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What’s the Best Way to Tax Parking?

Taxing parking, the way Pittsburgh does, can make downtowns livelier and encourage a healthier mix of transportation options.

A visual inventory of parking in downtown Providence. Image: Greater City Providence

An inventory of parking in downtown Providence. Image: Greater City Providence

Of course, implementing these policies can get tricky. A recent report from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute [PDF] delves into the issue and sorts out the best way to go about it.

At his blog, Transport Providence, James Kennedy considers what the conclusions mean for his city:

The long and short of it is that it’s politically easiest to tax parking on dedicated lots, rather than to do a “per space” tax on all parking, but this way of taxing parking has problems. We might be tempted, for instance, to tax the lots in downtown Providence but not tax the lot attached to, say, the Whole Foods, because our instinctive thought would be that though we don’t like a surface lot next to a grocery store, it’s much better than a bare lot serving nothing but parking alone.

The problem comes with the fact that the lot parking attached to businesses is free to customers and employees. Of course, it’s not actually free. It costs money which is passed into lost wages or higher prices. But to the worker or consumer, it appears free. When the price of commercial parking, i.e., the lots downtown that charge per hour, becomes more expensive without putting an equal burden on these other parking lots, it gives a stronger incentive for businesses to include free parking into their design as a benefit to customers or workers. This is not what we want.

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Facebook Billionaire Sean Parker Bankrolls Free Parking Ballot Initiative in SF

Sean Parker spent $100,000 to support Mayor Ed Lee’s 2011 election bid, and $49,000 on a 2014 ballot initiative to maintain free parking and build new garages in SF.

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook and a major contributor to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, has spent $49,000 of his personal fortune to propel a ballot initiative that seeks to enshrine free parking as city policy, according to the SF Chronicle. Parker gave $100,000 to Lee’s mayoral campaign in 2011.

The ballot initiative, which proponents frame as an attempt to “restore balance” to city transportation policy, first surfaced in April. While the measure would be non-binding, if it passes it could further slow much-needed policies to prioritize transit and street safety in San Francisco. One stated goal of the campaign is to kill Sunday parking meters for good. The SFMTA Board of Directors, which is appointed entirely by Mayor Lee, repealed Sunday metering in April, after Lee made unfounded claims about a popular revolt against the policy.

Mayor Ed Lee with Facebook-founding billionaire Sean Parker (right) and Ron Conway (center), both major campaign donors. Photo: The Bay Citizen/Center for Investigative Reporting

Several veteran opponents of transportation reform in San Francisco are aligned with the ballot initiative. And, in addition to the backing from Parker, another $10,000 for the measure reportedly came from the San Francisco Republican Party.

Parker’s funding for the ballot initiative apparently helped pay petitioners to get out and collect the 17,500 signatures submitted last week to place the measure on the ballot. Two Streetsblog readers reported being approached in Safeway parking lots by petitioners who falsely claimed that the SFMTA had not repealed Sunday parking meters. A flyer distributed for the campaign [PDF] claims the measure calls for “restoring free parking at meters on Sundays, holidays and evenings.” Campaign proponent and previous Republican Assembly hopeful Jason Clark told SFist that the allegations were “hearsay,” but that the non-binding resolution would “ensure [SFMTA] can’t” bring back Sunday meters.

Parker has a reputation for selfish extravagance at the expense of the public realm. In February, he denied accusations that he had workers bulldoze snow from in front of his $20 million home in New York City’s Greenwich Village onto the street. The snow was reportedly cleared so a high-speed internet cable could be hooked up to the home. Last year, he was fined $2.5 million for damaging a Big Sur redwood grove that served as his wedding backdrop.

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Re-imagining Parking Spaces as Micro-Apartments

These 300-square-foot micro apartments, designed by Savannah art students, were installed in Atlanta parking spaces. Photo: SCADpad.com

This 135-square-foot micro apartment was one of three designed by Savannah art students that were recently installed in an Atlanta parking garage. Photo: SCADpad.com

Can parking spaces get a second life? A student project in Atlanta helps demonstrate the possibilities in every stall.

Students at the Savannah College of Art and Design created three “SCADpads:” 135-square-foot micro-apartments designed to fit in the space defined by a single parking spot. Three prototypes for these modular homes, which cost $40-$60,000 to construct, were installed in an Atlanta garage this spring, to help model what might be a more sustainable paradigm for the city.

Each micro-apartment was designed by the students to reflect the culture of a different continent: Asia, North America, and Europe. Each was outfitted with a small kitchen, a sleeper-sofa, a bathroom, and some high-tech features like iPad-controlled “smart glass” windows that can be obscured for privacy. In addition, each apartment included a “porch” area, the size of an additional parking space, and a shared community garden that harvests “grey water” from the sink and shower.

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Parking: Searching for the Good Life in the City

Streetfilms is proud to partner with ITDP to bring you this fun animation that’s sort of a cross between those catchy Schoolhouse Rock shorts and the credit sequence for a 1960s-style Saul Bass film.

For too long cities tried to make parking a core feature of the urban fabric, only to discover that yielding to parking demand tears that fabric apart. Parking requirements for new buildings have quietly been changing the landscape, making walking and transit less viable while inducing more traffic. Chipping away at walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods has been a slow process that, over the years, turned the heart of American cities into parking craters and even mired some European cities in parking swamps.

Many cities around the world are now changing course by eliminating parking requirements while investing in walking, biking, and transit. Soon cities in the developing world will follow, providing many new lessons of their own.

Parking isn’t the easiest topic to wrap your head around, but it is right at the core of the transportation problems facing most cities. We hope this film helps illuminate how to fix them.

