Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hong Kong has parking minimums AND very expensive parking. How can that be?

Hong Kong has parking minimums AND very expensive parking. How can that be?
I recently stumbled across some information that resolved a Hong Kong parking mystery. Hooray!

Err. You didn't know there was a mystery about Hong Kong parking? I had better explain.

Singapore and Hong Kong both have big reputations for restraining car ownership and car use.

But there is a puzzle.

Singapore's explicit travel demand management (TDM) efforts are much more severe than Hong Kong's, yet they are apparently less effective.

Hong Kong's car ownership (about 60 cars per 1000 people) is much lower than Singapore's (about 110 cars per 1000) and its public transport mode share much higher. Singapore has around 3 times more private car kilometres of travel per person than Hong Kong. (Thanks Jeff Kenworthy - pdf)

Hong Kong's expensive parking is probably part of the answer to this puzzle.

But why does Hong Kong has such expensive parking?

At those densities, of course parking is expensive, you say? High land prices mean expensive parking, right?

Not so fast. High urban densities DON'T always result in high parking prices.

Just look at Mumbai or Cairo. These cities remind us that parking prices can be low even in dense cities with expensive real-estate.

By contrast, there is no doubt that Hong Kong has expensive parking.

It is not just daytime CBD parking that is expensive. Home-based residential parking is usually also very expensive. Part of that may be property speculation. But even so-called bubble-priced parking is still delivering a yield of about 4 percent so speculation is not the whole story.

Even residential parking in the public housing estates is expensive. For example when I looked in 2009, parking for tenants at Lek Yuen Estate in Sha Tin was HK$1,350 (or more than US$170) per month.

OK.  So maybe Hong Kong restricts parking supply as part of its transit-oriented urban transport strategy? 

Um. No again. Hong Kong actually has surprisingly conventional parking policy. 

That is what we found, to our surprise, in the ADB study that led to 'Parking Policy in Asian Cities'. Hong Kong has conventional minimum parking requirements (and no parking maximums).

The minimums are much lower than in the USA but they are higher than those of Japanese cities or Beijing.

Hong Kong parking requirements are actually similar to Singapore's. But mysteriously, Hong Kong parking is much more expensive than Singapore's.

So we do have a mystery here. 

Why are parking prices so high if Hong Kong parking policy now tries to meet "demand"?

Doesn't the conventional approach to parking, with its minimum parking requirements, always pump too much parking into a city?

Based on Hong Kong, the answer seems to be, no, not necessarily. But why not?

I already had a plausible guess before the recent discovery mentioned above. If we assume parking minimums were absent from Hong Kong before a certain date, then market prices for parking could have risen as car ownership rose without parking construction keeping pace.

This was a hyper-dense city after all with rapidly improving mass transit, so developers might happily build with very little parking, I guessed.

Then at some point, we know that Hong Kong did embark on a conventional approach to parking policy. It would have done so with a context of high parking prices and limited parking supply.

Now consider how Hong Kong would have set the new parking minimums. 

They required estimates of parking demand.

But parking demand in Hong Kong was very low when parking minimums were first imposed. This low demand was shaped by pre-existing high parking prices in highly transit-oriented landscapes, not to mention low car ownership.

It seems that the parking minimums were set rather low, based on that low demand. Even for new areas. The prevailing prices seem to have been taken as a given. So the new parking mandates did not exert (much) downward pressure on prices. (There is a longer story here, for another day.)

In addition, don't forget that parking requirements only apply to new development and redevelopment. So, even with Hong Kong's rapidly changing skyline there are still many 1970s buildings around and any injection of new parking supply is gradual.

And Hong Kong uses some flexibility in applying its parking mandates. There are significant reductions in the most transit-oriented locations. Parking supply can be restricted if the traffic impacts would be excessive. Small-scale street-side retail is usually exempt.

So Hong Kong's shift to a more-or-less conventional parking policy didn't cause low parking prices nor excessive supply (as far as I can tell).

But what parking policies came before the current conventional one? 

Without knowing that, I wasn't as certain of the narrative above as I would have liked.

I had assumed that before parking standards were introduced perhaps there had been a laissez faire approach to parking.

This is where the new information mentioned at the beginning of the article comes in.

Hong Kong actually aggressively restricted residential parking supply in the 1970s. It seems to have had strict maximums (at least for residential development) before it had minimums. 

Parking was a key tool, perhaps THE key tool of that period, aimed at restricting car ownership growth.

