Posts from the Parking Category
On Tuesday, the news came that after 41 years of teaching at UCLA, Donald Shoup, distinguished professor of urban planning, will retire. For all of us who have had our paths in life profoundly influenced by his research, writing, and teaching on parking and transportation, it’s a good time to reflect. I never got to take a class from professor Shoup, but he has had more influence on my life and career than any of the professors whose classes I did attend.
Back in the spring of 1992, I was a student at Stanford in Washington, DC, studying international development. I was beginning to realize that before I tried to go to someone else’s country and tell them how to improve their lives, I needed to learn a real practical skill and see if I could accomplish something at home, in a culture I actually understood. That same spring, an article appeared in the Washington Post — “Subsidies Support a Drive-to-Work Habit” — about the ways in which the federal tax code subsidizes parking while withholding tax benefits if people walk or bike or take transit. It piqued my interest.
I knew that a large and remarkably ugly parking structure had recently been built outside my dad’s office on the Stanford campus, and I knew that I could get a permit to park in it for about $6 per month. I wondered how much it cost, and who really paid for it.
When I got back to Stanford in the fall, I went to see my future boss, Julia Fremon, the manager of Stanford’s Office of Transportation Programs. I asked her how much it cost to build and operate a parking space on campus, and who paid for them. She said, “I’ve been wanting to know that too.” Then she gave me a list of people to interview, and offered me a spot on the University’s Committee on Parking and Transportation. Encouraged by this, I went to Green Library, descended into the stacks, and discovered the writing of professor Shoup.
All that year, I devoured articles and monographs authored or co-authored by Donald Shoup. I still have my original dog-eared copies of all those articles on my office bookshelf, and I still reference them today, when I’m out in the world trying to persuade city planners and council members to think differently about transportation. There were all those great articles, some newly published: “Employer-Paid Parking: the Problem and Proposed Solutions,” by Shoup and Willson; “Parking Subsidies and Travel Choices: Assessing the Evidence,” by Willson and Shoup; and most importantly, “Cashing Out Employer-Paid Parking,” the big Federal Transit Administration report by Shoup.
Professor Shoup managed to make the apparently dry topic of parking economics and regulation not only worth studying, but compelling, fascinating, and at times, hilarious. I vividly remember sitting down in the stacks, reading his research papers on parking and laughing aloud at the insanity of it all.
March is a special month on Streetsblog. It’s the time when the nation’s worst downtown parking scars face off head-to-head for the shame of winning the “golden crater” — and the local publicity bonanza that comes with it. For the third year running, we’re asking you to help seed the bracket in our Parking Madness tournament by sending in photos of the sorriest wastes of urban space you can find.
What makes for a good entry? We’re looking for downtown parking craters — expanses of urban land where there’s no longer space for people, just a sea of car storage — in North American cities. Craters that have already competed in Parking Madness tournaments are ineligible — please check the brackets from 2013 and 2014 before submitting.
To enter, send us a photo of the crater and a link to an aerial map (not just the link, please), as well as a description of why your crater deserves to win. You can submit your entry in the comments or email angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org.
Thanks for participating — looking forward to a new round of spectacular eyesores!
If there’s one thing American planners fear, it’s that someone, sometime, somewhere, won’t be able to immediately find a parking space. Gigantic manuals have been devoted to avoiding this “problem,” and laws have been passed in nearly every community in the nation to ensure that no one ever lacks for parking.
Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns started an ingenious, crowd-sourced photo collection to show how absurd the obsession with parking construction has become: pictures of retail parking lots on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. We’ve built so much parking that a lot of spaces remain unused even when demand is at its peak.
For the last two years, Marohn has urged people to take photos of half-empty Black Friday parking lots and tag them on Twitter with the hashtag #blackfridayparking. Here’s what they turned up last week.
It’s standard practice to build parking lots to accommodate the maximum number of vehicles expected on the busiest shopping day of the year.
As a result, acres and acres of unnecessary asphalt make communities less walkable, waste land, funnel polluted runoff into our groundwater, erode tax bases, and drive up prices for lots of other goods that aren’t car parking. Incredibly, a lot of these parking lots are so large they don’t even fill most of the way up on Black Friday, America’s high holiday of retail shopping.
Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns came up with an ingenious plan to help highlight this rather unsexy issue last year. He encouraged people to take pictures of half-empty parking lots on Black Friday and tweet them with the hashtag #blackfridayparking. Last year’s contest produced some eye-poppers.
Chuck is encouraging people to do the same this year. If you’re out there holiday shopping and come across one of those sad, empty parking lots, please tweet it and show the world the foolishness of our parking policies. For more information, check out the Strong Towns blog.
In the meantime, Streetsblog USA wishes everyone a happy Thanksgiving, and looks forward to reviewing your spectacular pictures Monday.
As TransitCenter and the Frontier Group reported last week, the federal government pays a huge $7.3 billion subsidy to people who drive to work by making commuter parking expenses tax exempt. There are countless reasons for Congress to scrap this poorly-conceived, congestion-inducing subsidy. While policymakers consider the big picture, they also ought to examine how their own parking benefits are administered.
Here’s the short version: Congress is breaking its own law, and it’s shorting the Treasury hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, by providing free parking far in excess of the allowable limits.
USC 26 Section 132f of the tax code allows employers to provide each worker with up to $250 in free parking per month tax-free, which can add up to $3,000 in tax-free perks per employee each year. That’s a pretty big amount to pay people for exacerbating congestion, but the parking at the U.S. Capitol is worth significantly more than that.
