It’s Tulsa vs. Milwaukee in the Parking Madness Championship!

This is it — the final, epic showdown of Parking Madness. We started with 16 reader-submitted contenders for the title of America’s Worst Parking Crater, and Milwaukee and Tulsa have emerged from three rounds of voting to face off in the championship.

Only one will be immortalized and receive the “Golden Crater,” Streetsblog’s prize for asphalt expanses run amok.

It’s up to you to decide who claims the title, based on the incriminating evidence we’ve compiled below. So let’s get acquainted (or reacquainted, as the case may be) with these two examples of parking devastation:

Downtown Tulsa has been a favorite from the start because of the sheer surface area devoted to parking. Stephen Lassiter of BikeWalkTulsa submitted this photo and told us that “the southern half of downtown is almost entirely surface parking,” as you can see below:

Lassiter also sent along photos showing this part of Tulsa in 1978 versus 2005.

Thanks to local television station KJRH for using the Parking Madness hook to highlight Tulsa’s parking problem in this segment, which ran on Sunday. That’s what this contest is all about. (Watch the video segment; it’s better than the text.)

Fortunately, in July the city issued a temporary moratorium on downtown surface parking lots. But Amanda DeCort, a preservation planner with the city of Tulsa, says that moratorium is nearing its expiration, and the City Council will have to act to renew it if they want to turn this problem around.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee pulled out an upset win over Dallas last week to clinch a spot in the final, based on this vantage point:

This area is between Milwaukee’s Third Ward neighborhood and the lakefront. Pulling back the lens a little bit, we can see a wider view of the combined destruction wrought by highways and parking:

Those highways look like formidable barriers to redevelopment, but some improvements are afoot that may reconfigure the interchange and open up land for buildings. Reader Jason Biernat wrote in to note that the city of Milwaukee is attempting to restore the pedestrian grid between the Third Ward and the lakefront. He added that two new skyscrapers are proposed near this location. “It’s only a matter of time before these parking lots are developed,” Biernat said. “However, Milwaukee is a slow acting city with a weak real estate market, and it may be 10 years before these lots are gone.”

Who should win the Golden Crater? Cast your vote below. The poll is open until Thursday at noon, Eastern Time.

Which city has the worst parking crater?

  • Tulsa (82%, 583 Votes)
  • Milwaukee (18%, 124 Votes)

Total Voters: 707

  • Anonymous

    Since this is ‘Parking Madness,’ I had to go with Tulsa. If it were ‘Highway and all of its affiliated ill effects Madness,’ I probably would have leaned toward Milwaukee.

    I do have to say that if there were a Parking Madness NIT equivalent, our Disney Hole at 8th & Market here in Philadelphia, an atrocious urban eyesore which stands out mostly for its truly being a crater of devastation in the heart of one of the most walkable cities in the US, just a few blocks from the no longer extant contender which Tulsa ‘defeated’ in Round One of this tournament, would have been a pretty serious contender.

    http://m.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/05/great-moments-boondoggle/2105/

  • Jeff

    From my Google Maps observations, while Milwaukee is scarred, Tulsa is near-dead.

    Could any Tulsans fill me in on what the deal is with the undeveloped-land just above the Crosstown Expressway? It doesn’t appear to be a park (based on my streetview exploration), and the streetgrid is fully intact:

    https://maps.google.com/maps?q=tulsa+ok&hl=en&ll=36.165423,-95.992785&spn=0.012299,0.02178&sll=40.697488,-73.979681&sspn=0.735073,1.39389&t=h&hnear=Tulsa,+Oklahoma&z=16

  • biker0239

    Milwaukee is more upsetting because of the proximity of the parking to water… think about what a great waterfront park or recreational facility that could be! Or there could be development with spectacular views. Whatever the alternative, this is about the worst use of waterfront property.

  • LauraM

    I have very much enjoyed Parking Madness–thanks, Angie. Hopefully Tulsa renews its surface parking moratorium.

  • If you go to Streetview you’ll see foundations and front steps and sidewalks. My bet is a terrible fire.

  • The land north of the crosstown expressway was a neighbourhood (Greenwood) that was burned down in the 1921 race riot. If you walk around there, you can still see the driveways and staircases of the houses that were burned down.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwood,_Tulsa,_Oklahoma

  • Ian Turner

    Any idea what the destination is for the owners of all those cars parked in the Milwaukee picture? Are people parked there for long term storage, or what?