I hadn't realized this until I stumbled across this insight (under point 2.5) on a site outlining a 1997 complaint about private residential parking from the Hong Kong Consumer Council.
For traffic control purposes, the declared policy of the Government has been to restrain private car ownership. Prior to 1981, the Government attained this by restricting the provision of residential parking spaces. The Government later adopted fiscal measures to restrict the growth in private car ownership.
And, to confirm, here is the relevant Statement of Intent from the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines 1992 edition issued by the Planning Department, explaining the switch to a conventional parking policy and the shift away from restricting parking supply:
Parking standards for residential development were formulated in the light of the introduction of fiscal measures to restrict directly the rate of growth in private vehicle ownership and the abandonment of restraint on car ownership by a restriction of residential parking spaces. The overall intention of the standards is to ensure that, except in special cases, future residential developments should have sufficient parking provision to match the current and anticipated car ownership of residents. Generally, therefore, minimum rather than maximum standards are set. This should enable developers to be aware from outset of the extent of parking provision they can plan.  [My emphasis]
So parking supply was deliberately restricted with housing built in 1970s especially and up until 1981. 

And the impact of this would have been large, since there must have been a huge amount of residential construction in the 1970s.

Hong Kong's population rose from 3,995,400 in 1970 to 5,109,812 in 1981. And the 1970s was (mostly) a time of rapid economic growth in Hong Kong. So a large increment of Hong Kong housing took place with very low rates of parking.

I don't have the full story but I suspect that this policy began in the early 1970s. But even before that I imagine that most high-rise housing in Hong Kong was built with little or no parking, since car ownership was tiny in that era.

Why does all this matter? I can think of several reasons. Can you? 

But for now just let me summarize how the points in this post have helped clear up the puzzle about Singapore versus Hong Kong.

As mentioned at the top of this post, it is surprising that although Singapore's car restrictions are more severe than Hong Kong's, car ownership and use in Singapore are much higher.

Part of the answer is Hong Kong's extreme urban density (about 3 times Singapore's) which helps enable excellent public transport service levels.

But Hong Kong's expensive parking must also be important. And I had assumed expensive parking was a result of conscious and current policy in Hong Kong.

But that assumption was shaken by finding that Hong Kong's parking policies today are conventional with parking minimums, and little different from Singapore's. Contemporary parking policy in Hong Kong couldn't explain its high parking prices.

How perplexing.

But now I think I understand how Hong Kong can have parking minimums AND very expensive parking.  Any objections? 

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Parking minimums in TODs (part 1)

Parking minimums in TODs (part 1)
How much parking should be required in a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zone?

And is there a formula related to density or other parameters?

Part of ITDP India's Poster on Transit Oriented Development
These were questions from Mumbai in India a couple of weeks ago, via email and on the Shoupista facebook group.

Zero is the answer I prefer. 

Regular readers will know that I tend to argue for zero parking requirements EVERYWHERE, not just in transit-rich locations. And remember, a zero parking minimum is not a war on cars and does not necessarily mean there will be zero parking.

But YOUR answer to this TOD parking question will depend on your approach (or the approach that you have to work with wherever you are).   

So let's discuss the possibilities, paying special attention to the mindsets on parking behind each approach.

1.  "Right-sizing parking"

The 'conventional suburban' approach to parking fears parking spillover more than it fears excessive parking supply. It sets parking minimums based on peak parking demand at isolated, suburban sites. The result is very high parking requirements.

When applied without exception across the landscape these are a bane of TOD efforts.

So one obvious tweak for Transit Oriented Development zones is to 'Right Size' the parking standards to better match the actual (lower) demand that can be expected in such locations.

Notice something about the mindset here?

This adjustment to parking minimums doesn't question the key assumption of the conventional approach. Every site is still expected to have 'enough' parking.

So this is an approach to TOD zone parking that remains firmly within the conventional parking policy mindset.

This approach requires parking demand investigations for various contexts, including TOD zones.

Examples of such studies that were pointed to in the Shoupistas forum include:
1) A study at UC Davis (led by Dr. Susan Handy) for the California Department of Transportation to develop an adjustment equation for sites in "smart-growth" areas. A user-friendly Excel spreadsheet tool is available from the website. 
2) A study at Portland State University (led by Dr. Kelly Clifton) developed a method to account for differences in trip generation across a range of urban contexts using Portland metropolitan area data.
Do you know of similar efforts elsewhere? Does your city adjust its parking standards to suit TODs?

