Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Seattle's street parking pricing gets a little smarter. Is it smart enough?

Seattle's street parking pricing gets a little smarter. Is it smart enough?
Seattle's "Performance-Based Parking Pricing" is a simple version of demand-responsive pricing for on-street parking. It has largish price zones and prices get adjusted only once a year.

This Seattle simplicity contrasts with San Francisco's SFPark with its frequent data-driven adjustments to prices that vary block-by-block.

But is simple good enough? Is Seattle's version too basic?

Alan Durning of Sightline Institute complained last year that Seattle has been "slow to offer matinee parking rates, even though morning occupancy rates are low."  (See below for more from Alan on this simplicity issue.)

So I was interested to see time-of-day pricing in the latest price-revision announcement by Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

The relevant slide from SDOT's 10 June 2014 presentation to the Council Transportation Committee

There will be a special morning price in only for two pricing zones this time around. In October, on-street parking rates in Pioneer Square Core and Pioneer Square Periphery will decrease for the morning pricing period (8-11am) but increase in the afternoon period (11am- 6pm). These changes are based on the low morning occupancies and high afternoon occupancies in these areas.

Compare Seattle's parking rate periods (8-11am; 11am-5pm; 5-8pm) with SFPark's ('open'=9am to noon; noon-3pm; 3pm to 'close'=6pm).

Curiously, this time-of-day thing was buried in the details of the announcement and not mentioned in the the SDOT Blog post.

Maybe time-of-day rates are not big news because there is already a precedent actually. There has been a special evening price in Chinatown since early 2013. You can see it on the price map below.

By the way, Chinatown's evening pricing is a story in itself - scroll down for more on that*.  

An earlier version of SDOT's announcement page made more of the time-of-day changes: 
Since on-street parking conditions vary tremendously by time of the day – morning versus afternoon, versus evening – we will start to adjust rates that way with our new pay stations. Different rate hours will be 8 AM – 11 AM; 11 AM – 5 PM or 6 PM; and 5 PM to 8 PM (if evening paid parking).

There will also be one other new time-varying rate - a seasonal one. Ballard Locks gets a May-September price ($2 per hour) and a October-April price ($1 per hour) (pdf) applying 8am to 6pm.

Here is the current parking rates map, not yet reflecting the announced changes to be rolled out. Click here for an up-to-date map.

Despite the new possibility of time-of-day variations, Seattle is still keeping things pretty simple.

Is near enough good enough when it comes to demand-responsive parking pricing?  Or should Seattle ramp up the sophistication of its demand-responsive parking pricing?

Alan Durning thinks more sophistication is the way. I mentioned his complaint about the lack of time-of-day prices above. Here are more of his pointed comments from last year (my emphasis added):
Unfortunately, Seattle is doing performance pricing on the cheap, with a crude, low-tech strategy that lags behind SFPark in four ways.
1. Seattle’s performance pricing is imprecise across space. The city does not have in-ground sensors, so SDOT sends workers to count empty spaces once a year... Such surveys generate data inadequate for tuning parking rates on each block, so SDOT is adjusting them in whole neighborhoods. Compare SDOT’s 29 meter districts with SFPark’s almost 1,000 separately priced block faces. In the City by the Bay, block-to-block differences proved a cure for cruising, but Seattle’s program cannot seize that benefit.
2. The Seattle program is imprecise across time. SDOT replaced every coin-operated meter in the city with pay-and-display pay stations between 2004 and 2010. Unfortunately, because it was an early adopter, it’s stuck with many early generation pay stations that tend to crash when reprogrammed remotely. As a result, someone has to go to every station—all 2,100 of them—and type in new instructions. Understandably, SDOT only adjusts meters once a year.
3. Seattle’s program has been slow to lift time limits. Its biggest relaxation of limits was to switch from two to three hours after 5 pm. (Meters stop running at 8 pm.) It has also been slow to offer matinee parking rates, even though morning occupancy rates are low.
4. SDOT’s top rate is too low. Seattle’s rate cap of $4 is a third lower than San Francisco’s $6 peak, and it’s lower than the hourly rates in many downtown garages, so performance pricing in downtown Seattle is not yet hitting its potential. Downtown Seattle has about 5,000 curb spaces priced at $4 an hour, plus about 60,000 private spaces, priced according to a variety of schemes that range up to $14 an hour. ... 
Despite the ways Seattle trails San Francisco, the Emerald City’s program is impressive. Its tools are crude, but it has kept spaces more available in more neighborhoods than ever. And it’s done so without hiking meters overall: rates have gone down in more neighborhoods than they’ve gone up. In the years ahead, Seattle could invest in catching up to SFPark.

