Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Really, We have Plenty of Parking Downtown

How can anyone look at this map and conclude there's not enough parking downtown?  In addition to on-street parking that is less than 75% full at peak hours, and public parking garages less than 50% at peak, downtown is like swiss cheese, full of parking lots!

Downtown Surface Parking Lots in Red
Parking Garages in Solid Brick Red
On-street parking stalls not included
click to enlarge (1 mb total, 1874 x 1114 px)
Over time as buildings have burned or been demolished, we've hollowed out the urban fabric of downtown and reduced the number and diversity of businesses downtown.  The more we cannibalize real estate or the public right-of-way for parking, the fewer destinations there will be for people to visit after they've parked!  That's less economic activity - less private wealth, fewer public tax dollars.  Less prosperity all around.

The ways we've gutted downtown for surface lots is related to our obsession with free on-street parking.

In the short-term, pricing on-street parking looks scary, like it might send people to the malls and big-box stores situated on gigantic parking lots.  In part that's an argument for economic gardening to develop goods and services for which there are not easy substitutes at the mall or big-box store.  And there is merit to the argument by opponents of priced parking that on-street parking is already only utilized at 75%, less than the 85% that is currently identified in best practices as optimal.  These defenders of free parking acknowledge we already have a surplus of parking.  (But if that's true practically rather than abstractly, why do people say parking downtown is difficult?  Maybe the surplus still isn't being used efficiently, in which case pricing will make a more efficient market.)  Making changes will not be easy and balancing policy goals with unintended consequences important.

But in the medium- and long-term, we have to refocus the debate to be people-centered - on a multi-part strategy for how we get people downtown, and not make the mistake of equating cars and people, focusing only on road capacity for autos and temporary, free auto storage.  Cars ≠ people!  And the nearly exclusive focus on accommodating cars for the last 75 years or so has been counterproductive, eroding and harming, not helping, our efforts to make downtown more vital and prosperous.  The more we dig in on cars today, the harder it will be to reverse the negative feedback loop of that three-quarter century.  Just look at Detroit.

(The idea for the map is hardly new.  Here's a large collection of them for other cities.  If you know of a better one for Salem, please drop a link in a comment.  Maybe someone has done this before and done it better?  Parking usage rates from 2010 study.  There's a lively debate on free parking here.)


Cory P said...

I don't think Detroit ever had free downtown parking...

Curt said...

These fine young people know that parking is the answer to all Detroit's problems: https://www.facebook.com/MichiganNeedsMoreParking?fref=ts