Saturday, August 23, 2014

City Council, August 25th - Parking Report

After Councilor Clem requested it, on Monday at Council staff will present a report and update on free parking.

Here's another way of looking at things. Which is more pro-business?

A)  A regulatory scheme with large subsidies combined with cumbersome reporting requirements and significant fines for non-compliance?

- or -

B)  Market-pricing applied across the board with little or no reporting requirements and simple enforcement?

Perhaps the same basic schema applies to downtown parking?

Unfortunately, rather than using the increasing body of evidence that free parking is a flawed policy, some folks seem to want the City to add epicycles of enforcement and layers of bureaucracy to a flawed paradigm of free parking.

The simplest explanation is that free parking is a bad idea.

Maybe it's time to shift the paradigm to paid parking?

The report is here. It's scanned in black-and-white and some of the maps that use color don't show up very well. But one thing it might do is give more visibility to the core area downtown where parking does exceed the 85% occupancy rate at peak hours. Unsurprisingly, the parking garages all are being used less.

One of the ideas that has been floated is to charge for the garages but keep the on-street stalls free.

So here's another question: In what economic model of effective markets does it make sense to charge for a low-demand, plentiful resource, but give away for free the higher-demand, scarcer resource? On the surface this approach doesn't make much sense.

In any case, focusing on the delivery of people by car to downtown caters not to people and merchants, but to the demands of the car itself. It's a red herring. From here it looks like the single most important factor in downtown health is increasing the supply of housing downtown. We need people living downtown, walking downtown, shopping downtown. They will provide the critical mass to attract other things, and then downtown services, goods, and activities will be more in demand and variety and and it will seem more worthwhile to pay for parking.

(All notes on downtown parking here.)

Update Tuesday: Council is ending unlimited, free parking.

32 businesses asked for three-hour limits
Other Stuff

A Few History Notes

Chamberlain Hall is likely to be demolished
As a preliminary to a request to demolish four buildings at Fairview, the Fairview Master Plan had to be amended. It was considered a "minor amendment" and so only had to go before City Staff in an administrative approvals process. It was approved, and now Sustainable Fairview can get the approval, likely also administrative, from City Historic Preservation Staff. (See here for full discussion.) While I don't contest the outcome and basically find it reasonable, I wonder if this change is more major than minor and deserved a more public process.

Remember the pump house on Market Street at about 21st?

Oregon-Washington Water Service Company
Pump Station at 21st and Market
The pump house was demolished last year, and Council will approve the sale of the lot for $13,000. (Just dumb nostalgia for an old bit of infrastructure!)

There's an agreement with ODOT for "mitigation" on a new Winter Street bridge across Shelton Ditch at the Hospital. Because it was an historic bridge designed by R.A. Furrow, and in the "school of Conde McCullough," its demolition called for mitigation. The activities include
  • Research and write a chapter on Salem's historic bridges to be utilized in the Oregon Department of Transportation-produced "Oregon's Historic Bridges Field Guide."
  • Install an interpretive sign in an area adjacent to the new Winter Street Bridge.
  • Restore the historic northwest overlook at the new Winter Street Bridge.
  • Install bridge rail on the new bridge that resembles the rail in place on the existing bridge.
The grander stairs on the Church St Bridge
In the set of Salem's late 1920s - early 1930s bridges, the Winter Street example is a minor one. I wish instead that the mitigation activities had been able to shift over to the more lovely Church Street bridge and really focused on preserving and maintaining it. We should focus resources on it, and just let the others expire and be replaced in the normal cycle of infrastructure. The current approach may mean that not a single one of the bridges is preserved, and rather than a rich set of photographs and text, it would be nice to have an example of the thing itself.

The Rest

There's an interesting report on the City's engagement with social media. In one crucial way, however, it misses badly the "social" aspect of social media. This is a non-trivial legal question of process, so I'm not sure there's an immediately obvious solution, but if social media is a way to organize, to discuss and analyze, and a way for citizens to try to work around the absurdies of "Public Participation Theatre," then this is an opportunity denied.
Members of quasi-judicial land use decision making bodies, which include the City Council, Planning Commission, and the Historic Landmarks Commission, should not comment on the City's social media platforms regarding pending quasi-judicial land use applications. Such comments may be evidence of bias or prejudgment, or constitute ex parte contacts. Expectations concerning social media use may be incorporated into Council Rules at a future date.
I think that we should be moving in the other direction, with Councilors and Commissioners encouraged to seek out information and engage debate on the kinds of contested matters that are likely to end in quasi-judicial hearings. Maybe readers with legal backgrounds will have more sophisticated thoughts.