This last comment is encouraging.

Yes, Seattle's rough-and-ready demand-responsive pricing has its problems. It fails to reap all the potential benefits. But few cities can do something like SFPark, whereas many could hope to emulate Seattle and to then improve their system step by step.

And just as important, it looks like Seattle's approach has been good enough to avoid repeal. The answer to its problems will be refinements, not abandonment. 

The major political hiccup has been the Chinatown episode (see below). Just like San Francisco's recent parking pricing furores, the hot resistance here is not to demand-responsive pricing as such. The really difficult thing is extending pricing to places and times that were previously free-of-charge.

This political pattern is both encouraging and discouraging.

It is good news for demand-responsive pricing and its prospects. But it's bad news for parking reformers, like me, who think that many cities will indeed need to extend pricing.

[Update: I now see that several areas in Seattle are to get evening parking pricing for the first time under this price review. It will be interesting to see how the politics of that plays out.]

* Seattle's Chinatown evening parking rates story (in brief)

Follow the news item and blog links below for some hyperbolic debate, if that's your taste!

Seattle's Chinatown core has a $1.50 evening rate between 5pm to 8pm period. When priced parking was first extended in the area in 2011, these evening prices were the same as the daytime prices (USD2.50) but had a longer time limit.

However, the 2011 evening extension was very controversial with business owners claiming large drops in business.  Sightline Institute weighed in, saying that was nonsense.

However, SDOT announced a review in February 2012.

And in February 2013 then Mayor McGinn announced lowered evening rates in the restaurant core of Chinatown and cancelled the evening rates after 6pm around the periphery of Chinatown.

Several councillors questioned whether this decision was data driven, as performance-pricing is meant to be, or was simply caving to the lobbying pressure. However, SDOT declared that, yes, the decision was data driven.


In the latest price review, Chinatown and ID core gets an increase in its daytime price to $3.00/hour (8am – 5pm) due to occupancy above the target range. But the evening rate remains at $1.50/hour.

[Update: Get much more detail via the actual SDOT 2014 annual parking report,

By the way, I see the following on Chinatown in the report:
Chinatown-ID Core 7pm occupancy was 72% in 2013 and 77% in 2014.
Chinatown Periphery 7pm occupancy was 52% in 2013 and 70% in 2014.
SDOT uses an occupancy target range of 70 to 85 percent.

Note that these occupancy differences (and resulting price differences) vindicate Alan Durning's point that Seattle's pricing zones are too big.

Dividing the Chinatown-ID zone into Core and Periphery in 2013 resulted in two zones with very different occupancy patterns, and hence different prices. The split gave motorists the option of walking a little to get cheaper parking than in the Core area.]

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Yes, parking reform can be entertaining! Thanks, Streetfilms and ITDP.

Yes, parking reform can be entertaining! Thanks, Streetfilms and ITDP.
What is wrong with basing your parking policy on on-site parking requirements (also known as parking minimums, standards or norms)?  And is there another way?

This video from Streetfilms and ITDP explains.

PARKING: Searching for the Good Life in the City from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

In under 5 minutes, using a cute mix of animation and footage from cities around the world, it entertainingly captures why and how to reform parking supply policy away from parking minimums.

It starts with a North American/USA focus but then has strong international relevance and mentions many international cities from about 2 minutes in.

This video is an excellent resource to introduce anyone to the basics of off-street parking policy reform.

Please take a look.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Is Budapest in the demand-responsive parking pricing club?

Is Budapest in the demand-responsive parking pricing club?
This post shares my efforts (so far) to understand Budapest's on-street parking price setting system and to find out if it uses a demand-responsive approach.

