Saturday, July 20, 2013

City Council, July 22nd - Parking, Parking, Parking

Geez.  One of the craziest arguments sometimes proffered towards those of us who think on-street metered parking might be appropriate is that we want a dead downtown.

Liberty Parkade (on the weekend)

Back in September 
things kicked-off
Nobody wants an empty downtown!  Nobody.  We all want a downtown crazy full of commerce and culture and people.  We are united in that desire.

Metering is the big item on Council for Monday.  Who knows how that'll go.

But since arguments for metered parking don't seem to have made much headway, let's switch courses.

What a Persuasive Anti-Meter Argument Would Look Like

Here are arguments that could change my mind, what it would take for proponents of free parking to persuade me that I should support continuing free parking.  I think the case against a giant bridge and highway is overwhelming, and I'm confident.  I don't see how the City or pro-bridge forces can be persuasive.

I'm considerably less confident that meters right now are a great idea, so here's an outline of what could persuade me:
    Meeting last October
  • It seems to me there's a clear pattern of infusions of Urban Renewal dollars into the parking district. Council's agenda for Monday has a three-quarter million infusion!  Claims that there is funny bookkeeping or a conspiracy to milk the district for general fund monies to be directed elsewhere do not ring true to my eye.  Proponents of free parking should drill into the yearly parking district budgets over the last decade and show in detail why they believe the City's claims are false.  It doesn't have to be forensic-level accounting.  But so far I have only seen a discussion of some summary spreadsheet:
    The City Manager decided to round up the $425,000 number to $500,000 (an extra $75,000 every year), then added a fictional operational shortage of $160,000 a year, and rounded that up to $200,000 (another extra $40,000 a year). Then deducted the $383,000 from eliminating the Parking Tax (rounded up to $400,000) and landed on a shortfall of $1.1 million a year.
    This is more confusing than clarifying and lacks specific year-over-year detail to support a strong claim about slack city budgeting or misleading city claims about the budget.
  • Discuss in more detail the subset of block faces that do meet the 85% threshold at peak occupancy and why exactly they should not be metered.  There is merit to the argument that overall downtown does not meet the 85% threshold, as a figure of 75% overall seems to describe more accurately the overall picture.  However there is a smaller subset of block faces that do seem to meet the 85% threshold - the latest number is 92% - and opponents of metering should say in detail why these blocks are not good candidates for meters and why the elimination then of the parking tax would not meet with rejoicing.  
  • Talk more about the idea that free parking has been a great success.  We've had 40 years of free parking, and from this vantage point it hasn't yielded a healthy downtown now - and it seems likely, ever. So why such strong insistence that more of a failed policy is going to yield different results?  The empty storefronts seem to go with free parking.  If free parking was so powerful and so necessary, wouldn't we have a healthier downtown already?  When exactly was there a "golden age" of free parking in Salem that yielded a terrific downtown?
  • Since the examples of successful metering in Pasadena, Tacoma, PDX/Lloyd District, and Oregon City as well as Ashland, downtown PDX, Hood River, and Corvallis haven't been persuasive, how about free parking advocates cite case studies where metering garages and keeping on-street parking free has been successful.  This is counter-intuitive, free-parking advocates must understand: By putting a cost on the plentiful and underused resource (garage stalls) and keeping the scarcer in-demand resource free (on-street stalls), metering only the garages flies in the face of normal economic/market theory, and should be backed with more than mere speculation.  Let's see some data about how this actually works.
I think all of us who think meters might be helpful also desperately want a vibrant downtown.  We aren't dogmatic.  An evidence-based argument could totally be persuasive, and I think a good one would address at least the first three points in detail.

