Friday, November 27, 2015

Strong Towns and Parking

Strong Towns and Parking
It is exciting to see the US-based Strong Towns movement taking aim at parking minimums this week with a fascinating series of blog posts.

All this activity was warm-up for today's #BlackFridayParking event, an annual crowd-sourcing activity to highlight America's parking excesses. The idea is to photograph parking areas on 27 November, the peak retail parking day of the year. It turns out that, even on Black Friday, many shopping center parking areas never fill up. I last featured it here two years ago.

Below are some highlights from #BlackFridayParking week at Strong Towns with links to the various posts over there. It is great stuff and helpful even if you are not in the USA.

Well done Strong Towns!

Motivation from Strong Towns founder and president, Chuck Marohn

To kick off, Strong Towns founder and president, Chuck Marohn, explained the background and motivations for the week's parking content.

He told of his journey from faithful user of parking minimums (as a municipal engineer and planner in Minnesota) to doubter and then to reformer.

First he noticed the lie:
I simply started observing how, despite my assumptions, the parking lots really weren't full on Black Friday. Not even close. And if they weren't full on Black Friday, when would they be full?

Then he began to count the costs:
I also realized how parking minimums were another way the scales are tipped in favor of the corporate chains and against the local upstart... Parking minimums stop a countless number of projects before they even get through the dream phase... I was also frustrated over the cost. In a property tax system like we have here in Minnesota, all those parking lots were not paying their way. For sales tax states, it's even less.

Marohn recounted how #BlackFridayParking started as a little fun exercise for his family and then expanded into the crowdsourced event it is now.

He invited us to do what we can to change the conversation on parking minimums and to be inspired by the week of parking content.

Three podcasts focused on parking

Donald Shoup of course!!

John Anderson, real-estate developer and writer of the RJohntheBad blog. John is blunt and entertaining. I liked this comment on where parking standards come from,
... it looks like grown ups have been hard at work with calculators and have come up with these things, but unfortunately, they're done more by rumour and bad habit than anything else. I mean, often the metric is, 'how much parking would we have to require to eliminate getting phone calls about not having enough parking'. 

Joe Minicozzi of Urban Three on how parking lots take away value and tax revenue from our cities. This complements the post by Joshua McCarty mentioned below.

Map of cities reforming parking minimums

Strong Towns shared its crowd-sourced map of municipalities around North America that have been reforming their parking requirements (and in some cases abolishing them altogether in certain areas).

I was surprised to see so many small cities and towns on the map.

Do you know other examples? Visit their survey and let them know!

The case of Phoenixville, PA

On Monday, Rachel Quednau interviewed Ray Ott who helped Phoenixville PA eliminate all parking requirements on the main street and adjacent side streets. Ray was surprised that the push to abolish the parking requirements went so easily. He advises anyone wanting to decrease parking minimums to use photos to doument the space taken by parking.

Why have parking minimums where it is easy to NOT own a car?

Also on Monday, Andrew Price had strong words for Hoboken and places like it. Why would a place where a car is less necessary than almost anywhere in the US still require off-street parking spaces with new or redeveloped buildings?

Mapping the Effects of Parking Minimums

On Tuesday, Joshua McCarty from Urban Three shared a set of stunning 3D visualization maps, using Des Moines, Iowa, as an example.

Joshua's post features stunning maps of the distribution of parking in the city (in red) versus buildings (in black) juxtaposed with maps of property tax production per unit area. This lets him examine how different configurations of buildings and parking contribute to tax production efficiency.

He ends with this striking map in which height represents value per acre, redder properties have a greater proportion of parking, and bluer ones have more building.
Image copyright Urban Three
Notice anything? Parking is deadweight for cities dependent on property taxes, says Joshua.

Robust Development in Fargo without Mandating Parking

On Wednesday, Jason Schaefer shared the encouraging case of Fargo, North Dakota, where in 2000 parking minimums were eliminated in the special downtown 'Renaissance Zone'. Far from hindering development or causing problems, the intitiative has spurred a huge amount of development and vitality for the area.

Write to your local paper to end parking minimums

In another helpful post Rachel Quednau urges us to take local action against parking minimums by writing to our local newspapers. She makes the case that you can make a real difference this way. She also provides excellent tips on what to include.

If you are in the USA, you can participate in #BlackFridayParking

On November 27, get outside and take pictures of the parking lots in your town.