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Be Jealous of São Paulo’s Precedent-Setting New Parking Policy

São Paulo has moved to entirely eliminate minimum parking requirements. Photo: ITDP

São Paulo has moved to entirely eliminate minimum parking requirements. Photo: Flickr, Emerson Alecrim

It may not be much consolation after yesterday’s World Cup defeat to Germany, but Brazil should feel at least a twinge of national pride over the groundbreaking new parking policies its largest city has adopted.

Late last month, leaders in Sao Paulo approved a strategic master plan that will go a long way toward making the city more walkable and transit-oriented. The plan includes what may be the most progressive parking policy of any city in the developing world and would vault Sao Paulo well ahead of any U.S. city.

The plan eliminates minimum parking requirements citywide and imposes parking maximums — one space per residence — along transit corridors. Getting rid of parking minimums is expected to reduce traffic and make housing more affordable.

Sao Paulo is the first “megacity in the developing world” to entirely eliminate parking minimums, according to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Many major U.S. cities have dropped parking minimums in their downtown areas, but so far none has applied this smart policy reform citywide.

“By reducing parking around transit corridors, São Paulo will start reducing traffic, improving street life, and encouraging the use of public transit,” writes ITDP. “Though parking minimums have long fallen out of favor in many American and European cities, São Paulo is leading the way for cities in developing countries to pass major parking reform, making the city more transit and pedestrian friendly.”

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Who Will Preserve Our Nation’s Urban Parking Lots?


A historic preservation group in Cincinnati put together the above video, meant to make us think critically about some of the most fiercely guarded yet least loved places in our cities: parking lots.

Kudos to the Cincinnati Preservation Collective for bravely defending the spaces that help make Cincinnati much like every other mid-sized city in the country.

Parking lot humor: So sad it’s funny.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Rondo Revisited

Finally, there is a light rail line connecting the Twin Cities. The Green Line, running 11 miles from Union Depot in downtown St. Paul to Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, cost $957 million and took decades to build. The process of choosing stations was contentious but eventually incorporated the proposals of low-income communities that wanted them, and the line is already being held up as a model. It’s not the fastest way between the two downtowns, but it might be the best way. Jeff and I discuss.

Then we sink our teeth into the Sightline Institute’s proposal to change the property tax structure in order to incentivize better uses of downtown space. That might help some cities with their parking crater problem.

Finally, we rejoice at Calgary’s decision to tear down a whole mess of parking outside one of its light rail stations, and we discuss the balancing act between preserving broad access to transit and creating walkable, compact communities where they belong: near transit.

We can’t wait to read your thoughts in the comments.

P.S.: Get us on iTunesStitcher or the RSS feed.

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There Is Now Scientific Evidence That Parking Makes People Crazy

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. Fifth in a series.

All this week, we’ve been unpacking the nuances of the first major study of protected bike lanes in the United States. Today, we’re wrapping things up by taking a moment for perhaps the most amusing finding in the 179-page report.

Even when a protected bike lane project creates on-street parking spaces where none existed before, 30 percent of nearby residents think the project made parking worse.

The project in question was Multnomah Street in Portland, where the city removed one travel lane in each direction in order to add buffers for the bike lanes and, at some midblock locations, 21 new parking spaces. Of 492 nearby residents who returned surveys about the project, 30 percent said that the changes had made it harder to park on the street.

At projects that actually removed parking spaces in order to add protected bike lanes, 49 percent of residents said they made it harder to park.

Could it be that when people who oppose bike projects complain about the loss of on-street parking, this issue is often not actually their primary concern?

As scientists sometimes say, the answer to this question is left as an exercise for the reader.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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Parking Craters: Scourge of American Downtowns

Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt popularized the term ”parking crater,” defined simply as “a depression in the middle of an urban area formed by the absence of buildings.”

Various types of “meteors” left behind parking craters in the 20th century — sprawl subsidies,  highway building, the erosion of manufacturing. Whatever the cause, parking craters destroy sections of downtowns and make the environment inhospitable and unattractive. In these areas, there is virtually no street life. In warm weather the asphalt makes the air more oppressive. It’s hell on earth. It’s a parking crater.

In this Streetfilm we talk to advocates in Cleveland, Dallas, Hartford, and Houston about the parking craters in their downtowns – several of which have been contenders in Streetsblog’s annual Parking Madness tournament – and how these awful craters came to be.

A final note: If this Streetfilm is well received, we intend to do a follow-up film looking at the flip side – cities that have undone their parking craters by adopting better policies.

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Tulsa’s First Open Streets Event Reimagines Notorious Parking Crater

Photo: Zach Stoycoff, Tulsa Chamber of Commerce

Tulsa, Oklahoma, held its first open streets event over the weekend. Photos: Zach Stoycoff, Tulsa Chamber of Commerce

Typically, no one goes to the southern end of downtown Tulsa to socialize. This part of town has been so overrun with parking lots that Streetsblog readers crowned it the worst “parking crater” in the country in our first Parking Madness competition last year.

But last Sunday, thousands of people gathered smack in the middle of all that parking for an event called “Street Cred,” with the aim of transforming the area. Lifeless parking lots were remade as active spaces: an outdoor movie theater, a food truck court, and a disk golf course.

About 2,500 people biked and walked through an 18-block area during the event. It was the city’s first open streets event, organized by Tulsa’s Young Professionals group, which is affiliated with the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Young Professionals Executive Director Shagah Zakerion said a young couple who opened a coffee shop inspired her group to hold the event in this location. The couple mentioned Streetsblog’s Golden Crater award.

“We looked at that award as a wakeup call,” said Zakerion. ”For Oklahoma it’s kind of a new concept that streets are made for people. We really need to develop these areas for people and not just cars.”

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