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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Parking basics: contingency-based planning in parking policy

Many municipalities would like to lower their minimum parking requirements a little to make them less excessive or to make them better match the local conditions of each site. This might seem a small and easy reform but even this most modest of parking policy changes often provokes controversy, with fearful voices raising the specter of parking chaos.

This is where "contingency-based planning" can help. Here is Todd Litman's Online TDM Encyclopedia to explain:
Contingency-Based Planning is a Planning strategy that deals with uncertainty by identifying specific responses to possible future conditions. ...
A contingency-based plan typically consists of various if-then statements that define the solutions to be deployed if certain problems occur: if parking supply proves to be inadequate then we will implement certain strategies, and if those prove to be insufficient then we will implement an additional set of strategies. 
For example, a Contingency-Based parking plan might initially allow developers to build fewer parking spaces than required by conventional minimum parking standards, with a list of solutions that will be applied if that proves inadequate and motorists experience significant problems finding parking or neighbors experience parking spillover problems. 
These solutions might include a combination of additional capacity (some land might be reserved for future parking lots, or a potential budget identified to build a parking structure, if needed), various Parking Management strategies (such as programs to encourage employees to use alternative modes, arrangements to share parking facilities with nearby buildings, and increased regulation and pricing of onsite parking), and improved enforcement if needed to address any spillover problems.

Contingency planning allows extra supply to become a last resort not the default choice.

So requiring 'potential parking' rather than parking itself (as I mentioned in a recent post) is one example of contingency-based planning applied to parking. 

In response to that same post, Donald Shoup emailed to point to an example from the Silicon Valley which is mentioned in his 2005 book:
To deal with the uncertainty in predicting the demand for parking, some cities allow developers to provide fewer parking spaces if they set aside land that can later be converted to parking if demand is higher than expected. Palo Alto, California, allows reductions of up to 50 percent in parking requirements if the difference is made up through a landscaped reserve, and none of these landscaped reserves have subsequently been required for parking. One apartment development was granted a request to defer 22 of the 95 parking spaces required by city code, using the land instead for a family play lot, a barbeque area, and picnic benches, Nearly 15 years after construction, the landscape reserve has not been needed for parking, and the open space constitutes an important environmental and social benefit for the community.
[See page 43  (and a chapter endnote from there) in the High Cost of Free Parking.]

Litman's Online TDM Encyclopedia page provides an example of a contingency-based parking management plan for a development that has been permitted to provide fewer parking spaces than traditionally required. It lists 20 interventions that could be tried (in phases) if any parking problems emerge. These would be tried BEFORE considering resorting to increasing supply. They include:
  • Improve parking information with signs and a parking facility map.
  • Shift from dedicated parking spaces to “open” (shared) parking spaces in each lot.
  • Impose 2-hour limitations on the most convenient parking spaces.
  • Encourage employees to use less convenient parking spaces.
  • Improve enforcement of parking regulations and fees.
  • Establish an evaluation program, to identify impacts and possible problems.
  • Price the most convenient parking spaces.
  • Arrange shared parking agreements with neighbors that have excess parking supply.Install bicycle storage and changing facilities.
  • Establish a commute trip reduction program.
  • Gradually and predictably increase parking fees (e.g., 10% annual price increases).
  • Improve area walkability and address security concerns.
  • Provide real-time information on parking availability using changeable signs 
  • Develop overflow parking plans for special events and peak periods.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Should all parking be easily convertible to something else?

Yesterday, I suggested an alternative to minimum parking requirements: requiring a certain amount of space in a building site be convertible to parking. I wondered if this could help wean cautious municipalities away from excessive minimum parking requirements.

That prompted me to speculate about the CONVERSE.  Should we require that parking be easily and cheaply convertible to something else? 

Could the parking levels in this condo easily be converted to other uses if car ownership drops in the future?

How could it work? 

Maybe an addition to building codes could require developers to submit a plan explaining the renovation steps that would convert the parking to general floor space. A cost estimate for these steps  would need to be below some reasonable threshold.

But why bother?

The idea is to reduce the extent to which the parking supply is locked into the landscape. This could be very important in places without much surface parking, such as many parts of many Asian cities where most parking is within buildings (in basements or parking floors above ground) and sometimes in stand-alone structures. Some of these cities are currently requiring 2 or more car parking spaces per 100 square metres of built space. Are we sure they will need that much for the lifetimes of those buildings?

If you live in a city where most parking is surface parking then you may not see an issue here. However, some layouts of surface parking relative to buildings would be easier to build on than others.

Making parking space easier to convert would be prudent if there is a good chance of a significant drop in demand within the next decade or two. An epidemic of Shoupista reforms could do that? So might peak oil or serious climate change policy action. Pedestrianization of city-centre streets can also leave parking facilities stranded, so car parks in such locations would be good candidates to be designed for easy conversion.  

How much would this add to the initial cost of a parking facility? I am not sure.

If the extra costs are relatively low but the chances of a big drop in parking demand seem high enough within a short enough time horizon, then requiring convertibility might be a good idea. I haven't done any such calculations yet but it seems like something worth thinking about.

Does the real estate industry currently foresee a big risk that today's parking supply may end up being surplus to requirements? I don't think so. What would it take for such a risk to prompt voluntary efforts to design parking for convertibility? What would it take for parking convertibility to be a selling point for buildings?

Has anyone heard of examples anywhere in the world?

I know that  a few years ago several shopping centres in Singapore did convert some of their basement parking into retail space. Junction 8 in Bishan is one example, I am told. This came after Singapore lowered its minimum parking requirements. Owners of existing buildings are allowed to reduce their  parking if it is in excess of the new standard. I don't know how challenging these Singapore conversions were or how expensive. Maybe this suggests that conversion is already relatively easy?


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Require "potential parking" rather than parking itself?

Does abolishing minimum parking requirements (as Donald Shoup suggests) sound too radical? Is there a low-risk alternative?

Maybe local governments don't really need to require parking itself. Maybe they could simply require POTENTIAL parking?

I am imagining a municipality that still wants to make sure parking supply meets demand and wants to avoid the risk that the parking associated with a new development spills beyond its parking lot into the streets or into neighboring lots.

I can imagine a conservative version of this idea, in which a city allows developers to have less parking than the current minimum but the city reserves the right to later (and at short notice) require that the on-site parking supply be increased (up to the current minimum for example) if there is evidence of any serious spillover. Such a policy would allow developers to start with modest parking supply but they would have a strong incentive to design their sites in ways that allow parking to be easily expanded.

A more ambitious and reformist version could simply require that the site have a certain amount of 'potential parking' (space which could be 'easily' converted to parking space) but then leave it to building managers whether they ever actually do any such conversion. This would be closer to a Shoupista-style deregulation and abolition of parking requirements, except that the risk of getting locked into a serious shortage is reduced. Of course, we would need to define what we mean by 'easily' converted.

This is not a new idea, by the way.

It seems to be an old one which has been forgotten. The suggestion to require convertible space rather than parking itself was apparently first made by a young Gabriel Roth in his 1965 Hobart Paper, Paying for Parking.  Roth's paper should be downloadble via VTPI - go to the bibliography at the bottom. However, I can't get the link to work right now so maybe it is broken.

I think the idea deserves more attention and debate. 

Does it sound feasible to you? Could a suburban municipality be open to requiring potential parking instead of requiring parking itself? If anyone knows of any analysis of this proposal or something similar I would love to hear about it.

I also wonder why Roth's original suggestion was ignored? (or did I just fail to find the debate?) Was it because his publisher was a right-wing voice in the wilderness at the time?