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Posts from the "Parking" Category

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How Hartford’s Bet on Cars Set the Stage for Population Loss and Segregation

Since the 1960s, most of the Hartford region's population growth has been in formerly rural towns beyond the inner-ring suburbs. Image: ##http://metrohartfordprogresspoints.org/##Metro Hartford Progress Points##

Since the 1960s, most of the Hartford region’s population growth has been in formerly rural towns beyond the inner-ring suburbs. Image: Metro Hartford Progress Points

Hartford, Connecticut, has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. The urban renaissance that has visited so many cities hasn’t arrived there. Housing is still cheaper in the city than in the suburbs, and although suburban poverty is growing alarmingly fast, it’s nowhere near the levels seen in the city.

There are multiple complex factors that have contributed to Hartford’s woes. But one of them, clearly, is the degree to which the city enabled car-centric infrastructure to proliferate.

As Payton reported last week, Hartford tripled its downtown parking capacity between 1960 and 2000 while squeezing everything else onto 13 percent less land. Avert your eyes if you have a weak stomach:

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Talking Headways Podcast: Escobar’s Escalator

Did you go to the World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia, last week? Neither did your hosts Jeff Wood and I, but we sure found a lot to say about it anyway on this week’s Talking Headways podcast. Medellín’s remarkable urban transformation — undertaken in the midst of war — has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention lately for making the city’s transportation infrastructure more equitable.

But first, we talked to our very own Angie Schmitt about the Parking Madness tournament. Did she know Rochester was a winner from the moment she laid eyes on that stunning parking crater? You’ll have to listen to find out.

And finally we turn to Dallas, where local activists are pressuring officials to tear down a 1.4-mile stretch of I-345 to make room for 245 acres of new development downtown. If it happens, it would be a tremendous win for smart urban development over Eisenhower-era car-centrism.

The other big news this week is that Talking Headways podcast is now available on Stitcher! So if you’re not an iTunes person, you’ve got a way to subscribe. But if you are an iTunes person, by all means! Or you can follow the RSS feed. And as always, the comments section is wide open for all the witty remarks we should have made but didn’t think to.

Oh, and despite the fact that we said, “See you next week” at the end out of habit, Jeff will be traveling so we actually won’t be taping a podcast next week. So take that opportunity to catch up on any episodes you’ve missed, and we’ll see you in two weeks.

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Parking Craters Aren’t Just Ugly, They’re a Cancer on Your City’s Downtown

Downtown Hartford

Downtown Hartford’s Phoenix Building sits atop a moat of (what else?) parking. Photo: Brian Herzog, via Flickr

Streetsblog’s Parking Madness competition has highlighted the blight that results when large surface parking lots take over a city’s downtown. Even though Rochester, winner of 2014′s Golden Crater, certainly gains bragging rights, all of the competitors have something to worry about: Cumulatively, the past 50 years of building parking have had a debilitating effect on America’s downtowns.

Streetsblog recently spoke with Chris McCahill of the State Smart Transportation Initiative in Madison, Wisconsin, to learn about his research into how parking affects small cities’ downtowns. Most recently, McCahill and his co-authors have shown how policy makers’ preoccupation with parking not only hollows out city centers, it also decimates the downtown tax base.

McCahill began his analysis as a University of Connecticut Ph.D. student in 2006, choosing to compare the postwar evolution of six small, built-up, relatively slow-growing cities: Arlington, Virginia; Berkeley, California; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Lowell, Massachusetts; and New Haven, Connecticut. For each of these cities, McCahill and his collaborators, most frequently professor Norman Garrick, have gone far beyond the usual publicly available statistics and hand-measured the number of parking spaces (both on- and off-street) and the size of buildings from aerial photos.

The resulting analysis shows how three of these cities have diverged from the other three since the base year of 1960. Arlington, Berkeley, and Cambridge went against the postwar grain and chose a “parking-light” approach: emphasizing transportation demand management (TDM) measures, while de-emphasizing driving and in one case even penalizing parking construction. Hartford, Lowell, and New Haven chose a conventional approach, emphasizing that downtown development should provide “adequate” parking based upon standards of the time.