During the 2000s, this city of 1.7 million people (3.3 million in the metropolitan area) brought its on-street parking under much stronger control after a period of utter chaos.

I was reminded of the Budapest example by this sentence in ITDP's Parking Guidebook for Chinese Cities (p. 14):
"Budapest, San Francisco, and Seattle impose or increase on-street parking fees when demand is such that the space taken up by parked vehicles regularly exceeds a certain percentage of the street length."
This sure suggests a demand-responsive approach to price setting.

Is Budapest's on-street parking pricing REALLY a case of demand-responsive pricing (also called performance pricing)?

I thought so, based on various things I had heard. But I wanted confirmation. The one-page case study on Budapest in the same ITDP report has this:
The committee has established four parking zones in the city; prices vary between zones based on density, transportation system capacity, and documented parking occupancy.
Hmm. That doesn't sound like a purely demand-responsive price-setting approach, although it still suggests occupancy is an important criterion.
From a presentation by Zoltán Gyarmati at ITDP's 2011 Transport Systems Summit

I set out to look for more detail.  

English language searches didn't turn up anything new. So translating searches into Hungarian was the next step.  This led me to a search for the Hungarian terms "Budapest foglaltsága telítettség parkoló" (Budapest saturation occupancy parking) among others.

Some interesting events in 2010! 

The national government amended the national Traffic Law in 2010 after the Constitutional Court annulled the November 2009 municipal parking regulations, threatening the legal basis for Budapest's parking pricing.

The amendment (if I understand correctly) featured these new constraints on municipality's parking fees:
  • Required a 70% saturation trigger for on-street charging. In other words, the average occupancy for an area needs to be 70% or more for charging to be warranted at all. However, this does not apply to existing locations with priced on-street parking.
  • The maximum on-street fee was capped at double the previous year's average petrol price per litre. For perspective, gasoline currently costs about Euro 1.37 (415 Florints) in Hungary. 

Some clues that maybe prices are demand-responsive

The amendments above were criticised by environmental NGOs, who explicitly advocated using a 15% vacancy target. Aha! A sign that demand-responsive pricing was part of the debate on parking prices in Budapest in 2010 at least!

Aha again! A government spokesperson mentioned occupancy targets in an article on the debate leading up to the amendment: 
He added that the parking areas are categorized according to the saturation of the four categories accordingly 70, 80, saturation above 90 percent, or over 70 per cent saturation and road damage caused by the highly protected area.  (as rendered from Hungarian by Google translate)
This seems to be a reference to the existing practice. It strongly suggests that occupancy is crucial for something!

However ...

Budapest's May 2009 parking policy, which is a long document with many details, doesn't say anything on occupancy targets. Hmm. 

It does say that parking fees overall are based on multipliers of the public transport fare (see page 17). Each zone's price equals this base public transport fare times a special factor for that zone. When public transport fares change, so do parking fees. You can see a suggestion of this in the table next to the price map above.

There are also time-limits in most priced zones, with the highest-priced zones having 3-hour time limits for parking.

Maybe demand determines the zone boundaries and the price multipliers?

This was the suggestion above. If so, we might still have a case of demand-responsive pricing here.

I found an April 2013 example of an extension of the priced area, which was proposed in 2011 and based on occupancy. But I guess this merely shows the 70% occupancy-based trigger in action.

But compare the price zone map above (which seems to be from 2009 or 2010) with the 2013 one below. There do seem to be some small changes in boundaries in the northern third of the map.

Budapest's 2013 pricing zone map via http://www.futas.net/hungary/Budapest/budapest-parkolas.html

This suggests that data is probably driving minor changes.

So, even with the fee levels set with reference to public transport fares, and even with a cap based on double the recent gasoline price average, it is still possible that occupancy is a key factor in the price levels in each zone and the boundaries between zones.

The zone adjustments and the clues from the 2010 debate above do suggest that this may be the case.

But I wish I could find something explicit on how it works.

Preliminary conclusion: Budapest is not exactly Shoup-style demand-responsive pricing but its price zone adjustments may rely on occupancy data to some extent. 

Budapest has an interesting approach to setting its on-street parking prices.  And the 2010 national law makes occupancy central to decisions on extending on-street pricing.  