It’s hard to know exactly how many free parking spaces we’re talking about. The Architect of the Capitol and relevant committees don’t like to talk about it, but Lydia DePillis reported in the Washington City Paper a few years ago that a plan for the southern part of the Capitol complex completed in 2005 shows that the House office buildings alone have 5,772 parking spaces assigned to them.
Voters slammed Prop L. It’s clear: San Franciscans want to put the automobile era behind us for a more livable city. @NoOnPropL
— Streetsblog SF (@StreetsblogSF) November 5, 2014
In case you need a little pick-me-up this morning, here’s some good news out of San Francisco. Voters resoundingly rejected Proposition L, a local ballot measure designed to halt the city’s progress on improving streets for walking, biking, and transit. As of the most recent available count, with nearly all precincts reporting, 62 percent of San Francisco voters had said “No” to Prop L.
The Prop L contingent, backed by internet billionaire Sean Parker and the local Republican Party, framed their measure as a way to “restore balance” to San Francisco streets by enshrining free parking and elevating traffic flow as a decisive factor in street design. This in a city that has only taken modest steps to reclaim street space for transit, biking, and walking, and where the mayor recently reneged on a shortlived policy to charge for metered parking on Sundays.
While Prop L was a non-binding policy statement, it could have put a serious chill on livable streets policies in the city. The campaign strategy was to turn car-based populism into votes — handing out flyers in parking lots was the most visible tactic.
As the closest thing to an up-or-down vote on transit-priority lanes, bikeways, and pedestrian improvements ever put before the electorate, the Prop L results are going to make an impression on local officials who decide the fate of those projects. Instead of rejecting the nascent reforms happening on the streets of the city, voters sent a signal that they want more.
For more on the Prop L vote and its implications, check Aaron Bialick’s reporting at Streetsblog SF later today.
A few key changes to the DC zoning code could help make housing more affordable, streets more walkable, transit more convenient, and healthy foods more accessible. Years of debate and delay have watered down the reforms somewhat, but they still represent substantial progress. And now it looks like they will pass.
Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth files a status report at Greater Greater Washington:
The DC Zoning Commission has been deliberating on the zoning update this week. The commissioners embraced most of the DC Office of Planning’s proposals while even rejecting at least one of OP’s recent steps backward.
Buildings near transit (including priority bus corridors) will be able to have half the parking that’s otherwise required if they are willing to forego residential parking permits. Homeowners will be able to put accessory apartments inside their houses without a special hearing, but will have to go through one to use a carriage house. And corner grocery stores will be able to open in residential row house areas if they sell fresh food.
This is a major milestone in the grueling zoning regulations revision process that began in 2007 just after the DC Council adopted the 2006 Comprehensive Plan. Opponents of the update repeatedly asked the commission and the Office of Planning and for more outreach, more meetings, and more delay. In response, officials stretched out the process and added dozens of meetings, fact sheets, and hearings throughout the city. But the process now has an end in sight.
After a few more discussions, a new draft zoning code will be prepared for the city and presented for public comment. These reforms sound like no-brainers to help increase the number of housing units available at lower prices and reduce the share of valuable transit-accesible land consumed by parked cars.
Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Indy thinks that Indianapolis should hesitate to gloat about all the riders Pacers Bikeshare is attracting six months after opening. ATL Urbanist reports that Atlanta’s MARTA will use elements of tactical urbanism to incorporate public feedback into the redesign of two stations. And FABB Blog shares new data showing how residents of metro DC are flocking toward transit hubs.
Cities on six continents are celebrating Park(ing) Day today, now in its tenth year of temporarily transforming curbside space for cars into public spaces for people. Some of the pop-up parks that caught our eye this Park(ing) Day include:
Providence pulled out all of the stops this year, with 32 parklets — and a pop-up protected bike lane down Broadway — gracing a city with fewer than 200,000 residents. The parklet sponsors include not just local design firms, retailers, and schools, but also the campaign of Jorge Elorza, the Democratic nominee for mayor in this November’s election. What’s more, Park(ing) Day will have lasting policy impacts in Providence. James P. Kennedy of Network blog Transport Providence points out that Elorza has endorsed making the bike lane permanent, and that both major-party candidates have endorsed a parking tax.
One group in Louisville “drew some inspiration from Angie Schmitt’s work with Streetsblog looking at Parking Craters” and decided to tackle a vacant lot amidst the otherwise unbroken line of buildings along the city’s historic West Main Street. Today, City Collaborative will open ReSurfaced, a six-week plaza and beer garden, on a vacant lot where a skyscraper had been proposed. The plaza offers interactive computer games laser-projected onto adjacent walls, a portable makerspace, and even its own brewed-for-the-occasion Kentucky Common beer.
The NoMa neighborhood BID in Washington, D.C. offered $200 micro-grants to individuals or groups who set up parklets along 1st Street NE, the main street of the developing neighborhood (and already home to a curb-protected bike lane). The BID’s Ali Newman said that having “a network of parks means that so many more people can interact with and enjoy the public space,” and that having multiple groups programming the space “gets people outside and engages the neighborhood in a new way.” One organizer, Do Tank DC, set up an outdoor game room to celebrate the successful launch of its new card game, Cards Against Urbanity.
Velshi wanted to discuss recent research out of the University of Connecticut showing how too much parking harms a city’s tax base. If Al Jazeera, owned by the Qatari royal family, can get serious about parking policy, then maybe there’s hope for American news outlets funded by car company advertising. We’re waiting for the call from Anderson Cooper.