Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A peek at parking in Tokyo (via bicycle-mounted video)

Something lighter for a holiday season.

Here is some virtual parking tourism via an 8 minute video by Danny Choo of a cycle through inner Tokyo.

There is lots to think about here for anyone curious about cities. Japan's urban landscapes are fascinating, especially their really narrow streets.

But this is a parking policy blog, so where is the parking in this? Watch the video then scroll down for my parking-related comments.

Japanese parking policies are not necessarily ideal. But they ARE very different from anywhere else in the world. And that makes them worthy of much more attention than they are getting.



The camera angle was not ideal for parking tourism. But there are still various parking highlights to notice: 
  • A glimpse of a coin-operated surface micro-lot at 0:02
  • At 0:08 on the right: shuttered shops or garage doors? I am not sure. Maybe a reader of Japanese can tell us?
  • 0:19 by now we have seen many bicycles parked and no on-street cars yet ... and with the narrow streets, where would an on-street car go?
  • 0:25 some ground level garage doors on the right beneath small apartment buildings (or large houses perhaps)
  • 0:29 more parking under apartments. But it looks unlikely that every dwelling in these has parking.
  • 0:44 some parking in the frontage of houses on the left and right here. 
  • Over the next minute or so, various examples of the same patterns of residential parking as we traverse a mainly residential area. We see cars in various nooks and crannies (this cliche is appropriate here - mostly these are small spaces).  I will stop commenting on these now. 
  • At 1:14 another small commercial surface lot on the left, even though we are in mainly residential territory here. I am not sure if this is coin-operated (I think so). 
  • 1:37 and 1:47 the second and third small trucks we have seen parked in the street (presumably making a delivery or for tradespeople on a call out?). Still no on-street cars. And have we seen a moving car yet? I don't think we have!
  • At 2:03 a slightly larger surface lot. Could be leased parking for surrounding residents. A common but ugly feature of the Tokyo landscape (mercifully they are usually small). 
  • 2:09 a sunken parking space under a house on the right. Looks rather steep with a dangerous visibility problem as the car tries to exit?
  • 2:15-2:19 An institution on the left looks like it has lots of bicycle parking. Does it also have underground car parking? I thought I glimpsed an entrance ramp. 
  • 2:39 now we hit a major street and the landscape changes completely - much larger buildings front the larger streets. Unlike in central Tokyo, the buildings here have setbacks. Many of the frontages seem to have parking. This is a pattern also common in China, Korea, Indonesia and many other Asian countries. I am actually a bit surprised to see this in Tokyo. It is hard to see but many of these buildings probably also have underground parking too. 
  • 4:27 Now back on very small streets and coming into a commercial area. Another coin parking lot makes an appearance.
  • 4:50 is that the first passenger car we have seen parked on street? (illegally)
  • 5:00 to 6:10 almost no car parking (or moving cars!) visible throughout a very busy commercial area full of small shops and intense pedestrian and bicycle activity on the narrow streets. 
  • 6:10-6:32 railway level crossing! Why did you take off on the wrong side of the street, Danny? (Japan drives on the left)
  • 7:00 lots of bicycles (and some scooters) parked everywhere but almost no car parking evident in this area, at least on this shopping street.

Did I miss anything? Maybe you saw other noteworthy parking moments? I didn't spot any automated parking towers. Did you?  What are your impressions of this landscape and its parking (or the relative absence of parking)? What do you think of the parking that is there?

If this all seems inexplicable, don't worry. I will offer some slightly more wonkish comments on Tokyo parking in another post shortly. 

By the way, this is inner Tokyo but it is south of the circle of the Yamanote line, so this is outside central Tokyo.

This Google map shows a suggested walking route which may be somewhat similar to the bike ride in the video (I think!). Click though and use Street View if you want a closer look or zoom out to see the wider context.


View Larger Map

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Challenging cultural expectations towards parking

Challenging cultural expectations towards parking
[This is a guest post by Stuart Donovan from Auckland, New Zealand]

In my work as a consultant transport planner I quickly realised that the topic of parking falls into the same category as sex, money, and religion – it’s just one of those topics you should avoid bringing up in the course of polite conversation, lest you wish to offend your hosts.

The reason being is that while many cities tend to have an over-supply of under-priced parking, most inhabitants of those cities believe exactly the opposite, i.e. that there is never enough parking. 

Challenging this belief is tough work because it runs up against some deep-seated cultural expectations for abundant free parking to be available whenever and wherever you go. A large part of this cultural expectation stems from the assumption that as cities grow they will be able to continue to provide similar levels of parking as they have had in the past. Deeper analysis suggests this assumption is invalid because both economic and geometric realities are likely to prevent cities from expanding their parking at the same rate as they grow.

First consider off-street parking. Here we find that as cities grow their land values tend to increase and thereby squeeze out space-intensive activities, as is most evident in cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, and New York. The economic reality is that as cities grow they can provide less parking because of the increasing scarcity, and hence value, of land. 