Occupancy seems to be an important element in its pricing zone decisions.  If this process is methodical and explicit then maybe Budapest is a member of the demand-responsive parking pricing club.

But I am not completely sure yet.

Can anyone shed further light on this?

Is an occupancy target range the primary factor (or even a big factor) in the price zone decisions? How exactly does it work?
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Friday, June 13, 2014

Calgary's demand-responsive on-street parking pricing

Calgary's demand-responsive on-street parking pricing
Did you know that the Canadian prairie city of Calgary has adopted the "Shoupista" policy of demand-responsive on-street parking pricing?

Starting January 2014, in Calgary's central area
... on-street rates will be reviewed annually using ParkPlus data. Rates will be adjusted by a maximum of $0.25 per year according to demand. Specifically:
  • In areas where occupancy is below 50%, prices will decrease by $0.25;
  • In areas where occupancy is above 80%, prices will increase by $0.25;
  • In areas where occupancy is between 50-80%, prices will stay the same.
Was there much controversy about this? If so, I missed it.

There has been one initial price adjustment so far in which some prices went down $0.25, some up $0.25 while some remained the same, depending on the demand in each time period for each area. See this set of maps (pdf) for details. 

Prices vary among modest-sized zones, not from block to block, as in SFPark.

To give an idea of scale, the large  island at the bend in the river is about 1 km from east to west. So the price zones here are often about 500 metres or less across.

The time periods that can have different prices for the same location are:  Weekdays: 09:00 – 11:00, Weekdays: 11:00 – 13:30; Weekdays: 13:30– 15:30; Weekdays 15:30 – 18:00; and Saturdays 9:00 – 18:00.

See also their interactive map showing occupancies and (with a click) the prices for each location.

Do readers have additional insights on how this is going so far? Did all of these locations already have priced parking before this initiative?
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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Japan's proof-of-parking rule has an essential twin policy

Japan's proof-of-parking rule has an essential twin policy
As you may know, Japanese law requires motorists to prove they have access to a local parking space. To register a car, or when changing address, motorists need to obtain a "parking space certificate" ("garage certificate" or "Shako shomei sho") from local police. If you are curious, look at Kanagawa's English instructions on how to obtain the certificate.

This rule is fascinating. It seems important. It might even be a useful model for others.

But please understand that the proof-of-parking rule does not stand alone. It has an essential twin policy.

This is what a "shako shomei" or parking place certificate looks like
(via farmofminds dot com)
The rule was enacted in 1962 and initially applied only to the large cities, according to a footnote on page 243 of "Local Government in Japan" by Kurt Steine (1965). However, it now seems to apply much more widely.

Proof-of-parking's twin: a ban on overnight parking in the streets

Under Japan's 1957 Parking Law on-street parking is actually generally banned!

It allows for "temporary" exceptions however. These have persisted for more than 57 years now.These exceptions allow for some daytime and evening on-street parking, not overnight parking. (For more information on the exceptions see this pdf by my collaborators in Japan.)

Parking meter parking in Tokyo.
For example, you will find a modest number of metered on-street parking spaces in Japanese cities. These have a 60 minute time limit. But, as the Japan Experience site advises,
"Beware, the police tolerates free parking in the evening (parking meters stop working at night), but after 3 am, ALL vehicles parked in parking meter car parks will be towed away."

In fact, my understanding from interviews in Tokyo in 2009 is that all-night parking in the streets is generally not allowed in Japan's cities.  Can anyone confirm this?

Ah, that's why Japan's proof-of-parking rule doesn't corrupt its police officers!

Some might say that Japanese police officers are uniquely incorruptible. I don't buy that.

In my view, the overnight parking ban is the key.

This is an important issue. Hanoi tried proof-of-parking but quickly abandoned it for fear of corruption. I wonder how it is going in the Indian states that have adopted it.

Yet, the policy has worked well in Japan for more than half a century and I cannot find reports of anyone cheating or bribing or lying to get a certificate. Can you?

Why should this be?

Because the ban on all-night parking makes it futile to cheat on the proof-of-parking rule.