  • The Milwaukee crater is bad, but they’ve got what looks to be a nice downtown going otherwise. Tulsa just looks like a pedestrian nightmare in general.

  • John Lloyd

    Texas truly is the land of petroleum and its spawn, the automobile. Should have been a Houston vs. Dallas final, but that’s just grousing on my part.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, I hadn’t heard of that one. Thanks for filling us in on the history.

    And it appears the highway and ‘urban renewal’ in the 1970s (insanity is the only word that comes to mind) then finished off the rest of the neighborhood?

    How unspeakably sad…

  • the punchline to this is that a lot of Tulsans don’t go downtown because they think there’s no parking. Downtown is one of the few places in town that has metered parking…I think it’s only about 50 cent per half-hour, but the mall has free parking, so that’s that.

    It’s also a bit funny, because the police rarely enforce parking violations. A lot of people downtown simply park on the sidewalks. In the past, a few businesses even ripped out the sidewalks to make way for additional parking, although I think that happens less these days. Tons of parking everywhere, but everyone wants all the parking they could possibly need within 10 feet of their business…I don’t blame them, because, like I said, a lot of people don’t go downtown because there’s no parking….

  • Anonymous

    The before and after of Tulsa sealed the deal. The Amazing Disappearing City.

  • Tul-sa! Tul-sa! This is fantastic, glad you guys did this.

  • Anonymous

    Milwaukee’s downtown has improved tremendously in the last 20 years, and I think it is only a matter of time before this zone sees redevelopment since that continues to occur in the immediate vicinity. The transformation of the Third Ward (the neighborhood immediately to the left) has been remarkable, and that has continued to creep eastward in the direction of these lots — as well as southward across the river toward Walker’s Point / Fifth Ward.

    Also, the city got federal dollars for a streetcar (http://www.themilwaukeestreetcar.com/route.php) which is finally approved, with construction slated to start next year. The proposed route shows that there will be a stop just a few blocks west of this parking crater. I believe they are also going to put the maintenance facility underneath the freeway a little bit west, close to the sleek looking Intermodal Station they built a few years back.

    Anyway, one of the things that I like about this part of Milwaukee is that they’re doing a pretty good job of keeping the uses mixed and retaining some of the industry and not just the industrial “feel.” There is a lot of housing and upscale retail in the Third & Fifth Ward areas, but there are still a fair number of light industrial facilities that remain in business, especially south of the river. Adding in the offices and some of the neat-lookiing recreation space (http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2010/07/08/erie-street-plaza-photo-gallery/), and it’s a great work in progress.

  • Emily

    Commuters – the area just west of those parking lots is pretty densely built up but mostly older buildings with no parking garages. So those are the cheaper all-day lots. Maybe some folks parked there for retail/restaurants, but that’s a bit of a long walk when there’s street parking closer.

    one of the previous posts mentioned that the lots are so huge because of summer festivals – lots of parking needed for that big park on the lakefront, picture a state fair or similar held downtown. (of course, by “lots of parking needed” I mean “why is there so much parking for a seasonal thing that produces a lot of drunk people?” The park is on several bus lines and a major bike/ped trail, and most festivals run free shuttles to other parts of town, so I imagine folks would adjust to a tighter parking situation.)

  • I was just in Milwaukee and this parking crater is huge. But it does abut the very nice area of the 3rd Ward. I have never been to Tulsa but that looks far worse. I am just amazed the Los Angeles got knocked out in the first round. I think they would win for a city-wide downtown crater. It stretches forever (and I often wonder how bad it would look if indoor parking was included.

  • Bike Soup

    Yaaaaaaaaaaay, Tulsa! We’re THAT awesome!

  • Bike Soup

    We’re just THAT awesome! Gooooooo, Tulsa!

  • It’s even worse walking around there, I promise. You climb a hill, see some flat areas, maybe some old bricks here and there. Some steps. You look out on downtown… you’re well above the interstate, and realize that these homes were owned by someone wealthy 90 years ago. And that it was all lost in the fire of the race riot. It’s beyond unspeakably sad. What’s perhaps the worst part is that the man that started it still has his name on the neighborhood directly to the west and the commercial district to the south.

