Friday, March 2, 2012

What does conventional parking policy achieve? All too often auto dependence and blight!

What does conventional parking policy achieve? All too often auto dependence and blight!
So, you think rigid minimum parking requirements are harmless? Do you see no need to allow parking supply to be more responsive to context

Today, I want to link to an item that might change your mind. 

This recent item on the Strong Towns blog offers dismaying insights into how parking regulations in the United States blight older areas and help lock suburbia into auto-dependence.

Why would anyone want to emulate that kind of parking policy? Sadly, too many countries (including Indonesia, Malaysia, India and many others) seem determined to try.

Here is an excerpt. But please go read the whole thing
Even though the building was substantially vacant (~85%), with acres of parking spaces lying fallow every single day, since the space had been approved as office space decades ago, it could not be converted to a public assembly use because the peak parking demands of a church were greater than those of an office.

Evidently, the municipality (or, more fairly, the municipality's code) was not aware that churches have their peak demands on weekends and evenings, the exact same times as office uses experience their lowest parking demand. By restricting the uses to only what had been approved decades ago, because of a perceived lack of parking, the municipality was keeping the property from evolving with changing market conditions.

This, coupled with our additional challenges covered above, created a vicious cycle of disinvestment by the private sector. ...

So we see how a municipality's obsession with parking spaces can cause a cycle of private sector disinvestment. Now we will see how this short-sightedness actually wound up costing the municipality much more in the long run.
By the way, there is much more about parking over at the Strong Towns blog. A few examples:
    Parking seems to dominate the core of Brainerd, Minnesota, home of the Strong Towns blog.
    This is what they are up against!
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    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    Avoiding parking monopolies: Adaptive Parking encourages competition and improved options

    Avoiding parking monopolies: Adaptive Parking encourages competition and improved options
    Priced parking often prompts worries about monopoly.

    Performance pricing for parking managed by the public-sector should help avoid over-pricing in that part of the parking scene (if parking usage drops at any location, then the demand-responsive prices will soon follow suit).

    But governments don't (usually) control private sector parking prices. So, unless the Adaptive Parking agenda includes steps against monopoly or market power, it may be vulnerable to cries of 'gouging!', 'exploitation!', 'abuse of monopoly!'.

    We can see these concerns in this letter to the editor in Singapore's Today newspaper about parking  at the Budget Terminal of Singapore's Changi Airport:
    "Monopoly parking should be regulated" Heng Zhao Weng, Feb 14, 2012
    The underlying reason for the recent complaints of exorbitant parking at the Budget Terminal ... is straightforward. Parking rates in the city are more or less determined by fair market forces based on supply and demand ... The same cannot be said for the business practices in some remote places.  ...  The authorities should act. When there is no alternative parking within so many metres of a charging car park, rates fixed by regulation should apply.

    This gives me an excuse to introduce the fifth and final Adaptive Parking reform thrust
    Competition and Options: ensure adequate alternatives to driving and/or competition among parking facilities, so that people have options for accessing the area.
    CBDs, like Auckland's here, often already have strong competition among parking operators and rich mobility options for reaching the area by various means of transport.

    The motivation for including this reform direction in Adaptive Parking is the worry expressed in the letter above. Adaptive Parking points towards a more market-responsive parking system but this would be undermined if there is rampant abuse of monopoly or market power. You should rightly be wary of market pricing and responsive supply unless you get reassurance against monopoly.

    Tackling parking monopoly can take two contrasting directions. If direct competition is impossible and if the substitutes are hopeless, then regulation (or public-sector provision) may necessary, as the letter writer above suggests. But in the case of parking, it is probably better to first try to foster more competition and enriched alternatives, rather than resort too hastily to regulation of prices or supply.

    So Adaptive Parking suggests that we apply the usual tools of anti-trust or competition policy to parking. This already happens in some areas, especially city centres and airports. Mergers and acquisitions in the parking industry already face scrutiny from competition watchdog agencies. If Adaptive Parking succeeds in spreading a more market-oriented approach to parking, then more locations will need to apply competition policy to their parking systems.

    Improving mobility options and alternatives to driving is another way to ease worries about local parking monopolies. After all, market power requires both barriers to entry AND a lack of close substitutes. Enhanced taxi services, public transport, walkability and cycling facilities can all help to reduce the ability of any localised parking monopoly to over-charge or under-deliver.