These two paths led these cities to very different outcomes, which McCahill has chronicled in a series of publications. Most recently, he co-authored two papers about how parking has affected the six downtowns’ urban fabric and their tax bases. Parking lots take a big bite out of the conventional cities’ tax bases, which could reap 25 percent more in downtown property taxes had they chosen a parking-light approach instead.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Play the Gray Away

Jeff and I had a great time this week, getting all outraged at the short-sighted move by the Tennessee Senate to ban dedicated lanes for transit, and high and mighty about cities that devote too much space to surface parking at the expense of just about everything else. And then we treat ourselves to a fun conversation about the origin of the American playground — and whether the entire city should be the playground.

We think you’ll enjoy this one.

Meanwhile, have you subscribed to the Talking Headways podcast on iTunes yet? Well, why the hell not? While you’re at it, you know we’d love a little bit of listener feedback. Oh, you can also follow the RSS feed. And we always enjoy your comments, below.

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Op-Ed: This Space for Rent, or How Cities Can Prioritize People Over Parking

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Photo via Next City

Scott Bernstein is president and co-founder of the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. This post was originally published in Next City.

Americans are driving less. Some young people are choosing not to drive at all. Yet most cities continue to impose high minimum parking requirements on housing developers.

These policies conflict with the character and amenities of today’s transit-oriented developments, which can support a relaxing of minimum parking requirements. I recently offered testimony to the planning commission in Evanston, Illinois, on why cities need to reform outdated parking regulations. But my recommendations for the inner Chicago suburbs are applicable to cities across the country.

Creating excessive parking artificially increases the cost of housing. In fact, generous parking allowances inflate the cost of new properties by 10-20 percent. Surface parking can cost $4,200 per space to build, while underground parking in a high-rise development can cost between $20,000 and $60,000 per space or more. That parking is not free. Developers typically pass parking costs directly on to the price (or rent) of a unit, which artificially inflates the asking price and puts pressure on housing prices in the surrounding neighborhood.

Developments with lowered parking requirements can succeed. Many municipalities have added flexibility to their requirements when the transportation options exist and the market warrants it. Portland, for example, reduced minimum parking requirements by 50 percent within 500 feet of its transit system. Two Portland developments, Buckman Heights and Buckman Terrace, used this change to directly pass on savings to consumers in the form of more affordable rents.

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How the Self-Driving Car Could Spell the End of Parking Craters

Look, ma, no hands! A legally blind man tested out Google's self-driving car in 2012. Photo: ##http://byteandchew.com/best-of-2012-8-rise-of-the-self-driven-car/##Byte and Chew##

A legally blind man tested out Google’s self-driving car in 2012. Photo: Byte and Chew

Here’s the rosy scenario of a future where cars drive themselves: Instead of owning cars, people will summon autonomous vehicles, hop in, and head to their destination. With fewer cars to be stored, parking lots and garages will give way to development, eventually bringing down the cost of housing in tight markets through increased supply. Pressure to expand roads will ease, as vehicle-to-vehicle technology allows more cars to use the same road space. Traffic violence will become a thing of the past as vehicles communicate instantly with each other and the world around them.

Then there’s the other scenario: People who can afford it will pay an exorbitant amount for gee-whiz driverless technology, but the new systems will have imperfections and won’t integrate seamlessly with older vehicles. Most cars will still be piloted by humans, so the new tech won’t have much effect on traffic hazards and congestion. The driverless car utopia will remain a Magic Highway fantasy.

Driverless vehicle technology has progressed far enough that we need to start anticipating its potential effects. Google’s autonomous vehicle fleet has driven half a million miles without a crash. But the future is extremely uncertain.

At a Congressional briefing this week, the RAND Corporation’s James Anderson, author of a recent report on the prospects for autonomous vehicles, said he is convinced that while there are advantages and disadvantages to driverless cars, “the societal benefits exceed the costs.”