    If you’ve got some time, read The Nightmare of Dreamland, an article by a local newspaper, which goes into great detail about the race riot and the characters that started it, who are unfortunately considered to be the founders of this city. http://thislandpress.com/04/18/2012/tate-brady-battle-greenwood/

  • Terrible fire. Terrible terrible fire. It was the 1921 race riot fire, in particular. The worst race riot in the United States. If you’ve got some time, read The Nightmare of Dreamland, an article by a local newspaper that goes over all of the events that led to the riot in detail that nobody ever tells you because they’re ashamed of it. Even people who are pretty racist are ashamed of what race caused in 1921. http://thislandpress.com/04/18/2012/tate-brady-battle-greenwood/

  • And the metered parking is free after 5 and on weekends, so it fills up quickly, and nobody wants to either park in the free lots and walk a little ways or fork up $5. Personally, if I went out often enough to complain about the parking prices, I’d buy a unlimited monthly parking decal.

    Also, the police can’t enforce parking on private lots. But the private lots (American Parking) enforces the shit out of their parking. They hire like 4 guys to just walk in a circle collecting money and making sure people pay up.

  • Tulsa’s is far worse. Any time we decide that we can’t maintain a building, we demolish it and make it a parking lot. The oldest buildings in town were all converted to parking in the 70s.. and the 70s were bad for Tulsa, because everyone thought the city center was going to move south (and in many ways it did). So why maintain these old abandoned buildings at significant cost? Thankfully, brave business owners have started to reverse this.

    Also, I am a bit lying here… all but one building became parking (around the 2nd/Elgin area). The one remaining building – the oldest in town – currently serves as an advertisement for the News on 6 and has an office space on the bottom level (not sure what they do).

  • DTLA has had quite a revival of new construction in the past decade, and while it has tons of parking, tons, some of the highest parking density on Earth, much of that capacity is structured or underground. For the purposes of parking craters, as in buildings flattened for surface lots, and all the horrible detriments that type of land use has for walkability, downtown LA is no where near as bad as many of the downtowns on this list.

    With the continued Measure R investment already lined up in more light rail connections, the regional connector that will remove some of the transfers in the system, the localized tax for the downtown street car circulation and new bike lanes going in, I expect many of the surface lots left in the downtown will continue to be filled in.

  • Anonymous

    Jesus Christ.

  • Vote Bill TWICE!

    If truth be known, there’s actually a conscious policy decision behind Tulsa’s parking crater. Former Mayor Kathy Taylor ramrodded a HUGE tax increment fund, targeted specifically at Downtown Tulsa, to pay for Driller Stadium. Tulsa has no major professional sports. Drillers are an over-rated minor league baseball team. Of course, the owners are well-connected.

    Most detractors suspect Taylor was only trying to benefit friends and family. Her daughter, Elizabeth Frame Ellison, had plans to open a cupcake shop within walking distance of the stadium. She got pregnant and didn’t open the shop after all.

    Meanwhile, the tax increment fund continues to force Downtown property owners to pay substantial yearly tax bill for many more years to come. For property owners faced with a huge tax burden, what is the most immediately profitable use of property? Knock down grand old art deco treasures for banal parking lots.

    To fix the problem created by the “solution,” there’s a city-mandated parking moratorium. It is about to expire. Basically, Downtown and its property owners are totally SCREWED. The courts have upheld the legality of the TIF district.

    Downtown Tulsa has alot of parking simply because it is currently the most profitable land use. But, for how long? They can push Downtown retail all they want. But, who wants to invest in back-breaking restaurant start-ups just to pay a huge bill to the tax man? To bring in spenders, the George Kaiser Foundation stepped up to try stem the outgoing tide with Guthrie Green. Perhaps it’s payback for the illegal $7 million loan payment to the Kaiser-owned Bank of Oklahoma for the failed Great Plains Airline? Naaaaaaaah. Can’t possibly be true. NOT in a million years.

    Tulsa’s a very small town, under 500,000. Everybody pretty owes each other, even for lose-lose public policies. Kathy Taylor’s husband, Bill Loebeck, has allegedly poured in almost $2 million for the campaign to get her old job back. THAT’s what W.I.N.N.I.N.G. is all about in Tulsa. Yes, we’re THAT awesome!

  • Vote Bill TWICE!

    If truth be known, there’s actually a conscious policy decision behind Tulsa’s parking crater. Former Mayor Kathy Taylor ramrodded a HUGE tax increment fund, targeted specifically at Downtown Tulsa, to pay for Driller Stadium. Tulsa has no major professional sports. Drillers are an over-rated minor league baseball team. Of course, the owners are well-connected.

    Most detractors suspect Taylor was only trying to benefit friends and family. Her daughter, Elizabeth Frame Ellison, had plans to open a cupcake shop within walking distance of the stadium. She got pregnant and didn’t open the shop after all.