(Other agenda items after the jump)

Other Considerations

Here are more general points that could be addressed:
  • Hopefully we agree that people are the key to a vibrant downtown, so let's count people instead of cars, and realize that there are many ways to make sure people get downtown - that in fact, there might be ways to have more people and fewer cars.  At least this is a possibility, since many cities and towns in the world in fact have more people and fewer cars than in downtown Salem.
  • And we agree that car travel dominates downtown, right?  In this free parking has been a central ingredient in creating the transportation monoculture downtown.  Most people feel like they have no rational choice but to drive to go downtown. Transitioning away from free parking will help nudge things towards a better and more fair balance in a diverse transportation ecosystem.  I think most people will agree that more choices and more freedom to choose are better.
From here, the Parking Task Force looked like an unusually open and thorough process by the city, and I read the Parking Task Force recommendations as a good faith proposal.  Maybe the proposal needs some adjusting. Sure.  But I'm not seeing evidence that it was not a thoughtful process and that the proposal should be rejected top-to-bottom.  It's not like the Salem River Crossing Task Force that was deeply divided; the Parking Task Force was united as far as I can tell.  On on the Task Force was a variety of merchants and officials, most of whom rely on cars and are not significant proponents of reducing car traffic or road capacity.  Some of them, in fact, would like much more dramatic increases in road capacity.  The Task Force was far from anti-car.

So here's the Staff Report with recommendations and a "parking management vision."  It also contains some comments in opposition to meters - though it seems the main energy in opposition has gone to the petition campaign rather than to engage the City on the merits and details of this particular proposal and vision.

Other Stuff  

Some of these are worth more attention, and maybe I'll add them in some comments over the weekend.

A report on the Sunday Streets project for September 8th.  This is an information report only, and I had thought from the paper's article that Council action had become necessary.  But Council would not appear to be deciding anything, and the project seems on!

There's a Skateboarding Ordinance for first reading.   Council can refer it for more review, hold a hearing, or advance it to second reading without a hearing.  It'll be interesting to see how this goes.  It seems to expand the downtown exclusion zone for skateboards from the sidewalk to the street, and this may not be popular.  It is humorous - not in a good way - that this would eliminate the possibility of skating to the Marion Square skatepark.  Perhaps others have read it more closely or been more involved in the process?

A curious note about "high-rise" development looks interesting, but the report is not complete yet, so this is just a placeholder in the agenda.

The $712,000 infusion of funds into the downtown parking district.

Staff continues to recommend no housing tax incentives for the Marquis nursing home and clinic facility on the Boise property. This is clearly the right stance, as the incentives were designed to support residential, not clinical, facilities - so hopefully Council will not get side-tracked over silly claims about not being "pro-business" or "pro-jobs."  (Previous Council action here.  Main notes on the Boise project here.)

Unimproved path connection has been magnet for litter and graffiti
Staff also recommends not closing the path on the easement between Munkers-Rickey Street.  Some neighbors find too much graffiti, petty crime, littering, and vandalism in and near there.  Interestingly, the County supports keeping the connection open.  (The mall is on City land, the residences on unincorporated County land; the fence on the back of the lot is also the city boundary.)  This is good.  On long block faces where there are not street connections, walkway connections should be kept open.  But it is in a part of town that does not get as much investment as it should, and the connection should probably be paved and upgraded from the current "goat path" standard.

Bark landscaping and doorless faces make this a Potemkin Village!
This development is also interesting because it is an example of a strip mall that has been moved to front the sidewalk, with a much smaller setback, and whose parking lot has been moved to the back.  Except the there is nothing along the sidewalk but back doors and bark mulch!  Is this what our zoning and development standards currently mandate???


Brian Hines said...

A few thoughts on downtown parking meters:

(1) If you watch the entire 50 minute or so interview between the Statesman Journal editorial board and the anti-parking meter folks, you'll see some nuanced, well-argued points made by the owner of Cascade Baking (have forgotten his name).

Basically, that efforts to energize and vitalize downtown have to precede parking meters. Otherwise the anticipated 20% drop in downtown visitors if parking meters are installed will pull the economic rug out from under struggling small businesses.

Places like Pasadena where installing parking meters has worked already had vital downtowns. Here in Salem, few people are heard saying "downtown is so filled with people, it's tough to find a place to park on the street."