    On a more positive note, enhancing competition and enriching mobility options should give a boost to the market-responsiveness of any neighbourhood parking scene, even if there is no clear-cut monopoly to combat.

    P.S.  Actually, I am not quite convinced that the controversy over Singapore Budget Terminal parking fees is a good example of monopoly abuse. But never mind. That letter to the editor was a useful lead-in for this post.
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    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Adaptive Parking lets parking supply choices respond to local context

    Adaptive Parking lets parking supply choices respond to local context
    This post introduces reform direction number four in Adaptive Parking.

    It calls for more responsive parking supply choices: 
    Responsive Supply: Let parking supply choices respond more readily to costs, returns (or the lack of returns) and alternatives.
    In other words, it is a good idea to encourage parking supply to adapt to local conditions. By the way, I really mean LOCAL. And by 'conditions' I mean all dimensions of market conditions. 

    So, this fourth reform direction in Adaptive Parking is actually much more ambitious than just saying we should match parking supply to demand.

    It suggests paying attention also to the opportunity costs and the financial returns on parking investments, relative to alternatives. If the costs of building parking are going to be high and/or the returns are going to be low, and there are much better uses of the money, then why supply more parking?

    Parking is real estate

    Maybe you are thinking that this sounds obvious and that there is no need to labour the point? Well, it may be obvious but that doesn't prevent most jurisdictions around the world having parking policies that ignore such costs and returns and which force real-estate developers to ignore them too.

    This reform direction points towards treating parking like any other real estate investment, so that we at least consider its costs, returns and alternatives. Unfortunately, treating parking investments as a real-estate investment decision is in fact NOT the conventional thing to do.

    Key examples of policies that limit responsiveness in parking supply include: 
    • the building of taxpayer-subsidised public parking structures in town centers;
    • minimum parking requirements (especially if these are set at high levels);
    • policies that make all parking (even parking in excess of the requirements) exempt from counting towards the zoning plan's gross floor area limits for the building (or from counting in the floor area ratio, FAR, also known as plot ratio or floor space index, FSI).
    Transit-oriented locations need less parking and the opportunity cost of building it there is high.

    So what can we do to make parking supply choices more responsive?

    I don't want to go into details today. But here is a short list of examples. 
    • abolish (or just reduce) subsidies for public-sector parking investments
    • abolish (or just refine or make more flexible or reduce) parking norms
    • confront parking suppliers with stronger trade-offs (for example, by counting parking, or at least more parking, as part of the floor space allowed under zoning rules).

    You may have noticed that this reform principle is a more general version of Donald Shoup's suggestion to abolish minimum parking requirements.

    Note that the short list of policies above includes both bold reforms and timid ones. This reform principle points in a direction for reform but does not insist on taking it to its extreme. Some places might be ready for bold steps but many may need baby steps to try. Fortunately, even modest steps along the lines of these suggestions should be helpful in making parking supply choices more responsive to local market conditions.

    Uh oh! An example of going in the OPPOSITE direction

    Is there really any need to push for more responsiveness in parking supply decisions? How bad could the status quo be? Very bad, I am afraid. See here, here, here, here and here for examples.

    Here is some news from Andhra Pradesh in India about a new policy which will make parking supply extremely unresponsive to local conditions.  According to the Deccan Chronicle
    Builders constructing malls and multiplexes, even in district headquarters across the state, have to leave a whopping 66 per cent space of the total built-up area for parking. It is mandatory for all municipalities, municipal corporations and urban development authorities in the state to follow this rule while approving building plans for malls and multiplexes. Presently, the space reserved for parking varies in municipalities and corporations.
    Oh dear! This ruling doesn't just tie the hands of developers, it ties the hands of all local governments. It imposes a one-size-fits-all norm across the whole state of Andhra Pradesh, forbidding local governments from taking local circumstances into account. If a mall is proposed in Hyderabad near one of the Metro stations now being built, it will have to follow the norm on parking, despite heightened accessibility by public transport. If a developer wants to build a down-market mall in a low-income segment of any Andhra city, sorry, parking must follow the norm.

    How much responsiveness in parking supply choices does your city or town allow for?

    In case you missed them, here are the links to explanations of Adaptive Parking reform directions Numbers One (Public Parking), Two (Performance Pricing), and Three (Stakeholder Compromise).

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    Saturday, February 11, 2012

    Adaptive Parking and the need for stakeholder compromise

    Adaptive Parking and the need for stakeholder compromise
    This post introduces the third reform direction in Adaptive Parking.

