Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Parking Made Easy" Pamphlet May be Wishful Thinking

While Council seems ready to moot the Parking Task Force recommendations on Monday, a petition drive to ban meters downtown seems poised to thwart any Council action.

It's hard to know how useful this will be in our debate - but the State has just published a new pamphlet, Parking Made Easy:  A Guide to Managing Parking in Your Community.

Parking Made Easy
Ha, ha!  You say.  Parking Made Easy.  Sheesh, it's anything but.

Still, it's nice to see a short section on bike parking, treated not as a special-interest facility, but as an important piece of managing on-street parking - part of the total transportation package.

Quality Bike Parking as part of the solution

Excerpt on Salem
Of less certain value is some of the way it handles data, alas.  Here's a bit on Salem:
In 2006, Salem, Oregon had over 200 30-minute parking stalls within its 1,200 stall downtown onstreet parking inventory. The long-term parking quickly filled up each day, leaving only 30-minute stalls available. With few parking options in sight, customers used these spots and frequently returned to find parking tickets on their cars. People became frustrated with “heavy handed” enforcement and lack of options. Parking study surveys revealed that customer visits averaged 1.5 hours. Rather than continue to issue tickets, the city adjusted the time limits to two hours on the majority of 30-minute stalls to better correlate time stays to actual customer need. The number of 30-minute stalls was reduced from over 200 to 35, providing the right space and reducing tickets
Our current parking debate shows that the two-hour limit is not popular and that this change in 2006 was not as effective as the writers of the pamphlet might want us to believe.

It would be helpful to see data on actual business generated.  With the Great Recession and all, it's hard to control the data, but it seems like you ought to be able to tie parking data to receipts somehow.  If metered parking does in fact promote commercial activity, which is a significant part of the claim for doing it, we ought to be able to see evidence of that.

Something more like this, from New York City:

Parklet for Parking:  172% increase in retail sales!
Measuring the Street: New Metrics for 21st Century Streets
New York City Department of Transportation
As for our particular situation here, it feels like the positions on downtown parking in Salem have become too entrenched and hardened, and that there's not space right now for a data-driven approach to compromise and success. Mostly, it feels like an emotional appeal to the convenience of "no more parking tickets forever!"  Maybe the recent "open houses" by the city will have moderated feelings and brought more data into the wider conversation.

Over at LoveSalem in a comment Walker articulates a more nuanced approach:
It's quite possible that parking meters play a role in a thoughtful, holistic plan for revitalizing and improving downtown such that people want to be in and enjoy that place, and for accommodating them in all their variety. And when I see that plan, and where parking meters fit into it, it's possible that it will be worthy of support.
Unfortunately, that's not where the petition drive and opposition to the current plan is headed.  Instead, it's no more parking meters forever.  And even if you think meters are inappropriate right now, making a ban permanent is not good policy.

This pamphlet may come too late for Salem, and it may not be written to the right audience.  It seems more for policy-makers, but it seems that there's a need for a document written for business owners who think free parking is not only necessary but helpful.

If you check it out, what do you think of it?

(For all notes on downtown parking, including thoughts on why meters might be helpful, see here.)


Curt said...

Look at it this way. If the petitioners succeed and on street parking becomes nearly impossible... bikes and transit will become the only options.

Brian Hines said...

I sense some misguided "moral equivalence" here, akin to the misguided "both parties are responsible for Congressional gridlock."

The City of Salem is almost entirely to blame for missed opportunties to come up with a collaborative, consensual, fact-based downtown parking policy -- not the opponents of meters.

No one other than City staff and Task Force members were allowed to speak as the group came up with its proposal. Further, the City acknowledges that the sole goal is to raise revenue to maintain parking garages, not to manage traffic.

Downtown isn't overwhelmed with visitors. It is underwhelmed. Yet the City projects there will be a 20% drop in visitors after parking meters are installed. Not great news for already struggling small businesses.