Upload your photos to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #blackfridayparking. Bonus points if you include the location and estimate how full the lot is. (Turning on location services will also greatly aid us in mapping out these posts all over the country.)

Visit the Strong Towns website on November 27 to view other peoples' photos from across the country.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Are you thinking about parking all wrong?

Are you thinking about parking all wrong?
I made the mistake of looking at the comments below this news item from Melbourne in Australia. It discusses a proposal to make zero-parking residential developments easier for local governments to allow (in certain circumstances).

It is a modest proposal. But many of those commenting on the article are utterly outraged, asking how anyone could be so extreme or so crazy to want to allow buildings with no on-site parking. Why are they so shocked and angry?

I think these reactions are based in a particular mindset on parking.

This mindset has been fostered for decades by mainstream planning for parking and is still being reinforced in most cities. Most people never question it. Proposals that are not consistent with this mindset will seem shocking to such people.

The parking revolution we talk about at Reinventing Parking depends on very different mindsets on parking supply.

Three weeks ago, at the 6th Asia Pacific Urban Forum in Jakarta, I had eight minutes to try to change some parking mindsets. Here is a summary of what I showed and said.

Rethink Parking Planning!

Most cities plan parking  in the same way they plan toilets

In other words, planning for parking thinks of parking as an ancillary infrastructure service needed with every building, just like the plumbing and washrooms. 
Most local government planning or zoning codes have on-site toilet requirements for most land uses that look just like their minimum parking requirements, except the numbers are different. Parking standards look just like restroom standards.

But parking is NOT like toilets!

Toilet requirements actually do help people not to have to go outdoors. And we don't need much enforcement to make public urination or defecation a rare event. By contrast, most motorists prefer parking in the street when possible. So off-street parking minimums make little difference unless matched by strong on-street parking management that nudges motorist parking choices around.

We are confident we can predict toilet usage rates far into the future. Does anyone seriously think parking usage rates will remain as now in 2040? Or even in 2025?

The costs of providing more than enough restrooms are modest. Not so in the case of parking.

The impact on the built environment and on human behaviour of having more than enough toilets is negligible. Not so in places where plentiful parking is required on every development site.

Forcing every site to have plentiful on-site parking is harmful

In any case, the way to encourage developers to build about the right amount of parking is to make sure on-street parking is well managed.  

So how should we think about parking planning?

1. Think of on-street parking as a “commons”

On-street parking is not private property. No individual person or company owns it.

It is a commons. And, just like a river is prone to over-fishing unless fishing is regulated and managed, an on-street parking commons without good management is prone to over-use, which results in parking saturation in busy areas at busy times.

Believers in minimum parking standards tend not to have much faith in on-street parking management.  Or they are hostile to it. They don't believe that the parking commons can or should be intensively managed.

I say on-street parking can and should be well managed.

2.  Think of off-street parking as a real-estate service for each area (not each site)

Off-street parking is different. Unlike on-street parking, most of it is private property. The supply is not fixed. The real estate industry can provide more or less, depending on the returns on their investment and other incentives.

An important focus of good on-street parking management should be to make sure developers, building owners, purchasers and tenants all know that there will be no free-riding on on-street parking.

For example, residents of new buildings built after easing of parking minimums, can be made ineligible for on-street parking permits. This has actually already been done by Moreland Council in Melbourne, which was the focus of the news item mentioned at the top of this post.

Once we are more confident in on-street parking management, we can all relax and let the real estate industry worry about how much parking to provide with each development. Let developers take the risk and pay the price if they get it wrong and provide too much or too little parking.

Have you changed your parking mindset?

Proposals to deregulate parking supply will not make sense if you think of parking as essential ancillary infrastructure for each development (like toilets).

So think differently.

1.  Think of on-street parking as a commons that can and should be managed.

2.  Think of off-street parking as a real-estate based service for each area. Like hot food outlets or meeting rooms or hotel rooms, we can let the market-based real-estate industry handle its supply.

With this parking mindset, proposals for zero-parking buildings right next to urban rail stations make perfect sense.

[UPDATE January 2017:  The Walkable Parking mindset is another way to explain these ideas. 

If they resonate for you, then you might want to try the new Local Parking Assessment kit. It allows you to assess any small study area and its potential for embracing the Walkable Parking mindset. If you are keen on parking success without parking excess, then I think you will find it useful and thought-provoking.

The kit is a gift for new subscribers to Reinventing Parking. So to get access simply enter your email address in the box below or at the top of this page and click "subscribe".]