Something like this seems also to be common in Europe (outside inner-city areas), although with much lower parking demand (and therefore minimums) than in the USA. Examples include Zurich (mentioned in ITDP's European U-Turn report) and Munich.

Again, please notice that this approach to TOD parking is conservative.

It is still in the "conventional" box in the matrix of parking mindsets shown above. It doesn't try to force any change in demand, or even to encourage parking pricing or unbundling. It just tries to avoid forcing too much parking.

So what are the approaches to parking in TOD zones if you have a Parking Management mindset or a Responsive parking mindset?

I will save those for another post.
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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Unglamorous Secret to Parking Success

The Unglamorous Secret to Parking Success
This secret is not sexy but it has to be done.

Not that I have anything against sexy. Amazing new technology is opening exciting parking policy horizons. I love the high tech parking innovations that:
  • enable cheap and comprehensive parking space usage monitoring; 
  • make paying for parking easier and lower cost; 
  • reduce cost and practical barriers to the pricing of parking; 
  • reduce enforcement costs, making enforcement less patchy and capricious; 
  • allow the booking of spaces; 
  • enable real-time parking information for users; and 
  • allow operators to optimise prices and management. 

But this post is about something more FUNDAMENTAL, something every city needs BEFORE getting too excited about technology.

Effective On-Street Parking Management is the Secret Key to Parking Success 

It is not really a 'secret' of course. But many jurisdictions do their best to ignore the obvious.

And I don't really blame them.

Getting 'good enough' control of on-street parking seems like mundane stuff. It can be politically painful. The many winners hardly thank you but the much less numerous losers complain loudly and bitterly. Success usually requires reforming hide-bound institutions. It lacks ribbons for politicians to cut. The results can take time.

Most on-street parking in Mumbai is free-of-charge and almost unmanaged. 
But there is no escaping the need to knuckle down and get it done. Every city needs to establish at least the basics of effective on-street parking management.

I was in Mumbai recently, and this was a key theme that came up over and over.

Crisis is beginning to open eyes in Mumbai I think.

But in too many cities on every continent local leaders hope to avoid tackling the thorny challenge of on-street parking.

They hope that requiring lots of off-street parking will help. They hope that building public parking structures will cure their parking problems.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work. You have to tackle on-street parking!

Creating off-street parking is a slow and expensive business. And off-street parking does not magically vacuum parking off the streets.

All over the world, we find case after case of underutilized off-street parking next to chaotic and saturated parking in the streets.

If the on-street parking remains unmanaged then it will remain chaotic, whether there is off-street parking nearby or not.

The only way to fix on-street parking problems is on-street parking management.

Actually, I am exaggerating slightly. Focusing on off-street parking supply CAN work in certain cases.

What cases?

If a city follows the American suburban example and spends decades applying car-oriented guidelines ruthlessly to every aspect of transport and urban planning, while also investing massively in roads, and is lucky enough to also have robust economic growth throughout those decades, then perhaps off-street supply can solve its parking problem.

But is this 'cure' worse than the disease? If you follow that path, you will end up with sprawling automobile dependent metropolitan areas and inner cities that have hollowed out to make way for parking. You may have solved your parking problem but is that really your vision for your city?

And is following a totally car-dependent path really even an option for most cities?

So for most cities with on-street chaos, the answer is to focus first on on-street management.

Even if you really really think you need off-street supply, focus FIRST on getting control of on-street parking.

On-street pricing improves the willingness to pay for off-street parking. So efficient parking management on the streets will actually make your off-street parking facilities more financially viable.

Information gleaned from on-street management will also help you to make these investments in the right places.

Efficient on-street pricing can easily nudge long-stay employee parking towards off-street parking options or towards parking on less overburdened streets. Since these vehicles are there all day, moving them away from problem streets makes a huge difference.

So, even if you are convinced you need more parking, please make on-street parking management your FIRST step, before adding to parking capacity.

What does it take to achieve the unglamorous secret? 

At the very least, these steps are important:

  • Establish clear rules and communicate with clarity where and when parking is legal or illegal
  • Build enforcement capacity (with supporting institutions)
  • Establish a trustworthy system for levying parking fees per unit of time (per minute or per hour for example)
  • Establish at least basic parking data collection capacities (initially very simple inventory and occupancy surveys for problem areas are enough, with duration surveys if possible)

Please share YOUR stories of local governments biting the bullet and tackling on-street parking chaos!

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