Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Onsite Parking: The Scourge of America's Commercial Districts

Onsite Parking: The Scourge of America's Commercial Districts
I want to give a shout out to a 2006 post on Planetizen by Mott Smith.

His post, "Onsite Parking: The Scourge of America's Commercial Districts", is an exceptionally clear explanation of why it is a catastrophic mistake for dense urban areas to impose suburban-style on-site parking minimums on every building.
Perhaps more than anything else, rules requiring onsite parking -- to be distinguished from "on street" or "offsite" parking -- have created the blighted conditions that characterize many older North American commercial districts and boulevards. ...

How this has happened is simple geometry. Parcels in older commercial areas are often small by today's standards. ...

This is traditionally the perfect size for a small businessperson to build a shop and maybe even housing or office space above, with minimal capital. An entrepreneur with a property like this could get a lot of bang for his or her buck by building right up to the front and side property lines, so land-use efficiency is maximized and pedestrian-friendliness is encouraged. ...

But onsite parking rules have made this sort of development nearly impossible. Now, it's often economically infeasible to build anything at all on a 7,500 square foot parcel, let alone something that's pedestrian-friendly. ...

Typical inner-city parcel with one-story building, built to the property lines (Mott's figure 2)
What can be built if we require 4 parking spaces per 1000 square feet of built space (as many American cities do) (Mott's figure 3)

The answer? Public parking is much better suited to such areas, which work much better as park-once districts.

Is this relevant to your country? Yes! Don't let foolish parking policies destroy your older commercial districts like the United States did!

Local governments in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and many other countries are trying to impose parking minimums everywhere, including their older urban districts. They have not blighted them much. Not YET. But if they persist with this kind of parking policy, we must expect similar results to those seen in the US.

I don't agree with absolutely everything in the post but it is well worth a read. Take a look!

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Can India's cities escape their nasty parking spiral?

Can India's cities escape their nasty parking spiral?
More and more Indian cities see parking as a crisis.

That could be a good thing! A crisis can open minds to alternatives that were unthinkable before.

typical news item this week gives a taste. It is from Patna but could be in any Indian city.
PATNA: The parking lots available in the city are not enough to accommodate even 5% of the vehicles registered with the district transport office (DTO). ...  commuters say they are forced to park vehicles on the roadside due to lack of sufficient parking space. Priyanka Kumari, a bank employee, argues, "Most of the time I park my vehicle on the roadside due to lack of parking lots. I have been fined twice, but what can I do? When the administration cannot provide parking space, what moral right does it have to impose fine on us?" ... The Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC) is working out plans to solve this problem. "We are thinking of constructing some multi-storied and underground parking lots in the city," said PMC commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pal. 

Indian cities have a nasty parking spiral of low prices, high demand and on-street chaos, no commercial supply and desperation for subsidized supply

The current approach is not working. Obviously something has to change. But what?

Let's unravel the spiral in a bit more detail:
  • Parking prices are extremely low, if there is charging at all
  • Enforcement is weak and intermittent. The howls of protest in Patna above reflect dismay at being fined for parking as usual. 
  • Car and motorcycle ownership is rocketing upwards. 
  • Everyone says that there is a shortage of legitimate places to park near most centres of activity. 
  • The walking environment is uncomfortable (partly because of all the chaotic parking), so parking three or four hundred metres away is not considered an option by prosperous car owners. 
  • Despite the local shortages, there is little private investment in off-street parking. It is simply a terrible investment when the competition is cheap or free/illegal parking in streets so no-one is willing to pay much for parking, nor to walk far to reach it. 
  • So most Indian cities look to American suburban-style parking norms (the local name for minimum parking requirements). These force building developers to create enough parking regardless of returns. They are forced to cross-subsidize their parking from other business activities, which means customers who use no parking space at all are forced to pay for it too. If you think this is a good idea for dense cities, consider the results of 50 years of this for America's inner cities.  
  • However, there is dismay (and ruthless enforcement) when building owners 'flout the norms' and fail to put much actual parking in the required parking areas. Why would they do that? Motorists are not willing to pay much and anyway often shun off-street parking altogether. So keeping precious built space for parking can seem like a waste. Remember, these are dense cities with high land prices. So it must be very tempting to use the space for something else. 
  • India's cities are therefore also scrambling to promise to build off-street parking structures themselves. But the pricey land means this is only an option on existing city-owned land (never mind the opportunity cost!) or even under parks. But the costs are still too high when weighed against the low returns. 
  • City-owned facilities must therefore be heavily subsidized. With every such structure, well-to-do car owners get another regressive subsidy from cash strapped local governments. This is money that could be used for much much better things. So maybe it is a blessing that progress on building such structures is extremely slow. Perhaps failure will force a rethink on parking policy. 