Even if you did cheat to get your proof-of-parking certificate, where will you put your car? You still can't park overnight in the streets. Try it and your car would be towed within a day or two.

This explains why it is no big deal that an exception is made (in some areas) for tiny cars or "kei" cars, which have yellow license plates. Owners of these little cars may not need to prove access to a parking space but they still can't park in the streets overnight!

So, can others emulate proof-of-parking?

My argument implies that other places wanting to emulate Japan's proof-of-parking rule will need to find their own twin policy. They need something to play the role of the overnight parking ban, so that cheating becomes pointless. 

Basically, you would need very effective control over on-street parking and a very efficient parking permits system that avoids issuing too many permits. Not easy. And these steps can be prone to corruption problems too, of course. 

Simpler to just ban street parking as Japan did. Probably not an option for most other places but it might be in areas with very narrow streets. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

When Parking Supply affects Relationships between Neighbours

I live on a narrow medieval street that feeds into the centre of a small dense city outside of Stuttgart, Germany (Esslingen, if you know the area). We moved to this street because of its cozy feel, cobble-stoned streets, and beautiful old timbered houses. We knew it wasn’t for everyone because houses are right on top of each other, leaving little space for sunrays to penetrate through windows. We can practically see the expressions on neighbors’ faces across the street. Still, it never occurred to me that parking might be a reason not to move here. Until my friend, who lives about 1.5 km away, quipped at me out of frustration when there was nowhere for her to park when she quickly stopped by, “You knew there was no parking when you moved here”. I sputtered something in defense of our choice of residence, but in reality, I had never really thought about it. As non-car owners, parking was simply not on our radar. After that, I noticed more instances where parking availability factored into major life choices. A woman who worked in downtown Stuttgart bragged to our assembled group that at her home in the suburbs she never had to search for parking. In unison, the group groaned out of envy.

I have come to learn that when parking spaces are limited, who owns one and how they are used can affect relationships between neighbors. We use the parking space that came with our apartment for bike parking--see video below to see how it works (and how kids see it as a toy). Most people who happen to be walking by when we access the bikes make some kind of comment (mostly positive) about our unusual use of the space. But one neighbour who saw the garage went to the police and complained that we are using a car parking space for bicycles when on-street parking is in such short supply. He thought we should be forced to use it for a car or lose our residential parking permit. He didn’t get very far since we don’t own a car and therefore don’t have a parking permit.

In discussions about parking, policies like parking minimums/maximums, supply levels, or parking prices are heavily debated. Unspoken in these debates are the myriad ways that policies can affect people’s lives or relationships. While such considerations may be superfluous to most policy discussions, they are highly relevant when deciding how to communicate parking policies. Parking policies have real implications for decisions like where we shop, how we visit our friends or relatives, or whether we see our neighbours as competitors for precious space.

In a world where parking is often seen as a right—as evidenced by my friend who questioned my judgement for moving to a street with limited parking—restrictive parking policies can push nerves as well as pocket books. Without a corresponding communication campaign to build support for an increase in parking prices or decrease in supply, resentment against the policies are sure to build. That’s why a better understanding of people’s travel routines can help to fine-tune communications campaigns that are aiming to increase support for more restrictive parking policies. For example, if a decrease in public parking supply due to an extension in residential parking zones will disproportionately inconvenience office workers it might be worthwhile to target a campaign at this group, explaining the reasons for the changes and pointing out alternatives relevant to them.

What are some best practices in the area of communication campaigns for parking policies? If so, do you have examples of communication campaigns around parking policy that tailored its message to a certain target group?
1 comment

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New contributors for Reinventing Parking!

New contributors for Reinventing Parking!
Today this site becomes a group blog after more than three years as a solo effort.

I hope we can make Reinventing Parking even more useful to you and become a key international forum for high quality insight on parking reform. 

First, a word of thanks to Seth Goodman of Graphing Parking (and one of our new authors) for his hard work to deliver this sleek new design. What do you think?

Let me introduce the initial team below. 

But before I do that, I should point out that, even though I will mention some affiliations below, we are all blogging here in an individual capacity, not on behalf of employers or organizations.

