Thursday, August 23, 2012

US Parking Reform 101 (four short videos)

US Parking Reform 101 (four short videos)
Want a crash course on parking reform?

Then check out these short videos on parking policy and parking reform. There are four, and each is only five minutes in length.

Entitled 'Smart Parking', they were produced by the Nelson\Nygaard consulting firm for the San Francisco Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). They are narrated by N\N parking expert, Jeffrey Tumlin.

They provide an excellent introduction to parking issues. Well done! They are especially relevant for North America but should be useful even you are in India or Brazil of South Africa.

Smart Parking Part One:  Introduction to Parking

Smart Parking Part Two: Minimum Parking Requirements

Smart Parking Part Three: Parking Structures

Smart Parking Part Four: Parking Management from a Systems Perspective
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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Singapore parking policy in need of a rethink?

Singapore parking policy in need of a rethink?
Singapore was the main focus of my Op Ed on parking yesterday (Aug 15) in the Straits Times (Singapore).  Here is the link for ST subscribers.

UPDATE: The whole Op Ed can be downloaded here (pdf).

Yesterday, I shared my brief explanation of the three main 'flavours' of parking policy.

Today I want to share the Singapore-focused parts of the Op Ed.

Queuing for parking outside the Nex shopping centre at Serangoon Central, Singapore

I have added a few links. These might be useful if you are not already familiar with parking in Singapore.
Singapore has had "parking crunches" in Housing Board estates and the city centre and disputes in landed residential areas. Shopping malls and places of worship provoke parking fears among neighbours. And eatery districts, such as Serangoon Gardens, have had their growth capped over parking woes. 
No city totally avoids parking problems and it may seem small comfort that at least we don't have parking murders, parking gangster turf wars and rampant parking corruption, as some countries have. 
But internationally, parking policy is now seeing a wave of innovation, technological change and challenges to the conventional ways of doing things. 
So this may be a good time for a review of parking policy in Singapore. 
Parking policy has been a neglected leg of our land transport policy platform. As a result, it is not well aligned with our other priorities. This forces more weight onto the other legs, including the vehicle quota system, Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), and road building. And it undermines still others, such as public transport. 
A better parking policy should not only address the complaints above but also help deliver more affordable housing and less congestion. 
Does that sound too good to be true? As you may have guessed, achieving such benefits often involves unpopular steps, such as strong enforcement and parking pricing reform. 
I think of urban parking policy as having three main "flavours". Let's call them American vanilla ice cream, European dark chocolate, and Japanese sushi bar. 
...  [See yesterday's post for more on these three flavours]  ...

What of Singapore? 
Our current approach is a hybrid but it includes too much of the American suburban approach for a dense city which needs to constrain cars. 
Is it efficient that even shoebox units of less than 50 sq m must be built with one parking space (which consumes about 30 sq m when aisles and ramps are included)? Consider how much more affordable such units would be if they could be built with fewer parking spaces. 
Is requiring every building, even next to an MRT interchange, to have "adequate" parking really in line with the goal of promoting public transport? 
Is it efficient to have a uniform price (50 cents per half hour) across most of the island for HDB and URA visitor parking even if this causes crowding at many places and empty lots at others. 
Is HDB's affordable housing mission well served by having season parking prices that are the same for every estate? Prices of flats vary from place to place, so why not parking? 
The uniform price implies HDB parking prices are artificially low in central areas with expensive land and overpriced in outer areas. It also means that households which need a car but struggle with the costs cannot now move to areas with cheaper parking, since there are no such areas. 
Could performance pricing rather than caps on growth be able to manage parking issues in and around entertainment and food hubs? Such pricing would have to extend into nearby residential areas, with residents needing season parking permits. This would not be popular in streets which currently lack pricing but such residents might be persuaded by the promise that, so long as visitor prices are adjusted correctly, there should always be spaces available for residents when they return. 
So what flavour parking approach would best suit Singapore? Less "vanilla ice cream" and more "dark chocolate" or "sushi bar" should achieve better alignment between parking and our other important priorities.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What flavour parking policy do you like?

What flavour parking policy do you like?
"Sushi bar approach to parking policy" was the title the Straits Times editor gave my Op Ed on parking policy today.

Sushi bar?! Read on for an explanation.

photo by Ke Wynn on Flickr

Most of the piece discusses Singapore's parking issues.

But today I just want to share this excerpt, in which I introduce the three main 'paradigms' of parking policy.  I have added some relevant links:
I think of urban parking policy as having three main "flavours". Let's call them American vanilla ice cream, European dark chocolate, and Japanese sushi bar. 
First, the American "vanilla ice cream" approach. It is simple and sweet but promotes overindulgence, the full cost of which emerges only later. 
This is the conventional suburban approach and it sees building more parking as the solution to every parking problem. Fearing too much pressure on the cheap (or free) on-street parking, every building is forced to include so much parking on-site that it is never full and it would be ludicrous to charge for it. This wastes money and space and promotes dependence on cars. Unfortunately, this approach is spreading around the world, even to cities where space is at a premium. 
Second, the European "dark chocolate" approach prioritises quality not quantity. But it is an acquired taste - too bitter for some. It can also be difficult to create in some political kitchens. 
Zurich is one of many examples, with parking policies that align with its pro-public transport, walking and cycling policies. 
Parking in the city centre is capped at the 1990 level, parking with buildings is limited, and surface parking is being gradually removed from public spaces. In Asia, Seoul is starting down this path. 
Third, a Japanese "sushi bar" approach caters to a variety of tastes and to various budgets.  
Here I am referring to market-responsive approaches. Enthusiasm in the West for this has been ignited by the research of University of California, Los Angeles professor Donald Shoup. Such thinking treats parking as a type of real estate that can be rented on a short-term basis, like hotel rooms and meeting halls. Part of this agenda involves easing the requirements for on-site parking with each building. 
Another part involves "performance pricing" to keep demand for on-street and public parking in balance. 
The "SFpark" trial in San Francisco is an ambitious example of this. Like Singapore's ERP, it uses prices to make sure public parking is never quite full, nor ever too empty. It is bringing pricier parking to popular places and times but cheaper or free parking to quieter times and places (often just around the corner). 
So why do I call market-responsive parking policy a Japanese approach? 
Because parking in Japan's large cities is mostly a market phenomenon. There is little legal on-street parking. The famous "proof-of-parking" law puts the onus for securing off-street residential parking onto the motorist, not the developer or government. 
Only large buildings are required to have on-site parking (and even then, not much). Nevertheless, the real estate market has generally responded adequately. Parking is provided mostly by the private sector at market prices which reflect real estate costs. So parking prices promote low car ownership and low use in the inner cities where public transport is best.