    Meanwhile, the tax increment fund continues to force Downtown property owners to pay substantial yearly tax bill for many more years to come. For property owners faced with a huge tax burden, what is the most immediately profitable use of property? Knock down grand old art deco treasures for banal parking lots.

    To fix the problem created by the “solution,” there’s a city-mandated parking moratorium. It is about to expire. Basically, Downtown and its property owners are totally SCREWED. The courts have upheld the legality of the TIF district.

    Downtown Tulsa has alot of parking simply because it is currently the most profitable land use. But, for how long? They can push Downtown retail all they want. But, who wants to invest in back-breaking restaurant start-ups just to pay a huge bill to the tax man? To bring in spenders, the George Kaiser Foundation stepped up to try stem the outgoing tide with Guthrie Green. Perhaps it’s payback for the illegal $7 million loan payment to the Kaiser-owned Bank of Oklahoma for the failed Great Plains Airline? Naaaaaaaah. Can’t possibly be true. NOT in a million years.

    Tulsa’s a very small town, under 500,000. Everybody pretty owes each other, even for lose-lose public policies. Kathy Taylor’s husband, Bill Loebeck, has allegedly poured in almost $2 million for the campaign to get her old job back. THAT’s what W.I.N.N.I.N.G. is all about in Tulsa. Yes, we’re THAT awesome!

  • Vote Bill TWICE!
  • Paul5140

    The ballpark assessment is definitely in play today, and may be the inspiration for the moratorium, but the ballpark tax didn’t create the parking crater. The crater was there long before the ballpark existed.

  • uh, I certainly didn’t like her, but you’re a wack job if you think Kathy Taylor is the cause of the crater. She was a one term mayor from 2006 to 2009. Most of this happened in the 1970s and 80s.

  • Guest

    So, I know it’s really tempting to blame this all on American’s fixation on the automobile or some kind of insider plot to destroy urban life, but I think this all has more to do with basic accounting and taxes than anything else….

    In Tulsa’s case, most of the parking lots came not because there was a great need for parking (as you can see, the parking market is way over saturated) or because people hated the Art Deco style…it happened because for a long time you could buy a building in downtown Tulsa for next to nothing, often at a county lean sale. Cheap properties are great because it’s easy to claim deprecation on the property as a business expense. But an abondoned building is also a liability and you have to insure it..so you cut cost by tearing it down and paving it, the cost of which you claim as a loss on your original investment and pretty much zeros out your insurance bill (parking lots don’t catch fire or get swept up in twisters). You then run a parking lot business, on which you can schedule out your losses over a several years, all while brining in a little bit of revenue from the parking fees.

    Not some evil plot hatched by the oil companies. Not because of some inbred rednecks that hate hippie bike riders. Just stupid tax laws.

  • Congrats and good luck with the street car!

  • Vote Bill TWICE!

    Yes, of course, you are right. But, the assessment is the final in the coffin. The tax burden is too high for non-subsidized businesses, other than parking. I suspect that is why the George Kaiser Foundation is coming in to bail out Downtown.

  • Vote Bill TWICE!

    Yes, you are right. The crater started a long time ago. But, you have to admit the Taylor ballpark assessment is killing any other business that is not parking. The tax burden is too high, compared to the benefits. I suspect that is why George Kaiser Foundation came in with Guthrie Green to bring in more spenders.

  • Vote Bill TWICE!

    Yes, add in the high tax bill from the Taylor ballpark assessment and you’ve got a home run for America’s worst parking crater! I suspect there will be more Guthrie Greens by non-profits like George Kaiser FF to create Disneyland Time Square mock up to bring in more spenders. Non-profits are not subject to the ballpark assessments. Small-time retail and restaurants are.

  • Nicholas

    There are plans for Milwaukee to continue the development of the lakefront. The interchange in the picture will be redesigned, a few more skyscrapers will be built, and there are supposed to be more green space as you travel down through to the 5th ward which is directly south of the 3rd ward.

    http://fox6now.com/2013/03/11/walker-barrett-abele-to-make-announcement-on-lakefront-gateway-project/

  • mmb24d

    Which is why there is not a huge influx of restaurants, bars and small time retailers all opening up in downtown Tulsa. Oh wait…

  • Vote Bill TWICE!

    Yes. For everyone that opens, how many closes? Got Delk’s? Oh, wait….Unless the non-profit foundations start going in big, there’s not enough steady spenders to compensate for the high tax. My money’s on GKFF to make another move to fill in the parking crater toward the south.

