Seattle Parking originally uploaded by jaycoxfilm
Today is the final day to provide feedback to the Seattle Department of Transportation’s proposals to overhaul parking rules around Capitol Hill’s historical commercial center — Broadway. From the addition of nighttime paid parking to increased parking available on sidestreets, SDOT is considering some big changes in the way Capitol Hill’s environment includes automobiles. But those changes — as radical as some might find paying to park after 6 PM — only go so far. News that parking fines and the number of parking enforcement officers are about to increase also won’t be enough. With the incoming mayoral administration out collecting ideas for what comes next in Seattle, there are lots of Capitol Hill issues that need to be talked about — parking is clearly on the list. Josh has written about parking on Capitol Hill in bits and pieces through his articles on CHS. Here, he takes one big swing at it all to give us his $0.02 on an important Capitol Hill issue.
Over the last few decades, as Capitol Hill has grown and reshaped itself into a truly urban neighborhood, the problems related to parking have become increasingly pronounced. We, or our friends and family, are all too familiar with the 20 minute putt, up and down hills, to the far reaches of the neighborhood, in an effort to find just a single place to park for a few hours. Many people applaud developers for adding abundant parking to their buildings, seeing it as a much needed resource in our densifying neighborhood. But the truth is that off-street parking simply isn’t serving the function it is suppose to and worse, it’s bringing serious detrimental effects to our community. If we really want to solve our parking problems we need to implement a market rate parking system throughout our neighborhood streets, which, through correct pricing, can balance supply and demand and greatly enhance the public setting.
The most important thing to understand about off-street parking is that it simply is not satisfying a market demand. While trying to find a spot curbside can be a nightmare to say the least, most parking garages in the neighborhood sit empty. In its most recent Comprehensive Parking Study SDOT found that in the residential area surrounding Broadway, off-street parking utilization rates peaked at 50%, with an average at just 40% (along Broadway itself it was 65% and 51% respectively). Even validated retail parking, such as the Broadway Market, was noted by SDOT as being “underused”. This means that even though many neighbors push for more parking garages in order to minimize the parking pressure from new residents, curbside parking is consistently utilized at capacity, regardless of how many more garages, or people, are added to the neighborhood.
Not only are massive parking garages not solving the fundamental problem they are designed to solve, but they are actually significantly contributing to other neighborhood problems. The least debatable is that they necessarily undermine affordability. A study by Seattle’s own DOT found that a 250-space, underground parking garage cost up to $13.5 million, or $54,000 per space; others have put the cost even higher , at between $60,000 and $100,000 per space. Overall, parking can be up to 20% of total construction costs. Inevitably these costs are passed on through the price of commercial and residential space, exacerbating the issues of gentrification. In San Francisco one study found that parking requirements were effectively pricing out tens of thousands of moderate income households by increasing home prices by 12% or more. Here in our own neighborhood we are all too familiar with high commercial rents, which bring large national chains and their mighty corporate backing. The choice by almost all developers to include substantial parking is effectively limiting the diversity of our neighborhood creating the generic monotony so detested in new development.
Another problem with increased off-street parking is that it encourages people to drive, increasing health and safety risks and adding stress to our public infrastructure. Many people like to argue that residents on Capitol Hill walk and take public transit for almost everything, but they need a place to keep a car for “occasional trips to the mountains” or “picking up a new piece of furniture”, etc. But let’s be honest, if you make driving easy, people are going to drive. A 2008 study compared New York City’s Jackson Heights and Park Slope neighborhoods , which have nearly equivalent car ownership rates and very similar access to public transit. The study found that Jackson Heights, with six times as much off-street parking, generated 45% more vehicle trips to the Central Business District than Park Slope. Additional drivers bring increased pollution and a heightened risk of accident. It also means more public dollars spent on repairing and maintaining our roadway infrastructure, which takes funds away from other neighborhood improvement projects.
The Stroget in Copenhagen originally uploaded by blafond
But perhaps the most serious problem with increased parking is its correlation with economic vitality. Contrary to popular belief, examples from around the world illustrate that healthy, vibrant communities are where parking is kept to a minimum, not a maximum. Places like New Orleans’s French Quarter, Venice, or Paris’s city center consistently attract huge amounts of visitors, and subsequently their dollars, while keeping parking extraordinarily low (or non-existent). In contrast, places like downtown Los Angeles and Reno are infamously horrible places to be, even though, or perhaps because, they have some of the highest amounts of parking per square foot of commercial space. Implicitly this makes sense because the less space we give to automobiles, the more space there is for people, and as any business owner knows, more people means more sales.
Copenhagen is a shining example of how parking is linked to neighborhood vitality. In the 1960’s Copenhagen’s city center was just as full of cars as any other major European city. But since the 1970’s Copenhagen has systematically reduced parking in its city center by 2-3% per year and converted much of this space to public plazas and pedestrian streets. Over the same time period the number of people who spend time in the city center has increased by 350%. This huge increase in pedestrian activity has allowed shops and restaurants to thrive; outdoor cafes alone have multiplied from only a handful to nearly 150 in a few short decades. In fact, Copenhagen’s economic success has been so pronounced that Forbes magazine rated Copenhagen’s Town Center as the #1 shopping area in the world in 2007 . *
What we should really consider in an effort to solve our parking woes is ending subsidized public parking and letting the basic laws of supply and demand work their magic. Widely regarded as the world’s foremost parking guru, Professor Donald Shoup in his book The High Cost of Free Parking illustrates how “ getting the price of parking right will do a world of good ” . Shoup explains that by setting street parking rates at the right level, cities can not only end the frustration of looking for a spot, but reduce traffic congestion, enhance the pedestrian experience, and generate funds for neighborhood projects. For example, the Old Pasadena neighborhood has buried electrical wires, enhanced the sidewalks, and cleaned the alleys with the funds generated from high parking fees that are effective until midnight, seven days a week. In the process the neighborhood has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Southern California. Think what Capitol Hill could do if we priced the 3,000 parking spaces around Broadway at just $40 a month (about half the price of a monthly transit pass and less than $2 a day). We could generate around $1.5 million in annual revenue and make it hassle-free for residents and visitors to find parking.**
There is a fundamental parking problem here on Capitol Hill that undoubtedly needs to be addressed. Unfortunately the out-dated impression that more off-street parking will solve our predicament is simply uninformed and proven untrue. Worse yet, the creation of abundant off-street parking is actually bringing negative effects to our neighborhood by exacerbating affordability issues, adding more congestion to our roads and more pollution to our air, and endangering the economic vitality and vibrancy of our communities. The best way to confront our parking troubles is to do away with free on-street parking and start setting prices at market rates. This will not only eliminate the overutilization of street parking and underutilization of off-street parking, but will immensely improve the public environment for residents, workers, and visitors alike.
*For more on Copenhagen’s transformation see Public Spaces, Public Life by Jan Gehl
Also, special thanks to Rev. Smith, who prompted me to write this with his comment on my last post:
I guess you implied there’s an understood truism about parking = bad. Could you please elaborate on the science, not opinion, of this position? Perhaps cite a study or two?
Being as not all cars are gasoline powered, & not all vehicles are cars, I don’t always equate cars, or their storage, with bad planning.
As a city and region, many dollars/hours/resources/years have gone into lobbying developers to not neglect proper levels of parking, right? This was because studies showed irresponsible developments put burdens on city transportation depts when they skimped on parking.
Where’s the precedence for building 200+ marketrate units (and a block of retail) in one building and not including a parking plan? In what city has this occurred and traffic/street parking/commerce did not suffer as a result? I don’t get your tone in your article, so help, please.