Tag Archives: Parking

Supply and Demand in Downtown Residential Parking

Downtown Chicago Building Roundup: North

Downtown Chicago Building Roundup: North (Photo credit: Gravitywave)

I’d like to delve a little bit further into the pernicious effect of parking minimums, particularly as it distorts the market tenets of supply and demand. Seeing an article over the weekend in Crain’s Chicago Business about the decline in parking demand in downtown Chicago residential buildings, I could not avoid beating my favorite drum about the high cost of parking and its negative externalities. Here is the problem, according to Crain’s:

Demand for parking is dropping in downtown apartment buildings. At Lakeshore East, a development of mixed use high rise apartment and condo buildings just north of Millennium Park, south of the Chicago River and east of Michigan Ave., around 40% of renters lease a parking space, down from the developers projection of 55%. This would be fine in a true free market where the developer would assume the risk of overbuilding on parking. However, the City’s zoning code, in its infinite wisdom, requires parking in new residential developments at ratios of 0.55 to 1 space per unit. Thus, the developers initial projection for parking is at the lowest end of the parking ratio in the zoning code and is still over market demand.

Of course, I agree with Matt Yglesias in that the “problem with this regulatory minimum is that it makes it harder for existing buildings to recoup the losses previously incurred through overbuilding of parking.” Because the zoning code won’t allow for pooled or shared parking between buildings, each building must have its own allocated parking. The costs of this parking, of course, get passed onto the occupants of the building indirectly, regardless of whether the occupants have a need for a car.

Because of the over supply of residential parking downtown as mandated by zoning, parking is artificially cheaper than it should be. This, of course, encourages greater auto use in the densest part of the city, the part in which public transportation of various modes operate at a very high frequency practically around the clock. It also encourages the catering of urban design towards the car and away from alternate transportation modes, despite the fact that the alternate transportation modes may make up a larger share of trips in this area.

Ideally what I would like to see in this circumstance is free market pricing for residential parking, or if the zoning will continue to manipulate the market,  parking maximums (for all types of parking). This will allow for shared parking at closer to the true cost of providing that parking. It will also allow the free market to decide what the best use of property is under right and can reduce the cost of development and occupation of residential and other space. Most importantly, removing the parking minimums and over-supply of parking will be supportive of the existing public transportation infrastructure in place downtown, as it is the dominant mode of travel within the area and its externalities are significantly better than the car.

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Question Time

I’m interested in understanding how to forecast parking demand for a commuter rail station on an existing line. I would appreciate it if anyone can send me information or studies on how other transit agencies, municipalities or MPOs plan for this. If you know of anything, please send me an email at rjrich [at] hotmail [dot] com. Thanks.

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The High Costs of Parking…

I’m sorry that I have been bashing the parking issue to a bloody pulp and I will move on to other things, but if you want to know what is wrong with urban planning today, how unresponsive we’ve become to market conditions, and how poorly we treat our towns and cities, pedestrians and transit systems, please read this post.

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Parking Minimums: Promoting Driving Everywhere

Chalmette19FebOfficeDepotRedFord

Source: Wikipedia

I would like to add a bit of anecdotal experience of living in a large city and commuting and the insidious effect that parking minimums have on cities, generally, and transit, specifically.

I live in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Chicago. It is part of the city’s famed bungalow belt and is located in the extreme northwest side of the city. Though my part of neighborhood was plated in the 1920’s, most development occurred in the 1940’s and ’50s. As such, it was developed with the automobile in mind. Despite the fact that most homes are on postage size 25’x125′ lots (thank you 1920’s plats!), most of the commercial corridors filled in during the 1940’s-’50s and are auto-oriented.

Because my home has a back alley garage (guaranteed parking) and much of the neighborhood has easy free parking thanks to zoning that requires parking minimums, I actually drive a fair amount, much more than I’d like to. Accordingly,

“A guaranteed parking spot makes use of the automobile a more attractive option”

much to the detriment of transit and pedestrian space.

When the car takes precedence in transportation planning, other things get neglected. When retail is built into “centers” and “strip malls” and not corner stores, pedestrians and transit get neglected. And what are shopping centers and strip malls: just urban design that satisfies parking minimums.

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Planning Projections

Parking lot

Is this sustainable? (Photo credit: add1sun)

We use projections in transportation planning all the time. I am not convinced they are sound. Dealing with the provision of commuter parking for a commuter railroad, for example, we rely on population/household forecasts from the metropolitan planning organization along with some in-house variables that assume that most people will drive to access transit. But if we build the transit station so that the only way to access it is by driving, than we are fulfilling our own prophecy. With energy costs dramatically increasing,  is it rational to be planning for the continuing use of the car as the predominant mode of transportation in our community? This is not an example of Strong Towns planning.

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Access to Transit

Metra and TOD in Morton Grove. Source: katherine of chicago @Flickr

I would like to take the opportunity to give a little shout out to the RTA to promote a new document they put together called Access & Parking Strategies for Transit-Oriented Development.

This is a much-needed guide for municipalities in the Chicago area on the “how” of TOD. Sure, all urban planners are familiar with TOD but in practice, how many know how to really make it work? A big reason why TOD fails is parking. As in, too much parking. Many municipalities will build TOD but still keep parking minimums that are more appropriate for suburban style development patterns. The great thing about the RTA guide is that it rightly reminds people that one of the biggest ways to support TOD is to make it more difficult to use a car. Because, as any driver knows, people who are already in cars tend to stay in cars. Adding density and mixed land uses within close proximity and easy access to transit makes transit successful. It makes TOD successful. The RTA points out the need to reduce parking demand is the key to a successful TOD.

So, how do we reduce parking demand, particularly in suburban areas that are designed around the automobile? In creating a TOD area, we do the following:

  • Provide as much on-street parking as necessary at a variable market rate.
  • Unbundle parking from private development, particularly in TOD areas
  • Set parking maximums rather than minimums.
  • Implement shared parking
  • Create alternatives to access transit. This includes bike and pedestrian trails, shuttle buses, and remote parking facilities.

When we do these things, we create a way for transit to be successful. When transit is successful, frequency can rise, resulting in a positive feedback loop that generates more transit customers.

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Can Big Box Stores in Cities Work?

English: Exterior of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in...

Image via Wikipedia

This morning’s Atlantic Cities article on whether big box stores can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) because it “brings shopping closer to where people live” fundamentally misunderstands the problems that big box stores cause in urban communities and why many urbanites do not want them in their communities even though they may patronize these stores. Nothing about these stores’ design is urban. It is not walkable, there are no accommodations for transit or bike/pedestrians. The only way to access these stores comfortably is with a car. This development pattern drives up traffic locally on urban streets that may not have been designed for these traffic volumes. It impacts neigboring land uses through light pollution from its vast parking lots, through water runoff,  and through large deliveries at night in the back of the store (sometimes facing residential neighbors).

Whole Foods in Chicago Source: Beer Advocate

That’s not to say that big box stores can’t work in urban areas. They can and do. When you reorient them to face the street, making it easier to access via transit, bicycle and pedestrian modes, reduce parking ratios (per square foot) and build big box stores in a more mixed use environment, they can work in a much more urban-friendly way.


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Filed under Transit-Oriented Development, Urban Design