The best possible scenario involves a fleet of shared driverless cars and the elimination of private vehicle ownership. Cars would be in constant use, so the amount of land reserved for parking could be greatly reduced. Even if driverless car technology comes on the market soon, however, that version of the future may never arrive.

Here’s how RAND and others are gaming out some of the potential effects:

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Parking Madness 2014: Send Us Your Pics of Awful Parking Craters

This eyesore in Minneapolis fell to Columbia, South Carolina, in the first round. Photo: Eddie Cunat

This eyesore in Minneapolis, fell to Columbia, South Carolina, in the first round of last year’s Parking Madness tournament. Photo: Eddie Cunat

It’s March, which can only mean one thing: Parking Madness time. Last year we asked our readers to help us crown the worst parking crater in an American city, and in that inaugural 16-entry bracket, Tulsa blew away the competition. But we know there are still plenty of other parking lots out there that make downtown look like a lunar landscape, so here comes the sequel.

A couple of things are different this time around: We’re accepting submissions from anywhere, not just the United States, though we won’t consider the 16 entries from last year’s tournament. In some cases, like Tulsa, this will probably rule out the entire city, but other places have more than one god-awful parking crater in town. Before you submit a parking crater, please review last year’s field so you can avoid sending an ineligible entry.

So show us the worst parking scars marring your city. Send your parking crater photos and a brief explanation about why it’s the worst to angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org by Friday, March 14.

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Level the Commuter Playing Field By Reducing the Tax Break for Parking

Happy New Year, transit riders! Congress has a special present: Some of you will be getting a tax increase this year.

Some transit riders will get a tax hike this year. Image: ##http://watchdog.org/81498/ohio-bill-increases-penalties-for-assaulting-transit-workers/## Ohio Watchdog##

Some transit riders will get a tax hike this year. Image: Ohio Watchdog

Legislation that puts tax subsidies for transit commuters on equal footing with car commuters has been allowed to expire by Congress. That means people who drive to work can deduct up to $250 in parking expenses each month from their taxable income. But for transit riders, the new limit is $130.

Last year the two were equal at $245, thanks to some shrewd last-minute maneuvering by lawmakers in New York and Massachusetts. This year, no such luck, straphangers. Drivers, on the other hand, get a little bump up.

Many observers — from outlets including Time and the New Jersey Star-Ledger — have pointed out that this is obviously backward policy. And they’re absolutely right: It’s a bad idea to provide an additional financial incentive to commute by car, which has so many negative consequences for society, from air pollution to increased congestion.

Common sense dictates that at the very least, there should be equity between the tax incentives for transit commuters and car commuters. While the path of least political resistance seems to be to raise the maximum transit benefit again, the fact is that most American transit commuters (though definitely not all) would not be affected by that.

Congress should instead achieve commuter tax benefit parity by reducing the incentive for parking so that it’s equal to the transit tax break, especially since deficit reduction is purportedly a high priority on Capitol Hill.

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How Parking Requirements Help Walmart and Hurt Small Businesses

This photo shows a Salt Lake City parking garage on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Parking lots and garages all over the country were half-empty, we know thanks to a crowd reporting event held by Chuck Marohn. Image: ##http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2013/12/2/the-meaning-of-blackfridayparking.html#.UpzDBoWU6ZY## Strong Towns##

A Salt Lake City parking garage on Black Friday. Photo: Strong Towns

On Black Friday, Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns asked his Twitter followers to take pictures of parking lots on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The evidence they returned was pretty damning: Retailers like Walmart, Kohl’s, and Target — some compelled by mandatory parking minimums — provide way more parking than shoppers will ever demand. Marohn collected 70 pictures of wasted asphalt on this big shopping day.