  • Vote Bill TWICE!

    Will the brilliantly genius rocket scientists please stand up?

  • Not so. The area west of Detroit Avenue north of I-244 where you find driveways and steps had houses as recently as the 1990s. It was acquired by the City of Tulsa as part of its promise to the State of Oklahoma to provide 200 acres of land for the University Center of Tulsa (now known as OSU Tulsa). So far, OSU has not needed the land; a complete waste. The Greenwood District was east of Detroit — destroyed in the 1921 Race Riot, but rebuilt by its African-American residents beginning in 1922, then destroyed again by urban renewal (the federal “Model Cities” program) and expressway construction in the late 1960s and 1970s.

  • Art & Architecture

    Congratulations with Delk’s. You named the only one that’s closed in the past few years. The success rate of restaurants and bars in downtown Tulsa the past 5 years has been incredibly high.

    The shocking thing is Tulsa’s downtown is thriving in little pockets like it hasn’t done in decades. It has made a major rebound. We’re actually seeing construction of new buildings on former parking lots, but again, just in pockets (Brady Arts District, Greenwood, Blue Dome).

    Also want to correct the post above saying the acres of land north of the Crosstown Expressway was due to the 1921 Race Riot. That’s incorrect. That land was cleared by urban renewal in the 1980s and early 1990s to build a massive college campus. Only about 1/8 of the plan was ever implemented, and the land has set vacant ever since. Surprised they haven’t paved it for parking, actually.

  • Most of the southern part of the Greenwood District, razed by urban renewal, is now the built-up part of the OSU-Tulsa campus east of Detroit Ave. The northeastern part of the Greenwood community, between the old Midland Valley and Santa Fe tracks south of Pine Street, was turned by urban renewal into an industrial park. In the north central part of the Greenwood District, between Detroit and the Midland Valley tracks, between about Jasper and Pine Streets, commercial buildings were razed by urban renewal and homes were replaced with 1980s suburban homes. Chris Fitzpatrick’s comment reflects widely held misconceptions about the area’s history. Street directories, Sanborn maps, historic photos (including aerials), newspaper stories, and memoirs tell a very different story. This link ( http://www.batesline.com/archives/2011/05/the-1921-tulsa-race-riot-and-the.html ) has a summary, with links to maps, photos, and more detailed information.

  • And the pockets where downtown is thriving are the places that urban renewal ignored and that avoided getting razed by downtown churches and Tulsa Community College for parking. When whole blocks were being flattened, pioneers like David Sharp and Michael Sager bought old buildings long before they had a marketable use for them. Eventually, the spaces began to be filled by people with a dream who needed a cheap space to rent as a place to start. A better existing building code, approved around 1998, made renovation economically feasible. The Bob Wills District around Main and Brady began a comeback in the late 1990s; the Blue Dome District began a resurgence around 2002.

  • Vote Bill TWICE!

    All Soul’s will be moving to 6th/Elgin. How much parking will they build under Title 42, Section 1300, the City’s off-street parking requirement? They fill up every parking space at 29th/Peoria now.

    Maybe the parishioners are liberal enough to enjoy a nice bike ride to church? Not a chance. NOT in a million years.

  • Anonymous

    Tulsa definitely deserves to win this. There are few sadder downtowns. While much of Tulsa’s downtown decline was due to the usual suspects (highways and white flight), geographically it is in awkward location, which probably didn’t help the situation. While many downtowns have kept somewhat relevant by being in the geographic centers of their metro areas – people have to go through or pass by them whether or not they stop there – Tulsa’s downtown is in the northwest corner of the city. It didn’t start that way, obviously, but there is an Indian Reservation less than a mile northwest of downtown and thus there has never been much development in that direction, so development has been forced in other directions, most notably to the southeast. This has resulted in downtown being farther from many people’s suburban homes than it otherwise might have been, making them even less likely to visit.

  • Wow. Nice video and good research. My comments were pretty much verbatim what was taught to me in Oklahoma history class, but I see that’s pretty much an over simplification.

  • Jason Aycock

    You really don’t want to live right in that area….

  • Sarah Tulley

    I will also add about the Milwaukee crater, that while it is not appealing it does serve a purpose as those lots are used frequently in the summer for the many different music/ethnic festivals that take place on the lakefront, such as Summerfest, Irish Fest, German Fest, etc. THe many fests in the summer are part of what make Milwaukee great and without that parking I don’t think they would hold the prestige that they do.

  • where is Detroit in the bracket??

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