Stuart Donovan is based in Auckland, New Zealand. He is a contributor to Auckland's Transportblog and had a guest post here in 2012. He is a transport engineer and economist and has parking consulting experience across Australasia.

Shreya Gadepalli leads ITDP in India from her base in Chennai. She tells me she 'loves talking about parking reform', which is fortunate, because she has to do so more and more. She is one of a team of three from ITDP in India who plan to contribute here.

Seth Goodman is a designer and architect in Austin, Texas. He made a splash in the parking policy world in 2013 with the data-rich infographics at his Graphing Parking blog and will now continue those efforts at Reinventing Parking. He has also lived and worked in Bogotá, Colombia.

Zhan Guo in New York City is an Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Transportation Policy at NYU Wagner. His published work on parking has looked at connections between street design regulations and parking,  revealed fascinating insights into London's shift from minimums to maximums, and delved into the mysteries of residential parking in New York City, among other issues. He intends to be an occasional contributor.

Gabrielle Hermann lives near Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany. She was co-author of ITDP's report, "European Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation". Her recent academic work has moved on from parking but she hopes to be an occasional contributor offering insights into parking in Germany especially.

Advait Jani lives in Chennai, India where he is ITDP program coordinator. He and ITDP colleagues, Shreya and Chris, plan to contribute as a team on India parking issues.

Rutul Joshi is a columnist, blogger and Assistant Professor in Planning at CEPT University in Ahmedabad, India. He advocates safer streets and better walking-cycling facilities in Indian cities. He provided invaluable help to my 'Parking Policy in Asian Cities' study for ADB.

Christopher Kost is based in Ahmedabad, India and a technical director with ITDP India, where he has worked since 2008. He completes the team of authors from ITDP India. Chris also helped the 'Parking Policy in Asian Cities' study in numerous ways.

Andrés Sañudo in Mexico City is Parking Policy Coordinator with ITDP Mexico and has been deeply involved with recent and ongoing parking reforms and research there. Just yesterday, he posted at the Transeunte blog (in Spanish) on a current parking meter controversy in Mexico City.

And of course I will still be here. If you are a regular reader you already know me, Paul Barter. I am an Australian who has lived in Southeast Asia since 1996 (Singapore since the end of 2000).

For more information see the author profiles page (currently a work in progress).

Any questions?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Coming soon: relaunching Reinventing Parking as a group blog

Coming soon: relaunching Reinventing Parking as a group blog
It has been quiet here recently but there is action behind the scenes.

Reinventing Parking will be relaunching soon with new contributors from many different countries and with a new (and much better) design.

We are almost ready to go. So watch this space.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Multi-city Latin America parking study now in English

Multi-city Latin America parking study now in English
Last year, I highlighted a Spanish-language report on parking in Latin America and its launch event in Bogotá.

Now the English-language version is out. Hooray!

The full title is: Practical Guidebook: Parking and Travel Demand Management Policies in Latin America.

You can download via ITDP's website and here is a direct link to the pdf (4MB).

The study was commissioned and coordinated by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and prepared by teams at Despacio of Colombia (Carlosfelipe Pardo, Carlos A. Moreno and Patricia Calderón Peña) and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy - ITDP (Michael Kodransky, Bernardo Baranda, Xavier Treviño and Andrés Sañudo).

As the title suggests, it is an excellent resource on TDM in the region, as well as on parking policy. It also has numerous clear and compelling infographics (by Claudio Olivares Medina).

The heart of the report is the set of case studies on 12 cities from 5 countries across the region and careful comparisons between them.

The case studies were prepared by the following people and organizations:
Argentina: Clara Rasore, Andrés Fingeret (ITDP Argentina), Gabriel Weitz, Mariel Figueroa (STS Rosario)
Brazil: Danielle Hoppe y Clarisse Linke (ITDP Brazil)
Chile: Claudio Olivares Medina (Despacio)
Colombia: Carlos A. Moreno, Jorge Iván Ballesteros, Dorancy González, Carlosfelipe Pardo y Dilia Lozano (Despacio)
México: Andrés Sañudo y Xavier Treviño (ITDP Mexico).

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Want more parking? Careful what you wish for!