I watched the entire 50 minute meeting between the SJ editorial board and parking meter opponents. I came away impressed with the willingness of Carole Smith and company to discuss the pros and cons of meters in a collaborative manner.

It is the dogmatic attitude of the City of Salem that is preventing this, a "my way or the highway" attitude. I also sense more than a little dogmatism among bicycle/mass transit advocates, who seem to have the attitude of: Cars are bad; parking meters discourage cars; so parking meters are good.

Very simplistic. Taken to the extreme, this viewpoint would leave us with a deserted downtown that would be very bikable, because there wouldn't be any cars or people downtown. Deserted streets with empty storefronts may be great for zipping around on a bike, but deadly for those who want to see a vital, energetic downtown.

I agree that more inquiry and fact-based research is needed. But the City of Salem is getting what it deserves: a petition campaign that came about because the City refused to talk with downtown small business owners or engage in an open collaborative parking meter planning process.

Curt said...

Brian: When you declare the "Salem sucks compared to Portland", almost all the places you list, parking reform played a major role in achieving the urban vibrancy that exists there. Now you want it banned from Salem. For someone who claims to be a land use activist, you have a huge blind spot when it comes to parking policy.

I have posted abundant literature to your blog and you openly admit to not reading it. You have completely insulated yourself from facts that do not support your pre-determined conclusion. You practice exactly the same brand of group think that you accuse the city of.

According to the SJ, the open houses on the recommendations were sparsely attended. You had the opportunity to participate in the process but you and the petitioners didn't bother. You just snipe from the sidelines and pretend to be a victim.

We have empty storefronts and deserted streets now. Many of the cars that are on the streets are cruising for underpriced parking. Meters increase turnover, opening up more parking for more visitors over the course of the day. More turnover = more visitors = more money spent downtown.

Carole made recommendations to the parking task force in writing. She would make 68% of the parking supply paid parking compared to 32% recommended by the task force. Apply your 20% leakage and the on street supply will be full parked and on street spaces will be unavailable for new customers-including yourself. You will have no choice but use the garages where you will need to pay.

Your attacks on "The City" are also show that you haven't been paying attention. "The City" has been perfectly content to pour money into downtown parking instead of implementing any of the plans that have been on the books for years to make downtown a more attractive destination. Preserving the stagnant status quo is by far the easiest thing for them to do.

Brian Hines said...

Curt, I've read the material you've linked to on my blog. Most of it undermines your arguments. Parking meters shouldn't be used as a money-generating tool for a city; they should be used to manage areas with too many cars competing for too few parking spaces, and as a way to vitalize an area.

The City doesn't have an interest in either, partly because downtown Salem doesn't have too many cars looking for too few spaces. They're doing just about everything wrong. Check out the state Parking Primer that is linked to in this post. The City of Salem needs to start over and do things right, both policy-wise, and process-wise.

Some of the places I love to visit have parking meters. Most don't. Bridgeport Village doesn't. NW 23rd Street in Portland doesn't, so far as I know (has been a while since I've been there). Sisters, Oregon doesn't.

Sisters, as an example, can be crowded with cars and people during busy summer weekends (or other times). But all parking is free. There are plenty of places to park; you just have to look around a bit. Same with downtown Salem.

The City hasn't presented a single good reason for why parking meters are needed, other than "we want more money for the parking garages." There are plenty of other ways to deal with any parking garage funding problem, assuming one even exists.

Do you really think that the 6,000 plus people who have, or will, sign the Ban Parking Meters petition are clueless about how meters would affect downtown? When so many people, and so many small businesses, are against the City's proposal, this should be a wake-up call to proponents of parking meters.

They're doing something wrong. Actually,a lot wrong.

Curt said...

Clearly you haven't.

Pasadena, Boulder, Austin and many other cities are using parking as a revenue tool with great success. Donald Shoup even has a chapter titled "The Ideal Source of Local Public Revenue".

