Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The city is too valuable for parking

Parking is one of the most misunderstood topics in America. The sentiment that there can never be enough parking which has shaped cities, towns, villages and the suburbs by making parking a dominant land use. Parking is also a field with little reliable data.

Slowly a few truths sink in:
The intricate relation of transit and parking:  Guilford and Saratoga Street
Baltimore (Photo: Baltimore City's Past Present and Future)
  • There is no such a thing as free parking, even if the suburban mall doesn't charge, the cost for the sea of parking is significant and included somewhere.  (Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking
  • Parking is calculated at around 12.5 percent of the total cost of personal transportation, or $374 billion for the entire country, 100 billion of which are associated with by the parking industry
  • The more parking there is the more people are enticed to drive and add traffic
  • Up to 30% of downtown traffic consists of people searching for parking
  • In the US there are on average somewhere between 2-8 parking spaces for each registered car that are held in reserve just in case (at the home, at work, at entertainment, at retail)  
  • Private cars are parked about 95% of the time
The annual survey by Parking Property Advisers, LLC in collaboration with Parkopedia is one of the few available data points. to find out what the parking commodity is worth in various places.  The survey includes only off-street parking in structures or commercial off-street surface lots. The BBJ reported about it under a picture of an on street parking meter.

No surprise, the survey shows that the more vibrant a city, the more costly the parking. In a city such as New York or Chicago land is limited and parking is competing head on with "higher and better" uses, such as an Apple store where the tiny $1,000 phones can be sold in a space not much larger than two parking spaces and their share of the aisle. The average cost per hour of garage parking in NYC, therefore, is high, $27 and $17 respectively. In less desirable cities parking is ubiquitous and every demolished building is a surface lot. In St. Louis or Louisville an hour of parking costs only 2 bucks. In Baltimore the cost is $7 which, surprisingly places Charm City's parking cost right below that of San Francisco.
2018 Parking Properties Advisers Report , BBJ graphic

Obviously, the desirability of a city isn't the full story. Another relationship has to do with alternatives to the automobile for getting around. Cities with higher parking rates have more transit rides per capita than cities with lower parking rates. While the correlation is strong, it isn't clear what is cause and what effect. Baltimore ranks #16 in the list of top 40 cities that were surveyed, with Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Dallas  Indianapolis, Nashville, Cincinnati and New Orleans all being cheaper than Baltimore. Boston's parking costs more than twice what is charged here. It stands to reason that a key factor of pricing is the ratio of supply and demand or how much parking each city offers.
Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars. ...[they] increase traffic congestion, pollute the air, encourage sprawl, increase housing costs, degrade urban design, prevent walkability, damage the economy, and penalize poor people.  (Donald Shoup). 
Baltimore was long in the column of those who could never get enough parking. Lombard Street is mostly a canyon of garages. But with the creation of the municipal Baltimore Parking Authority in 2000 a more prudent and data-based approach had begun and supply, demand and pricing have become more science than a populist football. Baltimore's public parking is managed by a pretty well organized quasi public agency which manages 17 garages, a number of surface lots, 918 multi space meters (which replaced the parking meters) and 46 residential permit parking areas.

While the garages are still not "smart" and no real-time downtown guidance towards available parking spaces is available, on-street parking has become smarter with variable pricing in which hourly on-street rates are based on the actual demand in the area. The rates are still painted on signs and don't change in real time, but they are based on previous actual  usage data during the last 6 months, currently resulting in curbside parking costs between $1.50 and $2.50 per hour.  The City has also stopped demanding high ratios of parking through its zoning laws. In fact, large parts of downtown now mandate no parking at all. Garages now also need first floor uses that are not parking.
Downtown on street parking meter rates (Parking Authority)

Is Baltimore parking priced too high, just right or too low? The most innovative parking related idea of all may just be the Baltimore Circulator, a bus funded by a parking tax surcharge at the rate of about $7 million annually. The operator of the free bus (Transdev-Veolia) states that they can operate the system with the available funds (which also include some grants) but the City maintains that it had to dip into the General Fund for the free service. The reason for the discrepancy appears to be the accounting for the purchase or replacement of the bus fleet. The City is currently preparing a request for proposals (RFP) for the operation of the system. Route adjustments are also under consideration.
Baltimore Circulator: Running on parking fees

Should parking taxes be increased to fund the Circulator bus at a rate that allows covering all Circulator cost (and the free commuter water taxi to boot)?  The private garage operators object since they feel that higher prices wouldn't be tolerated by drivers. (would they use transit?).

Some transportation planners think yes, parking is still too cheap, enticing too many people to drive solo to work. Debated in Mayor Pugh's transportation Transition Team, the matter was tabled with no recommendation for a price hike. After all, parking demand has already decreased thanks to the popularity of ride share services such as Uber and Lyft and will likely shrink dramatically once driverless ride sharing would be available, jeopardizing the long-term viability of the parking tax as a funding source for transit.
The service must then seek to maintain the nexus with the parking tax by limiting service to areas where the tax is collected. It should only provide the amount of service that can be covered by the existing parking tax and state support it receives. Over the long term, the City must consider a more sustainable funding source than the parking tax.(Pugh Transition report)
But what about the meters? Does it make sense that metered spaces cost on average only 1/3 of what garage spaces cost? In 2016, before the new rate structure went into effect,  Baltimore's meter revenues were about $15.5 million. Couldn't the meters be adjusted closer to the garage rates? Chicago's privatized meters already  charged up to $6.50 in 2012, but Chicago is a special case with a private company gouging residents.
Charging too much or too little for on-street parking can cause a lot of harm. If the price is too high and many curb spaces are vacant, adjacent businesses will lose customers, employees will lose jobs, and cities will lose tax revenue. If the price is too low and no curb spaces are vacant, drivers searching for a place to park will congest traffic, waste fuel, and pollute the air. Consequently, the right price for curb parking is the lowest price that can keep a few spaces open to allow convenient access. This is the Goldilocks principle of parking prices—not too high, not too low, but just right.  (Donald Shoup)
San Francisco, New York and Vancouver also charge north of $6 per hour at their meters. Theoretically Baltimore's variable rates could get there by .025 cent increments. (They are currently capped at $5.00, a level not expected to be reached before 2021.) But before slashing the Circulator routes or continue to running the system in the red, Mayor and Council should take a hard look at those meter rates. For one thing, they could be adjusted to reflect rates based on actual real time demand (true variable pricing depending on actual payments made at the meters, a relatively simple technology). It is possible that all the added apartments in downtown created enough demnad to allow an increase in revenue which could pay for continued free, quality City transit.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Donald Shoup website
Streetsblog: What the cost of parking shows us about cities

see related articles on Community Architect:

How should developers and cities prepare for the future of transportation?  (3/2018)
Parking cost - a tool of transportation policy (7/6/2017)

1 comment:

  1. parking fees should be indexed to time so that the short parker pays less and the long time parker more to encourage higher turnover and limit persons using street parking for commuter parking