    It is relevant around the world but San Francisco provides a current illustration

    San Francisco's parking reforms have met an obstacle. There is stout opposition to proposals to bring parking meters to new areas:
    Faced with fierce opposition from newly organized residents and business owners, San Francisco transportation officials are tapping the brakes on a plan to install thousands of new curbside meters on streets where drivers now park for free. The proposal calls for one of the largest expansions of parking meters in city history.
    The prospect of getting priced parking for the first time in an area is always controversial and is often resisted. Having the pricing take the form of demand-responsive SFPark-style pricing (as in this case) adds a further twist.
    Initially, the proposed hourly charge would be 25 cents. But under city policy, the price can be increased in 25-cent increments every month or so, based on demand. 
    Image from SFGate's City Insider blog
    By contrast, the districts under the earlier phases of SFPark's performance-pricing trial generally already had on-street parking meters (please correct me if I am wrong on that).

    Is the situation hopeless? Is extending parking pricing always political suicide? Maybe not! This bit of the SFGate article suggests room for compromise:
    Susette Blackwell, who has lived in and owned a small building in the northeast Mission for more than a decade, now faces the prospect of having new meters planted on her street. "The days of free parking are over. We get it," she said. "We're willing to compromise, but they have to be willing to work with us."

    So this sounds like a case for Adaptive Parking reform direction number 3: stakeholder compromise! 

    Adaptive Parking has five basic reform principles or directions. I have been writing a bit about numbers one and two.

    Here is number three again: "compromise with stakeholders when necessary, in ways compatible with the wider reforms".

    So what is the thinking behind this reform direction? Regular readers may remember that the central thrust of Adaptive Parking is to expand the role of market responsiveness in local parking arrangements. This includes fostering park-once districts with more parking being made open to the public, pricing parking in more market-responsive ways, and accepting that supply might adjust in ways that produce spillover (which will now be seen as natural and normal).

    Obviously, such changes often face resistance.

    Local stakeholders care about their local parking. Some get territorial about it. This reform suggestion aims to be realistic that people feel a sense of ownership about public spaces in their neighborhoods, including the parking in the streets. They don't "own" these streets but local governments soon learn that it is foolish to ram through parking reforms that ignore territorial sentiments about parking.

    The folks opposed to change also tend to feel more strongly about it than anyone else. So, in social-science-speak, this reform direction is also about defusing the collective action problems associated with parking reform.

    So Adaptive Parking reform direction #3 is about giving local stakeholders more reasons to like the reforms and fewer reasons to fear them. It is about accepting that people feel territorial about "their" streets and that we may need to placate those feelings. But it urges us to do so without losing the spirit of the reform. Any compromises should be consistent with the goal of Adaptive Parking to increase the market responsiveness of the local parking system.

    Parking Benefit Districts and variations on the theme

    Fans of Donald Shoup's book, The High Cost of Free Parking, may have noticed something. A great example of what I am talking about here is Shoup's suggestion to return on-street parking revenue to local ‘parking benefit districts’ to be spent on local public improvements. So you could think of the third Adaptive Parking reform direction as a more generalized take on Shoup's idea.

    Parking benefit districts are indeed one way to bring this reform direction to life. They are an institutional form that may resonate for countries that already have similar beasts, such as Business Improvement Districts. Around the world, we will need to find variations on the idea to suit local circumstances.

    By the way, Shoup and colleagues have a similar suggestion for overcoming collective action problems standing in the way of congestion pricing.

    So what about San Francisco and its current problems? 

    The opposition to expanding the priced parking areas in San Francisco demonstrates the importance of Stakeholder Compromise as a reform principle in Adaptive Parking.

    However, San Francisco has a problem. It's city charter says all parking revenue must go towards public transport service (as pointed out by Pedro Brown in the Shoupistas facebook group). This ties the hands of the SFPark experiment. San Francisco can't use the parking revenue in its local compromises with the immediate stakeholders. So a Shoup-style parking benefit district cannot help I guess.

    Of course, spending parking revenue on transit is itself an attempt to make parking pricing more palatable by having it contribute to the improvement of travel choices. But it seems not be enough to mollify locals faced with new parking meters for their area.

    Maybe SF will find other ways to win crucial local support for the expansion of priced parking? It will be interesting to see how this develops.

    Any suggestions? One obvious line of thinking involves residential parking permits. Can they be made compatible with Adaptive Parking?

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