How can India's cities escape this parking spiral?

Something has to change.  

Low on-street prices and weak on-street enforcement are key sources of this nasty spiral. Doing better will require (at least) tackling these sources.

There are signs that various activists and officials in Indian cities agree. Will action follow?


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Motorcycles overcharged for parking

Motorcycles overcharged for parking
South Asia and Indonesia seem especially to charge motorcycles too much to park relative to cars*.

At this mall in Palembang motorcycles cost Rp2,000 while cars cost Rp3,000 to park. (Rp3,000 is about US 30 cents) Although many Indonesian cities have government-controlled prices for their shopping malls, Palembang is an exception with market prices in its shopping centres. The price in the nearby streets is Rp1,000 for motorcycles and Rp2,000 for cars. 

Based on the space used, paying half the car price is way too much for motorcycles.

Of course, we might be wary of encouraging motorised two-wheelers too much. Motorcycle use is risky. And, despite low fuel consumption, they may actually be worse than cars for local air pollution problems, as in Hanoi. But parked motorcycles are certainly much more space efficient than parked cars.

How much more space efficient?  As I said in the Parking Policy in Asian Cities report:
A lower bound is suggested by Western norms of about 3–5 motorcycles in one car space, but in practice in the Asian cities studied the answer is much higher at between 4.5 and 10. Singapore’s parking standards ... suggest that between 4.6 and 6 motorcycle spaces take the same area as a car space... In India, motorcycle spaces are assumed to take 0.16 of an equivalent car space (ECS), suggesting a little over 6 two-wheelers per car space ... Viet Nam’s parking standards suggest ... about 8–10 motorcycle spaces per car space.

And most of these numbers don't seem to take account of aisles, which can be very narrow within motorcycle-only parking areas. So parking Asia's small motorcycles may be even more space efficient than these numbers suggest.

A motorcycle-only parking area in Ahmedabad's walled city area. 

Does it seem unreasonable that parking fees should be proportional to the area used by each vehicle type?

Isn't it obviously unfair to ask motorcycle users to cross-subsidize the parking of car users? Car owners are typically much wealthier than motorcycle users, especially in Indonesia and South Asia.

* Of course, both motorcycles AND cars may be under-priced based on other criteria, but that is another story.


Friday, April 20, 2012

SFPark gets some love

This Editorial voices strong support for SFPark's performance pricing project. It is from San Francisco's Examiner newspaper.

Some excerpts:

This demand-based pricing appears to be working. For instance, the agency recently announced that the average price at city-owned parking garages has dropped 95 cents since the SFpark rate changes began. For example, drivers can currently park all day at the Marina parking garage on Lombard Street for $2 an hour or less, according to the transit agency. The hourly rate for other city-owned garages is higher, but this is a pricing model that makes sense — charging more for things that are in demand, and less for those that are not.  ... 

Parking meters also have been adjusted under SFpark. High-demand meters can cost drivers up to $4.75 an hour under the current pricing structure. But drivers willing to park a little farther from the hustle and bustle can pay as little as 25 cents per hour. Before, motorists who parked in spaces on the fringes of commercial districts still had to pay the same rate as those who parked in the middle of the action. Now, such drivers receive a discounted rate. 

...  If the anti-car rhetoric were true, the agency would have hiked all of its parking meter rates to nearly $5 an hour and charged sky-high rates for all of its parking garages. But the agency has begun wisely managing its parking spaces to fill the available spots.  {Read more at the San Francisco Examiner}

Does that sound like something your city could embrace?

I have previously explained the basic idea of performance pricing.  You can also learn more by reading all the Reinventing Parking posts with the tag 'performance pricing'.