Want more parking? Careful what you wish for!
The #BlackFridayParking exercise was a striking crowd-sourced effort organized last week by the Strong Towns movement.

It highlighted the absurdly excessive parking supply around suburban retail in the United States. It thereby pokes fun at ludicrous minimum parking requirements.

One of the #BlackFridayParking photos via Strong Towns blog

Latin American cities please take note. South Asian and Southeast Asian cities please take note. Australia and New Zealand please take note. In fact, everywhere with parking minimums please take note! When it comes to parking, be careful what you wish for.

Strong Towns called for photos of retail parking lots on Black Friday to be shared via Twitter under the hashtag #BlackFridayParking.

The parking relevance of Black Friday, the day after the USA holiday of Thanksgiving, arises because this is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year in that country.

Parking requirements (at the centre of the conventional suburban approach to parking policy) aim to match the peak parking demand of the year (or nearly that level). And when is that peak parking demand? Black Friday!

So surely retail parking lots should fill up on Black Friday right? Wrong. 

Please read the Strong Towns blog post that debriefs after the event. It makes numerous excellent points.

And scroll down to the slideshow of photographs from the day. Image after image (70 of them) show huge expanses of empty parking around numerous retail outlets across the USA.

Charles Marohn brings home the key message:
If you want to build a strong town, get rid of your parking minimums. Any chaos that ensues will be healthier for your city than the acres of unproductive, wasted space we have justified with a veneer of professional expertise.
Chaotic on-street parking problems can be managed. Priced public parking can be built if the demand and willingness to pay justify it.

But vast oceans of parking cannot easily be reversed. Multiple underground or podium levels of parking cannot easily be put to better use.

You may think that parking requirements are not really why retailers like Walmart are almost always set in a vast parking lot. 

And you might be right. Here is Charles Marohn on this issue:
Do you think Wal-Mart opposes parking minimums? They may on an individual site here or there, but in general, parking minimums are one of their best advantages. They simultaneously raise the cost of entry for competitors while further tilting the marketplace in favor of businesses catering to people who drive (a segment Wal-Mart dominates). It is a self-reinforcing, downward cycle. If you are pro-biking, pro-walking or pro- transit, you are anti- parking minimums.

Was #BlackFridayParking a scientific exercise? No, of course not. 

It was striking and suggestive but you might say it proves nothing. Presumably the most enthusiastic participants were parking reform supporters who went out looking for empty lots and may have been reluctant to share images of full ones.

Nevertheless, I am assuming for now that what we see here is not too extremely misleading and that plenty of suburban retail locations have very far from full parking, even on Black Friday.

But, you say, there may be other reasons for that empty parking! Perhaps many of the photographed retail outlets may be struggling and in decline. That would help explain it.

But, if that is true, then it would actually highlight another theme of the Strong Towns movement - the economic vulnerability of the car-dependent buildings-set-in-oceans-of-parking development model relative to more traditional patterns of development.

Traditional retail development in town cores can also decline of course. And many town centres across the US are indeed in a sorry state.

Yet, Strong Towns has repeatedly highlighted that even blighted town cores generate value and tax revenue that far exceeds those of even thriving suburban retail strips. Something is wrong with the whole suburban car-dependent model of development.

In any case, parking policy is again central to many of the problems of traditional neighbourhoods. Here is Charles Marohn again:
... For small businesses -- especially a startup -- providing parking is a huge, expensive burden. When the parking required is excessive to the actual needs of the business, a local government is forcing that business owner to allocate scarce capital to unproductive uses. If you are pro- small business, you are anti- parking minimums.
... And parking minimums force some of the most ridiculous land use decisions I have ever seen. An individual wants to take a vacant storefront and open a business but then city hall tells them they need five parking spots. Where do they get that? Well they either don't (likely) or they buy a neighboring property, tear down whatever is on that lot and convert it to financially unproductive parking. This decimates the tax base when it happens and encourages horizontal expansion when it doesn't. If you are pro- environment or if you advocate for a strong, healthy tax base, you are anti- parking minimums.

I would really like to see more exercises like #BlackFridayParking.  

Do you have an idea for a similar event where you are? Please share!
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