Yes, at times it is difficult to find a spot. I have to drive around a block or two, which takes some time. Likewise, at times the current bridges across the Willamette are crowded with cars. Yet we don't need a Third Bridge, just as we don't need downtown parking meters.

(2) The "free parking hasn't made downtown a vital place, so let's do away with free parking" argument is logically vacuous. I keep hearing this from parking meter proponents.

Well, let's use that same logic and say...

Bike lane markers on downtown streets and bike racks haven't made downtown vital, so let's do away with them. Or, large beautiful trees haven't made downtown vital, so let's cut them down. Or, historic brick buildings haven't made downtown vital, so let's replace them with modern structures.

Parking meter planning has to be done with a lot more sophistication than "we've tried free on-street parking, so now let's try something different and see what happens."

A related argument can be made about past use of urban renewal funds. The city claims that more urban renewal money will be available for downtown if that money no longer has to be used to plug a supposed deficit hole in parking garage funding.

Well, it is doubtful whether that deficit hole is anywhere near as large as claimed, or that it can't be filled by means other than parking meter revenues. Also, whatever the City of Salem has been doing to vitalize downtown, through urban renewal or other ways, hasn't had much effect, using the logic of "free parking hasn't worked."

So why put faith in more urban renewal money in the future? Why not try a different approach, perhaps one where downtown businesses and residents take the lead in deciding how to vitalize downtown, and control downtown promotion and development efforts?

Curt said...

Brian says:

"Places like Pasadena where installing parking meters has worked already had vital downtowns."

This is total bullshit and proves once again that he HAS NOT read the substantive case studies posted on his blog. This was the state of Old Pasedena pre meters:

"The area sank into decline during the Depression. After the war the narrow store-
fronts and lack of parking led many merchants to seek larger retail spaces in more
modern surroundings. Old Pasadena became the city’s Skid Row, and by the 1970s much
of it was slated for redevelopment."

The other half of the story is how Westwood Village pursued the Brian Hines strategy of cutting parking prices to attract new visitors. Despite Westwood having all the advantages of higher incomes, higher property values, and proximity to UCLA, that strategy failed and now Old Pasadena is the preferred shopping destination for residents of Westwood Village.

Salem's on street parking problem is bigger now than Pasadena's was. Meters were the catalyst for change and played a critical role in creating what they have now.

Here is the full story:

Revitalization can't precede parking reform because the parking district as run now is a financial barrier that is impeding revitalization efforts.

Cynicism toward council and staff are justified. However, Chuck Bennett knows what a loser this is politically but took it on anyway because it has to be done to move downtown forward. That is why, on this one, I do trust council is doing the right thing. There is no other reason why they put themselves in front of this angry mob.

On the bridge congestion analogy:

Congestion pricing absolutely IS the best solution to peak hour congestion. Meters are every bit as essential to managing peak hour parking congestion. Otherwise you have what we have now--a parking supply that is only utilized for a few hours a day. For the rest of the time, especially on the weekends, the garages and all the other surface parking lots are lifeless border vacuums that suck the life out of the city.

The result is that most of these businesses can't keep their doors open on Sunday and many even close early on Saturday.

Brian admits that sometimes it is difficult to find a spot. Why not drive straight to the Chemeketa parkade where spots are always plentiful and it is no more than 3 blocks to almost any address within the core shopping area. Why is it acceptable to cruise for on street parking and walking to your final destination but it is unthinkable for people to drive straight to the garage and walk the same distance or less?

Carole (Cherry Pits) says "we wish downtown were so successful that we needed meters". Stephen Perkins also has said that "we will need meters someday". If someday we will need them and meters are a sign of success then why ban them now? Why are downtown businesses welcoming failure instead of planning for success.

That might be most aggravating to me of all. These business can't image Salem will ever be a place where visitors will be willing to pay to park or even use a structure for free! If we can't even convince downtown businesses that downtown can and will be a much more successful place than it is today--why should the rest of us believe that it can?