Subscribers to the Straits Times can read the whole Op Ed here. I hope to be able to link to or post the full text later.

So what flavour parking policy DO you like?

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Beyond parking benefit districts

Emily Washington at the Market Urbanism blog has been doing a book club style review of Donald Shoup's book, The High Cost of Free Parking.

It has been a useful process!

If you are new to Shoup's parking reform ideas, please take a look right now at the whole series, which can be found hereChapters 1 – 4Chapters 5 – 9Chapters 10 – 14Chapters 16 – 18, and Chapters 19 – 22.

She wrapped up the other day, with the Preface and Afterword to the paperback edition
In these two chapters, which Donald Shoup added for the paperback edition of the book, he discusses some of the changes in parking policy since the original edition in 2004. He also reiterates his three prescriptions for saner parking policy:
1) Set the right price for curb parking;
2) Return parking revenue to pay for local public services;
3) Remove parking minimum requirements.

She also shared some final thoughts, which I want to take up with this post.
To reiterate, I highly recommend the entire book. I am in complete agreement with Shoup on his first and third recommendations for parking policy, and he clearly and persuasively makes the case for these two arguments. However, the more I think about it, the more I think that his recommendation of parking revenue benefit districts might not be the best solution, even though it would be much better than the status quo. Yes, this policy has successfully built support for performance pricing in some neighborhoods. However, I think that tax abatement districts would build even more support.
Property taxes are particularly unpopular, and I think abatement would be sufficient to build support for parking prices that eliminate cruising. As Shoup says, charging higher meter rates is not about increasing cities’ revenue, but rather about eliminating curb parking shortages. By giving the increases in revenue back to the residents who are paying these higher rates, additional cities can build the political support necessary to charge appropriate prices for parking.
Very interesting!

Emily is taking up the spirit of Shoup's idea and running with it to look for another, better way to achieve the same goal.

This resonates with my Adaptive Parking take on the same issue. Remember "Adaptive Parking"? It is my effort to extend and generalise on market-oriented parking reform thinking, like Shoup's.

Adaptive Parking thrust number 3, calls for 'stakeholder compromise'. It points broadly towards the need to reduce resistance and gain support from relevant stakeholders. It doesn't specify exactly how.

And Emily's suggestion is obviously one such option.

I agree that in some political contexts property tax abatement might be the best way to sweeten the deal. In some cases, Shoup's parking benefit districts might be more attractive. And other situations might call for yet other creative compromises.

The wider principle in common here is the need to acknowledge local stakeholder interests and to be willing to negotiate or compromise, in ways that do not undermine the core of the reforms.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yglesias: Where's our suburban parking reform? And parking likened to chairs!

Matthew Yglesias at Slate comments on Seattle's parking minumum reforms.

Legislation passed last week by the City of Seattle will expand the areas that will be exempt from parking minimums and reduce the minimums in further areas.

It is good news for parking reformers and Yglesias approves.

But he also points out how limited this really is:
The conceit is generally that cities should identify some particular swathes of land—downtown or downtown-adjacent, near frequent mass transit, whatever—where it seems like parking demand may be low, and then use those places as test cases for less planning. The real change in attitudes that we require is to recognize that there's no need for parking minimums even where demand for parking is high.

In other words, why limit parking reform to dense, transit-rich places? Reform of parking minimums is just as important for automobile dependent locations! Good point.

Then Yglesias suggests an analogy. 

Oooh I like analogies, as regular readers will know.

This time it is chairs:
I've been to a lot of people's houses. Every single one of them—without exception—has featured at least one chair. People seem to like chairs. But to the best of my knowledge these houses don't have chairs in them because houses require the presence of chairs. Rather the chairs are there because people want chairs. Unfettered markets have many flaws, but the thing that they're really, really good at is ensuring that a given town has exactly as many chairs as its residents want to pay for. Parking is similar.

I like it. It makes some sense if you already know that Yglesias also advocates market pricing for the parking in the street. So on first reading I found it a nice little rhetorical jab to make people think again about parking minimums.

But it falls a bit short on closer inspection. It is developers that usually provide parking (and toilets by the way) at the time of construction. Whereas it is residents and tenants who usually provide their own chairs. Too few? Buy some more. Too many? Get rid of some. Not so easy with parking.

And a shortage of chairs inside housing will not have any impact on the seating arrangements out in the streets. So it doesn't remind us or reassure us that the off-street standards will not be needed if we get the on-street management and pricing right.

So I am adding this to my list but I am still on the lookout for compelling parking analogies.