Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Trees at Risk along New Police Station: Old Parking vs New Parking

You might remember that an older word for the curb strip was "the parking," a tiny strip of park or the action of making the strip into a park, and it is funny to see the modern sense of parking threaten to engulf the older.

Beautify the Parkings: September 19, 1910
Over on Division Street by the new Police Station, tree advocates are upset that the city proposes to remove several mature trees in order to make room for angled car storage.

from The City, via FB
The Director of the Urban Renewal Agency says
Construction of the Police Station will reconfigure traffic and add bike lanes, which will eliminate 20 on-street parking spaces on Liberty Street. The current plan will replace the parking spaces that will be lost on Liberty Street with spaces on Division Street, and also add about ten new spaces to meet increased parking demand in the area.

Adding these spaces to replace lost parking and meet new demand requires a choice between maintaining existing tree canopy, or meeting parking needs. Without diminishing the value of existing tree canopy, street trees are a community asset that can be replanted and which will regrow over time. Parking spaces are a different form of community asset, and they cannot be replaced in the same way that trees can. Eliminating parking spaces will not eliminate the current and increasing need for them. While we need to remove several mature street trees to make room for the parking improvements, there will be an overall net gain of trees in the neighborhood when the project is complete.
There's a lot going on here.

The plan views that accompany the request to remove trees don't show any bike lanes, although they focus more on Division than on Liberty.

Here's the area bike map with the Police Station site in yellow. Useful bike lanes are in blue, low-traffic streets in green, and ascending degrees of caution and discomfort are in yellow, orange, and red.

Even with a short segment of bike lane, Liberty won't connect
High Street is southbound and has a new bike lane. Liberty is northbound and has no bike lane through downtown. So a short stretch of new bike lane on Liberty along the Police Station, even on a short two-way portion, will be an orphaned segment. Without a plan to make a continuous bike lane on Liberty all the way through downtown, a small new segment will have limited utility and will just be another bike network ort.

More useful might be a new bike lane on Division, even though that's just one block north of Union. At least that would connect with the bike lanes on the one-way couplet of High and Church. But that's not in the plan.

But no new bike lane on Division
So at the moment, even partly blaming a bike lane for tree removal is not a very good argument, and it potentially pits tree advocates against bike advocates in a little bit of divide-and-conquer.

More importantly, our mania for free parking is a problem.

The vast surface area with subsidized car parking:
Downtown Surface Parking Lots in Red
Parking Garages in Solid Brick Red
On-street parking stalls not included
(click to enlarge)
We do not manage our total supply very well when we insist on making parking stalls free. Pricing parking will help avoid these kinds of conflict and ensure we have the right supply of car parking. Without pricing, there is no link or signal between supply and demand.

The solution here is not to cut down trees, but to install meters. Our refusal to do so has a cascading effect and shadows many other policy and planning decisions. The cost to mature street trees here is one example.

We should lead with parking reform
Additionally, the URA Director's sense of time is off. Trees take whole generations, more than one, to grow into a fully realized "asset."

By contrast, the time to level a lot with a building in order to create a surface parking lot is measured in months.

Making old Safeway at 245 Court into bare lot didn't take long
It is not true to say "parking spaces...cannot be replaced in the same way trees can." Trees take way longer, and it is disingenuous to equate parking spaces and trees in this way.

Finally, on balance, if we are committed to the car parking, the on-street parking offers a more walkable environment than a small off-street lot. You might recall an earlier concept that had a small parking lot on Division and Liberty.

The concept plan in January 2018
This is much less walkable than the plaza
That was deleted and replaced by the plaza concept you see here. The plaza is much more urbane and urban than the parking lot.

From Liberty and Division - now an open plaza
(Of course the bigger problem is the ridiculousness of the vast fenced and private parking lot in back. Some of that could have been reduced and reconfigured for public parking! We should nearly always want buildings to greet the sidewalk and street, and to have parking when necessary in back.)

1 comment:

Susann Kaltwasser said...

So the trees in the first picture from Facebook is old. The trees around the Police station lot are already gone. No approval was apparently needed. They just got taken out.

Secondly, when UGM is built we can assume any trees in that lot will be cut down too!

While the Police/City claim the actual landscape design is still in the works, we can assume that the new look will have many fewer trees than we lost already on that block. Losing all the trees on the next block is just making the area look barren and blighted by concrete.

I was told by Deputy Chief Bellshaw that the reason they took away the parking in the "plaza" was for security reasons. You recall what happened to the Marion Courthouse? They worry about that happening to them. So, no parking AND also there will be barricades in the form of planters so that no vehicle can get close to the building. This is the world we live in... denuded and fortified.

I do think that there are better solutions, but then again when you have an opportunity to do street work with 'found money' it is natural to try to sneak in as much pavement and concrete as you can. Too many decision makers think that a tree is a tree is a tree.

I feel like we have not had enough justification for why they need all the parking spaces with the police station coming in. This area is too far from downtown to justify the rationale that the City has given so far.