Now consider on-street parking. Here we find that beyond a certain initial level of development the street network on which on-street parking relies is unable to be expanded, even as the city intensifies and grows vertically. Moreover, a range of competing uses for that kerb space emerge, such as bus stops, which limit the degree to which more on-street parking can be provided.

For these two reasons, the supply of off- and on-street parking will always struggle to keep pace with the rate that cities grow. And of course combining constrained supply with growing demand will lead almost inexorably to higher prices. This relationship is the main reason why larger cities tend to command higher parking prices, other factors remaining equal. 

What this means is that the future is not like the past, insofar as the availability of parking is concerned. Of course, people can find lots of clever ways to squeeze parking – such as underground parking and car-stackers. But these responses are more expensive than more traditional forms of parking. 

But nor do these alternatives change the underlying economic and geometric drivers of increased parking scarcity. Residents and business need to understand that it’s unlikely that as their city grows that it will provide the same level of parking that it has in the past. The times they are changing.

But change can be tough. And it’s for this reason that during the 1950s many cities around the world tried to subvert the underlying economic and geometric drivers of increased parking scarcity. 

They did this by implementing regulations that required new developments to provide large amounts of off-street parking. The goal was to link the provision of parking to individual developments, so that residents could almost always drive somewhere and park for free.

Research by the likes of Donald Shoup and Todd Litman, amongst others, has catalogued the numerous unintended negative impacts of minimum parking requirements. Put simply, minimum parking requirements mean that the direct cost of parking is covered by developers, instead of drivers. In this way the costs of providing parking are subsumed elsewhere in the economy and simply become a tax on development. The primary impact of minimum parking requirements was to increase the supply of parking and lower the direct cost of parking for drivers. In this way, minimum parking requirements actually made a difficult problem even more challenging, because – over several decades – they have reinforced people’s cultural expectation for cheap parking whenever and wherever they drive.

In recent decades transport planners have increasingly recognised that parking is a key influence on the travel decisions that people make. Indeed, aside from access to a vehicle, the price and availability of parking is probably the single most important determinant of whether people choose to drive. So if your city suffers from congestion, then the first issue you should tackle is parking policy. 

But what should you do to address parking issues?

The most obvious thing to do is look at your off-street parking policies: Do you really need minimum parking requirements? Why can’t developers determine for themselves how much off-street parking they need to provide? While it will usually be less than what minimum parking requirements stipulate, in most cases it won’t be zero – because many people and businesses (i.e. the market) will continue to demand parking. Many cities around the world are currently progressing plans to remove or reduce (if they’re timid) minimum parking requirements. In London, this recent study found that the removal of minimum parking requirements caused around a 40% drop in the amount of parking provided with new developments.

Fewer cities, however, have made much progress with how they manage on-street parking. Until recently San Francisco was the only city that had really forged ahead with major on-street parking reforms, under the measured encouragement of Donald Shoup and aided by a federal transport research grant. San Francisco’s approach to on-street parking reforms is brilliant in its simplicity: They recognised that time-limits were a relatively inefficient way of managing demand, especially in areas where pay parking also applied. Instead, San Francisco removed time-limits in most places that were covered by pay parking. In these areas prices are now the primary demand management tool: If demand goes up then rates go up, and vice versa.[1]

My home city of Auckland has recently followed a similar line to San Francisco, by removing all time-limits from on-streetcar-parks the city centre and instead relying on prices to manage demand. One of Auckland’s interesting tweaks is the implementation of a free 10 minute grace period, which is intended to replace the need for dedicated taxi and loading zones (drop off/pick up). Basically, the grace period means that every space in the city becomes a potential drop off / pick up space, so long as you don’t park for longer than 10 minutes.

One of the less obvious benefits of the approach taken by Auckland and San Francisco is that they’ve set out an agreed policy process for setting parking prices. That is, they have developed a transparent way to set prices in response to demand. 

Not only is this fair, but it also reduces opportunities for interference in the setting of parking prices. Now it’s not so easy for individual residents or businesses to demand lower prices on their particular street. While people can seek to change the policy itself (indeed that is their democratic right) in doing so they are at least required to engage with broader questions such as: How would this change in policy impact on my ability to park across the entire city centre?

Through targeted changes to parking policies, namely removing minimum parking prices and relying on prices (set by policy) to manage demand, cities worldwide can start to unwind some of the unhealthy cultural expectations that have built up around parking over the last few decades.



[1] If you’re interested in learning more about San Francisco’s trail-blazing approach to on-street parking policy try visiting the SFpark website. 

*** Stuart Donovan is a Transport Engineer and Economist and is Regional Manager, New Zealand for MRCagney, which provides transport and planning consulting services to public and private sector clients throughout the Asia-Pacific region.  The views expressed in this article are his alone; they do not necessarily represent the views of MRCagney, its employees, and/or its clients. ***
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