Savings! I don't really know what this means, but in the required report on the Railroad Quiet Zone projects, which was a "public improvement contract exempted from competitive bid," the City finds that "the original cost estimate for UPRR work was $799,705. The final actual cost was $539,897.32, which is 32 percent below the original estimate." The Urban Renewal Agency also has one for a project with PGE. It finished 18% below estimate. Looks good, right? Since all or nearly all of the "Keep Salem Moving" road bond projects have come in under budget, this is not a surprising outcome, and maybe just still says more about the crappy economy than shrewd project management.

The City and Mountain West are finding the environmental assessment of the park parcel at Boise is taking longer, and so the purchase agreement is being amended again, pushing the end date out to the end of this year. This isn't surprising really, so I don't know if there is reason to ascribe too much importance to it. (If you know otherwise, that would be interesting!)

Finally, coming up next month will be a Public Hearing on the proposed "Vacation of Public Rights-of-Way Encompassed by Mission Street SE, Church Street SE, Winter Street SE, and Pringle Parkway SE ~ Monday, September 22." That's at the Blind School.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

In all the discussion about downtown parking the City doesn't seem interested in asking the public that uses the area for their thoughts in a meaningful way. I am suggesting a survey of some kind, not a public hearing. Ask the users what they would think of paying to park in the parkades and not on the street; ask the users what they think of letting employees park for free while their customers are driving around and around looking for a place to park so they can come inside and support the business that they work for....

Thought your comments on the use of social media was interesting, but I see where it could be a legal issue. Recently some people have become upset about what a Councilor has said at a neighborhood association. Seems there is no winning on this issue....if they say something people get upset, and if they don't say anything, people get upset.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Interesting! News tonight is that a group of downtown businesses asked for 3-hour limits, and so Councilor Clem is leading the charge to get them on a trial basis from October to February, mostly for the holiday season. Interesting also that Councilor Bennett isn't leading this, since it is in his ward, but perhaps his involvement in the Parking Task Force has made things tricky for him personally on the issue.

More to come obviously.

Carole Smith said...

The City of Salem's consult has reaffirmed year after year there is no parking problem in the Downtown Parking District.

What we do have is a revenue problem for the City.

To say we need time limited parking or meters downtown makes as much sense as having you hand operated on because your foot hurts.

Anonymous said...

Of course there is a revenue problem.

Here's the bit from the article:

"Revenue sources for parking district, fiscal year 2013-14
• Downtown parking tax paid by businesses in district: $475,387
• Parking Permits: $578,993
• Interest and other: $ 33,384
Total operating revenue: $1,087,764

Urban Renewal Funds for capital expenses: $ 599,396

Total Resources: $1,687,160

Expenditures, fiscal year 2013-14
Operating expenditures: $1,037,862
Capital improvements: $ 607,475
Total expenditures: $1,645,337

Deficit, without subsidy from urban renewal funds ($557,573)"

The Parking Task Force estimated an on-going deficit of about $700,000 each year.

It is appropriate for the City to want to close this deficit gap. Existing user fees are not sufficient.

Curt said...

Rick Willaims (the City's consultant and the one that Carole hired to clinic downtown businesses) has confirmed that there is a parking problem, that meters are neccessary, and they are inevitable in the future. He has confirmed that removing time limits has negatively impacted turnover. At least two businesses have directly attributed their failure to the parking initiative and many more have reported declining revenue since it was adopted.

Carole's experiment has failed. Its time to move forward.

If you don't value Rick Willaims' analysis, then why did you hire him Carole?

Anonymous said...

Re: "The City of Salem's consult has reaffirmed year after year there is no parking problem in the Downtown Parking District."

The latest consultant's report says: "the combined on-street system operates at approximately 81.5% peak occupancy and the core
retail node at 92%" and notes that turnover is down 18% since 2012.

On p.4 of the city's report, "core retail node parking utilization" (the nearly 500 stalls in the center of downtown) is graphed and has been above 85% at peak since 2006.

Doesn't that sound like "a problem"?

It sure looks like there's a subset of downtown stalls, that "oore" area, that clearly merit meters on usage grounds alone.

Curt's right on this.

Curt said...

Money spent on enforcement is also up to $835K. The city is obviously not cutting back on enforcement as parking petitioners would have us believe.