Pasadena had 690 spaces over 90% occupied. Salem has 798 spaces over 90% occupied. The vacant storefronts speak for themselves. Making people hunt for parking is not working. 30 years of failure should be a wakeup call.

You don't know what reasons the city is giving because you didn't go to the task force meetings, you didn't go to the open houses, and you don't attend neighborhood association meetings (because you don't live in Salem).

You can't make a single post without impugning yourself. You say the city is doing something wrong while in the same breath you are fighting to preserve the disfunctional status quo forever.

Jim Scheppke said...

Love the spirited, intelligent debate guys! Thanks. You don't get this on

Walker said...

Not sure why anti-anti-meter folks keep saying "forever" as in your post above. There is nothing in the petition that cements itself into place and prevents subsequent changes like any ordinance. If no time limits and no meters works as badly as you suggest, then the downtown businesses and the council will have every incentive and the ability to make a change. Ordinances adopted by initiative are still just ordinances; they change all the time.

Contra, consider what happens if we commit to spending big dollars on meters. Unless we do it out of general fund (ha!), we won't be allowed to get rid of them, no matter whether they fail, because we'll have a debt obligation with meter revenue pledged to debt service.

Bottom line, given that all data are that we will never ever have cheap energy again, and the changing demographic that means we're finally free of the auto addiction, and the demonstrated drop in driving per capita, which will only accelerate as the recession induced by high energy prices grinds on and the economy contracts, meters may well have been the solution ... In 1983 or 1993. But they're themselves an expensive form of auto infrastructure, and all spending on auto infrastructure needs to be viewed quite skeptically and with full appreciation for what the future likely holds -- and that's not increased driving.

Meanwhile, Chuck Bennett's parade of horribles (hindreds and hundreds of state workers with motors idling, just waiting for the two-hour time limits to go away to rush in and fill downtown from 9-5 MF) just reveals again how little Salem has done to work with the state on the problems caused by our unique situation as the home of all that non-taxable land owned by the state, along with all the nonprofits who are here because of the state. If we enlarge the frame of the discussion off the micro focus on meters, we can see that the hordes of idling state workers are the same state workers who, in a rational world, would have good transit and flextime options so that they aren't a blight and we'd not have the drive to build them a Brdigasaurus. The state also crippled Cherriots at birth, making it unlawful for Salem to impose an employer tax; Portland and Eugene both have it, and they have functional transit systems, rather than an imploding red headed stepchild that is getting eaten alive by energy costs, healthcare and pension costs, and a crippled funding mechanism.

As someone whose mantra is all about making cars pay their own way, I find myself in a very odd position here, but my view is that the task force didn't define the problem widely enough, deliberate nearly long enough, or consider a broad enough range of approaches. As Brian said above, they defined the superficial problem, a deficit in one line item, as the whole thing, and came up with a quick solution, based on approaches that have worked well elsewhere (and flopped elsewhere too, though). What they absolutely didn't do was engage the key player, the state, so that the state would be something other than a problem.

Maybe if the city took the opportunity to back off and reopen and widen the process, the anti-meter folks could be given a seat at the table, along with DAS, so that we could come up with something that addresses the state workers and the dying transit system.

Gven the state of things today, Simply installing meters may only accelerate the negative loop we're in. True, it might not; but this is definitely a measure twice or three times before cutting problem.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Walker, nothing make sense here! It's still all topsy-turvy.

What you seem to hope for with the petition - a fine hope, btw, something many of us would like to see - doesn't square with the petition's likely outcome. From here the petition sure seems like a CAPS LOCK APPROACH to a complex problem.

The Petition isn't to urge the City and State to beef up transit, offer improved flextime, etc. The Petition is for MOAR FREE PARKING!!! And I'm having trouble seeing how the petition leads to a slower, more deliberate process aimed at a better, more whole solution. The petition, rather, is aimed at closing off one alternative. Period. The petition makes things more difficult, not more sophisticated.

