Tuesday, October 24, 2017

DAB and Transit Committee Should Together Talk Free Parking

2017 Parking audit from last month's agenda
Questions! The Downtown Advisory Board meets on Thursday the 26th, and they've prepared a very good list of questions for the consultant who conducts and reports on the annual downtown parking audit.

For those of us who think we have too much parking downtown and yet should shift to paid parking for on-street stalls, which are often full, one of the questions promises to drill into an important point:
Is there a relationship between overall downtown vacancy, rental rates, and a parking system? If so, how would you address the balance/relationship between the parking district achieving the 85% rule for demand, but having ground floor vacancy and lower rental rates?
This has been a sticking point: If demand and peak occupancy for parking on-street exceeds the industry standard of 85%, why do we have storefront vacancies? This disconnect is a central piece of evidence for disputing the need for paid parking and disputing that downtown is "healthy" enough for paid parking.

But the problem is on a more micro-scale: On-street parking is full, off-street garages are only half-full. Paid on-street parking would create a better balance, shifting more parking to the garages, which would remain free. This is a basic market principle: Raise the price of the in-demand good, and demand for the cheaper/free substitute will rise.

Then the fear is that the garages are not a perfect substitute and people simply won't come downtown if on-street stalls aren't free and if they have to walk two or three blocks from a garage to their destination.

This points to the real problem: Not enough residents downtown. Housing is the apex problem. We need more housing at all price points downtown. Luxury housing, middle housing, and affordable housing.

We have structured downtown as a drive-to destination, and that doesn't work. There has to be more people already there, residents who provide a baseline of economic activity. No amount of free parking will ever solve this problem.

A secondary problem is that because downtown is so deeply entrenched as a drive-to destination, we have starved other ways of getting there. Transit, biking, and walking are all neglected means of travel, and until we emphasize them more, and de-emphasize drive-alone trips, the balance will be all messed up, and there will be a ceiling on downtown visitors making drive-alone trips.

Anyway, the questions look pretty good and seem likely to prompt a substantial discussion about the way we handle parking downtown. Maybe a new approach will emerge from this round.

The Downtown Advisory Board meets Thursday the 26th, from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm in the Urban Development Conference Room, 350 Commercial St NE, underneath the Chemeketa Parkade.    

Meeting agenda
The City Transit Committee meets a day before, on Wednesday the 25th, and they'll get a presentation on "City Role in Transit Provision."

The Committee should pay close attention to the DAB discussion of parking. Subsidizing drive-alone trips by subsidizing "free" parking, including parking minima on new development, is an important way that the City of Salem hinders a robust transit system.

In fact, DAB and the Transit Committee might consider a joint session on parking so that the City might entertain coordinated action on these two problems of transit and downtown vitality. As long as the conversations are siloed, it is easier to maintain the status quo and to avoid facing the costs of our mania for "free" parking.

The Transit Committee meets Wednesday the 25th at 6pm, on the third floor of City Hall, in Public Works, Room 325.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

If handicapped parking were free, I could see the plan to have on-street parking metered would be ok. But if I as a handicapped person must pay to park in a close proximity to where I need/want to go, then I think it puts poor handicapped people at a disadvantage and might exclude them from some businesses.

Anonymous said...

Wheelchair users can park for free. Other disabled persons cannot. Free handicapped parking will not sway peoples' opinions about parking meters. Placard abuse has always been a huge problem with disabled parking permits. Just go to the Art Fair sometime and watch all the able bodied people with wheelchair placards parking in handicapped spots.