Brian Hines said...

Curt, as mentioned before I have indeed read the Pasadena study -- which supports what the parking meter opponents keep saying:

Revitalization is the goal of a wise parking downtown parking meter strategy, not revenue-raising. The City of Salem has it completely backward. All, ALL, the revenues from parking meters in Pasadena (other than fines) are controlled by a private group, not the City.

That money is used to improve Pasadena's Historic District. Which, contrary to what you said, already was well on the road to economic recovery in 1993, when area businesses agreed to have meters installed so long as they controlled how the revenue was used.

Check out this file:

See "The Numbers from 1993" page. When meters were installed, sales volumes had gone up 10 times in the previous decade. There had been over $200 million in private investment during that period. Rents on Colorado Blvd. had increased 12 to 16 times in that decade.

Pasadena already was on its way back, economically, when parking meters were installed. Yes, the meter revenue helped keep that revitalization going, because the money was used to improve downtown for visitors -- not to plug a hole in the City budget, as Salem unwisely wants to do.

The City of Salem needs to learn the lesson of Pasadena. Which, as I said in my previous comment, is exactly the lesson being preached by parking meter opponents (assume you have watched the SJ editorial board video).

Revitalization comes first, as it did in Pasadena. Parking meters can be considered later, so long as area businesses control the revenue and it doesn't go to the City.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

It's late and there are certainly more things to say, but on one point in particular...

Re: Revitalization must come first.

In the Downtown Mobility Study, downtown merchants and interests had a huge opportunity to reshape downtown circulation patterns.

Mostly, they refused it. Wth the Downtown Mobility Study they said, well, we really don't want very much change.

And in the meter debate they are saying, well, we really don't want very much change.

And with the Vision 2020 recommendations, they have mostly abandoned it and said, well, we really don't want very much change.

It really looks like no one is actually interested in serious change and revitalization, preferring instead to limp along in the familiar and the ineffective.

People talk "change," but when it comes to actually implementing it, nothing happens.

But let's assume for the moment we resolve that revitalization has to happen first. It's not going to happen through the Mobility Study, it's not going to happen through Vision where and how is it going to happen?

From here it looks like insisting on revitalization first is something of a dodge, a guarantee that nothing's actually going to change.

Curt said...

Brian: When the meters in Pasadena went in they had 690 over parked spaces. Salem has 798 over parked spaces now. Salem has a greater need for meters now than Pasadena had then. That is just by the book parking management. If you are not opposed to parking management then why do you want it banned?

You repeatedly claim, along with Carole, that meters are not for revenue, but Carole has recommended, in writing, to the task force, that the garages be metered for revenue. The petition was crafted so that metering the garages will be the only option for council.

You repeatedly dodge this issue too. The garages have more than 1187 (2735*.5) peak hour parkers. On street has around 870 (1161*.75) If metering causes 20% leakage from the garages onto the street, that will push 237 parkers into the street and bring utilization to 95% throughout downtown and make the street unparkable for new visitors.

Your petition prohibits best practices and mandates worst practices. It will disproportionately punish on street businesses by rendering the on street supply unusable for new customers. Time limits won't even be available to deal with the problem.

Curt said...

Brian's link is another great source of information and supports everything I've said. Reform starts right here:


Also worth noting:

City begins installing meters in 1991 WITH LITTLE PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT.

They may have had much urban development money to work with than Salem has now. Though a similar document for Salem would likely show a list of projects just as long, but not accurately reflect the mediocre results. Overall I see so many similarities between 1980's Pasadena and 2013 Salem. It is probably the most relevant case study of all.

But banning these kinds of reforms in downtown Salem pretty much ends the discussion now doesn't it? That is the real goal of the petition.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

A few notes on Council...

The Marquis tax incentive matter was pulled from the agenda.

The high-rise matter looked more like housekeeping than policy change. A fuller discussion possibly when it returns to council. Info here.

Parking hearing continued, record held open, and pushed out to August 26th for more comment and time to review the petition effort.