nodes and better infill locations, suburban properties are hostage to random development pressures, becoming little more than commodity investments over time. Increasingly, local governments and developers realize “they must create enduring main streets and real places” which at least mimic 24-hour environments. Not only are many suburbs “not cool anymore,” they also “don’t work” very well.

 

Emerging Trends in Real Estate-2004.

  • Traffic congestion and sprawl encourage “the move back in.” Underutilized, inner-suburban-ring retail is ripe for mixed-use makeovers, including large residential components. Main Street concepts based on new urbanist planning can resurrect dead malls and provide a shot in the arm to struggling communities. 
  • Denver and Houston take encouraging steps to refashion their downtowns into more multifaceted 24-hour cores-both featuring growing, though small, residential components. In fact, efforts to revive once-moribund nine-to-five downtowns like these-redeveloping empty office space into loft apartments, turning parking lots into parks, and transforming gloomy side streets into neighborhood shopping districts-will become a major driver of development activity in the next decade. Dallas and Phoenix will need to follow the example.
  • Baby boomers continue to influence market trends as they shy away from suburban perimeters and look back toward the urban cores. In the 1970s and 1980s, boomers extended the suburban envelope, raising families en masse in single-family expanses close to good schools and far from big-city problems. Now, some “front-end” empty nester boomers (in their late 50s) are trading those roomy split-levels for more manageable urban condominiums. Not coincidentally, urban life has become more attractive-cities are cleaner and safer, and “there’s a lot more to do than in your sleepy backyard.” That means more high-rise apartments… Baby boomer offspring, the generation X crowd, seek jobs and action closer to city centers, too, pushing demand for rental apartments near urban nodes. 
  • “Areas that stand the test of time are generally the older towns with street grids and retail centers.” Convenience counts: walkable communities near mass transit hubs “have caught on,” and smart-growth projects-which emulate traditional town centers-enjoy increasing success. “If people like it, the market will push its growth,” says an interviewee. “Smart growth is better than dumb growth, and it’s about to become more predominant.” It responds to what people are most concerned about-“quality of life and the environment.” 
  • The confluence of the “move back in” trend, growth controls that limit new construction, and suburban degeneration have refocused developer and investor attention squarely on infill opportunities. While Emerging Trends interviewees give overall development prospects an anemic 3.5 on a rating scale of 0 (terrible) to 10 (excellent), they award a healthy 5.9 to infill redevelopment. 
  • “We’re only in the first chapter of the changeover from growth and sprawl to infill and mixed use,” says an interviewee…Rehabbing underused nine-to-five downtowns and other urban infill will also move to center stage for developers.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Footnotes

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

[2] Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Cities and Automobile Dependence (1989).

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________

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