10.12.18

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FREE PARKING.

Everything has an opportunity cost.
For years, urbanists have argued that parking minimums create more problems than they solve. The promotion of parking, they argue, encourages unnecessary vehicle ownership and makes infill development more expensive and sometimes impractical. Land that could be put to productive use often sits idle as parking lots, with many of the spaces empty except for a few seasonal periods of peak use, such as the Christmas shopping season. These parking requirements raise costs for developers, who pass them on to occupants. One University of California, Los Angeles study found that, around the country, 700,000 renters who don’t have cars are nevertheless paying for parking to the tune of $440 million a year.
Not only that, constraining land use to provide for parking leads to higher prices for the property available for other uses.
In Over-the-Rhine, parking mandates had caused perverse development decisions, with usable buildings sitting vacant because of the cost of adding parking -- or being torn down for lots to satisfy parking requirements for projects located blocks away. Developers of dozens of projects had requested waivers, suggesting the system wasn’t working. “[The new rules] make development, especially small business development, a little bit easier,” says Philip Denning, a Cincinnati development official. “There’s one less box you have to check.”

The changes were approved by the city council only in September, but already neighborhood associations in other parts of Cincinnati are asking whether parking minimums can be abolished or reduced in their sections of town. Knowing that commercial developments would benefit the most -- and that residents would be mad if they were forever having to circle around to find a space -- the city implemented a residential permit parking system for Over-the-Rhine. “I always encourage cities to think about both the off-street and on-street parking requirements,” Gabbe says. “If you’re reducing the off-street parking requirements, you have to actively manage street parking.”
Actively managing street parking can mean prices, or it can mean enforcing resident-only-by-permit street parking in thickly settled neighborhoods (which includes a few areas of DeKalb, believe it or not) and it can mean informal enforcement such as the Chicago custom of "dibs."

It's not going to be easy weaning residents off of their free parking, though.
It could soon become impossible to find free parking for a night out in Downtown Indianapolis.

The City-County Council's Democratic leadership on Monday introduced a proposal that would standardize parking meter hours across the city and extend the enforcement hours on nights and weekends. The proposal would effectively eliminate free parking during popular event times in areas including Downtown and Broad Ripple.
Prices function to allocate scarce resources. The article also notes that Indianapolis lawmakers would like to reduce speed limits on downtown streets, and eliminate right turns on red lights in the central business district.  All this despite there being no streetcars to compel residents to use.

Dear reader, do you remember this?  "Perhaps the location rents are a consequence of political decisions, such as devoting space to expressways and to parking, these have the effect of taking land out of use for locational-rent-generating activities at the same time that they make working together possible.  Yes, even San Francisco, according to Devon Zuegel."

Truly, truly, I say unto you, even San Francisco.
San Francisco has become the first major US city to propose stripping out minimum parking requirements for new housing, according to city supervisor Jane Kim who introduced (pdf) the legislation on Nov. 16. San Francisco’s 1950s parking rules had remained virtually unchallenged until the 1970s oil crisis prompted it to rethink its strategy. Today, the city is already restricting parking under its “transit-first” policy. This week’s proposed change, which will be voted on by the city’s board next week, will effectively formalize that policy city-wide.
Yes, unlike Indianapolis, the government would like to force as many people onto transit as they are able, but eliminating parking minimums might release land for housing and restaurants, thus helping flatten the bid-rent curves.
All of this parking is the result of a slight misunderstanding. For more than half a century, the Institute of Transportation Engineers has had parking standards for buildings so developers can predict traffic needs. There are exact parking recommendations for everything from apartment buildings (1.6 spaces for every unit) to convents (0.1 spaces per residing nun) to fast-food restaurants (9.95 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet). These suggestions not only rested on statistically dubious data (pdf), they were never intended to guide parking policy in cities. Their availability, and deceptive precision (pdf), meant they were often taken out of context from development plans meant for new, greenfield sites.

That’s been disastrous. Developers have been directed to spend billions of dollars on asphalt lots and garages that have deadened the life of downtowns, and wildly overestimated actual parking needs.
The error probably generalizes to those greenfield sites as well.

Bet on emergence, and, wherever possible, be guided by trade-tested betterments.

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