In a follow-up post today, Marohn explains that a lot of the big box stores depicted in these photos are happy to have laws requiring huge expensive parking lots. It keeps the competition down:

Do you think Wal-Mart opposes parking minimums? They may on an individual site here or there, but in general, parking minimums are one of their best advantages. They simultaneously raise the cost of entry for competitors while further tilting the marketplace in favor of businesses catering to people who drive (a segment Wal-Mart dominates). It is a self-reinforcing, downward cycle. If you are pro-biking, pro-walking or pro-transit, you are anti- parking minimums.

And parking minimums force some of the most ridiculous land use decisions I have ever seen. An individual wants to take a vacant storefront and open a business but then city hall tells them they need five parking spots. Where do they get that? Well they either don’t (likely) or they buy a neighboring property, tear down whatever is on that lot and convert it to financially unproductive parking. This decimates the tax base when it happens and encourages horizontal expansion when it doesn’t. If you are pro- environment or if you advocate for a strong, healthy tax base, you are anti- parking minimums.

So who is pro- parking minimums? Many planners, zoners, large corporations, asphalt companies and people driving around looking for a parking spot. For them the not-so-old adage holds: you can never have enough parking.

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WSJ Invites More Ignorant Anti-Bike Zealots to Sully Its Pages

Law professor Frank H. Buckley seems to want to be the next Dororthy Rabinowitz. That is, he wants to gain notoriety by clinging to old and unsafe street designs while, simultaneously, shoring up the Wall Street Journal’s reputation as a bastion of change-averse curmudgeons. Done and done.

Buckley wrote an op-ed in Friday’s Journal about the controversy on Alexandria, Virginia’s King Street — the bustling main street through charming Old Town Alexandria, densely packed with upscale bistros and boutiques — which he prefers to think of as a “main artery, State Highway 7,” neglecting all that makes King Street vibrant and unique. West of Old Town, the city wants to put in a short stretch of bike lane. The plan already makes huge compromises in the name of car supremacy, refusing to post No Standing signs and replacing the lanes with sharrows for short segments.

But this timid step toward designing a safer street isn’t nearly timid enough for Buckley, who argues against the lanes — which will eliminate 37 parking spaces — with this ironclad logic:

As for the residents, we’re really attached to our parking spots. We like to tell our friends to drop by anytime. We don’t want to send our plumbers to park a few blocks over, on streets that are already congested. Not a problem, the city tells us. Just get a special parking permit from city hall for visitors. And what about the occasional party? What do we tell our guests? Ah, the city’s street coordinator said, channeling her inner Marie Antoinette, let them get valet parking.

“Let them die on streets designed exclusively for most dangerous and least efficient mode of transportation,” is Buckley’s far more compassionate credo, then.

So sorry your expensive, urban neighborhood — a classic of colonial design — was built with skinny streets and dense development, Mr. Buckley. Why didn’t the founders have the forethought to set aside enough space for everyone on your street to comfortably accommodate the cars of a dinner party’s worth of people, all at the same time, within blocks of one of the country’s best metro systems?

I don’t have to pick apart every ignorant statement Buckley makes in his story, because The Wash Cycle already did that, with great aplomb. (David Cranor, The Wash Cycle’s low-profile author, also mentions the cringe-worthy tactlessness of calling the loss of 37 parking spaces a battle in “the bike wars,” especially on Veterans Day weekend.)

Buckley isn’t the only writer complaining about the “war on cars” these days. Writing in the right-wing rag The Weekly Standard, Christopher Caldwell argues this week that cyclists are an unruly and antagonistic bunch of self-righteous road hogs. Caldwell even refers to cyclists as an “ever more powerful lobby,” a reckless and self-righteous group that has “tested the public’s willingness for compromise.” Buckley says the same: “When you see the bike activists in your neighborhood, be warned that they tend not to play nice.” They don’t cling to the potholed and uneven edge of the road! They sometimes ride next to each other! And they’ll yell at you if you almost kill them! (As Daniel Duane noted in the New York Times Saturday, that’s about all that will happen to you if you almost kill — or even if you do kill — a bicyclist.)

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