I don't think meaningful numbers of petition signers or petition organizers are interested in a systems approach. I would love to be wrong on this, but come on. Look at the Downtown Mobility Study. There was lots of opportunity there for a forward-thinking plan. But what folks still wanted was MOAR CAR PARKING.

Now, it happens that DAS is going to be working on a Capitol Mall Transportation Management Plan, and there may well be the kind of opportunity you'd like to see in it. But will the forces behind the petition be able to pivot constructively to engage that process and to ensure that the City of Salem and the State is deeply committed to a more holistic solution? Or will they remain stuck on MOAR FREE PARKING?

You personally will be able to pivot this way, but will meaningful numbers of others do so? Is it in fact petitioners' plan to force this pivot?

I'm really doubtful.

It might seem like supporting the petition is a reasonable thing to do to advance your low-car goals, but it seems highly unlikely to work out the way you hope it will.

As for the techical point on "forever." The very first sentence on the stopparkingmeters blog? I quote (caps and all) "NEVER GET ANOTHER PARKING TICKET DOWNTOWN" The emphasis on "never" seems pretty clear.

Sure, strictly speaking the petition doesn't aim to ban meters "forever," but to me "never" is effectively "forever" and the petition does aim to make them as maximally difficult as possible to install, requiring much more than just Council action to overturn. So in a colloquial sense, I'm pretty confident that meets the definition of "forever" and isn't much of a misunderstanding or exaggeration if any at all.

The petition, for example, could have included a sunset, have been for a two or three-year moratorium on meters downtown and called for the development of the systems solution you advocate. That could have been a wonderful thing. But again, something this fine-grained isn't what people are signing; instead, it is a more crude and populist approach - "never get another parking ticket" - that doesn't seem likely to accomplish a systems goal.

Walker said...

The petitioners' blog and the sales material do not constrain a future council at all. The petitioners' ordinance revisions are just like any other ordinance, meaning that they can be changed as the facts on the ground change. What constrains a council is the sense that they'll get their heads handed to them if they undo a popular initiative without winning support for the change, that's all.

Obviously, a wise council would seek to reach out to meter opponents to say "Look, we'll keep the status quo in place and reopen the discussion and give a spot or two on an enlarged task force with an enlarged scope to downtown business folks from the anti-meters camp, if you guys will hold the petition in abeyance. And we will bring DAS in so that we don't impose blinders and look only at this area or that area, but we we will instead have people from DAS and the offices with DEQ and Energy responsible for the Gov's climate goals work with us, and we will bring in ODOT Region 2 because parking is inexorably connected to driving, so we get that we have to stop treating Salem as just little disconnected study areas."

Note that Cherriots has recently adopted a swipe card fare system; none of the meter folks seem to have beamed on to the idea of making sure that any paid parking scheme works on the same fare cards, so that people could have one card for both transit and parking, and that it could both add and subtract value (employers could add bus fare value to their employees cards for each shift, for example, and employee fare cards could be designed to work only in the ramps, and not on on-street parking, etc ... And this could include state workers. Merchants could validate parking readily without handing over cash with such a swipe card , etc.

Note that the city employees are among those who howl the loudest at meters; it's not just downtown businesses. I sit on the Library Advisory Board, and when I suggested that the meters in the lot nearest the library -- which is NOT the library lot, the library gets no revenue from it -- be set at the same rate as every other meter the city owns, the response was as if I suggested burning books for kindling to start bonfires made from piles of the hides of endangered species. So even library employees -- city employees -- who are seeing library hours cut because of the city's budget problems, opposed parking meters being priced at the going rate where we already have meters. So it's no surprise that precarious small businesses where there are no meters -- businesses run by people who have no assured paychecks or pension plans -- generate a lot of anxiety about meters. The library staff is adamant that fullprice meters would hurt their patronage numbers, and they're giving away their services; no surprise that the anti-meter folks downtown hold the same opinion about what meters will do to them.