Friday, June 25, 2010

Parking in Dallas

Eye Test: Picture 1, picture 2? Picture 1, picture 2?

Danish Park 'n Ride. All transportation needs its infrastructure. Some are less corrosive than others.

I've written extensively on the general nature of parking (here and here), but rarely have looked at it locally (mostly because the effects are felt the same here as anywhere else) beyond documenting the inordinate amount of both surface parking lots and garages in downtown Dallas.

Over at D, Wick Allison takes on the antiquated parking standards designed to make Downtowns compete with suburbs. Of course, we know you can't do sprawl as well as the suburbs, so instead our downtowns sit punch drunk and confused.

On the other hand, I take issue with the idea that the market can sort it out on its own. While that is true over the long-term, the question is, is it worthwhile to fumble around until the market can find the right answer when cities, neighborhoods, communities, families, taxpayers, and property owners are all suffering from the extraneous effects of too much parking?

The City is looking at a complete revision of its parking codes, but from what I have been told, nobody really knows where or how to begin.

My comments here (edited because I can actually see what I'm writing in my own prompt):
First of all, that 85,000 number is way too low. Dallas has 35,000 surface parking spaces in downtown alone, all of which (or 99% at least) are empty nights and weekends (and too many people falsely think for downtown retail we need more parking – those people don’t know what they’re talking about and are instead spouting conventional wisdom). Furthermore, Professor Donald Shoup of UCLA once calculated there are 4 parking spaces for every car owned in this country. You can quickly see that 85K needs to expand factorially.

What parking minimums establish is a scenario where supply always vastly exceeds demand. Parking by nature is fluid where that demand creates concerted pressure only at certain times of the day, week, or year. We have yet to arrive at a solution that responds to this nature. The only truly successful one is to reduce demand for parking by building walkable urban places where trips by bike, foot, transit or combo of the above reduce the need for parking. We have to rewrite the urban genotype to have the physical phenotype emerge in a way that is valuable, rewarding, sustainable, cost-efficient, and resilient.

The more important question is, how do we appropriately punish a place that has too much parking?

Large seas of parking are disruptive to the necessary interconnected nature of the urban fabric. It is costly to build parking, sometimes as much as 20% of a project's development cost, but for some businesses that is a drop in the bucket. Furthermore, they trigger the very purpose of zoning in the first place, to prevent the erosion of property values of neighboring properties. In the property rights debate, people seem to conveniently ignore the fact that your property is only as strong as what is around you - the very reason for the emergence of NIMBYism and LULUs.

I have worked with numerous hospitals around the country on their urban plans once they realized their land-banking strategies of buying blocks, clearing houses for surface parking, in the event they need to expand buildings/services has created unsafe (perceived or otherwise matters not) situations and a corrosive effect on neighborhoods. I worked on one project (and won a Daniel Burnham AIA award for it) in Springfield, IL where the hospitals literally destroyed the historic neighborhood and local residents wouldn’t put any $ or effort into maintaining their property knowing they would be bought out and house razed next. The result was downward momentum, an entropic cycle of decay and disinvestment. One look no further than Baylor downtown for a local example.

In a way the “market” is slowly, but surely solving the issue as hospitals realize they are at a competitive disadvantage without walkable, safe, vital urban neighborhoods around them. But, is it worth the market fumbling around and tearing apart the bonds of communities? I recommend the book Root Shock with regard to these effects by Mindy Thompson Fullilove.

Is any place really worth spending time in where parking is cheap and easy? Let’s start w/ that as a precept and work from there.

One simple solution is to set up zones, or overlays as Chris Leinberger suggested, where we set parking max’s rather than min’s. Off the top of my head, I think I recall hearing Professor Shoup say that LA’s parking standards (of which Dallas’s are similar) mandate something like 1000% (might even have been 1000x) more parking than San Francisco’s (numbers could be off, but point remains).

I’ve also recommended to someone involved that we ought to put the otherwise useless Comp Plan to work in establishing zones or at least categorizing a hierarchy of proposed density zones to guide the parking standards.

Prof. Shoup is an advocate of Demand-based parking. I think in the long-term we need to get to something similar, however I am not sure it is the most effective solution for Dallas's current situation. In most places around the City, there is no demand and where/when there is, parking is supplied privately.

Places that do have temporary demand load that effect the neighborhoods and business, such as Greenville and Bishop Arts, suffer because they are essentially neighborhood centers that draw from a City-wide base, suggesting that the majority of our neighborhoods are vastly under-served by walkable, clustered neighborhood centers such as these. Supply of walkable places is far less than demand, and the parking code (and zoning in general) is one of the primary reasons. If we had more of these, serving residents within a certain distance, parking would be far less of a problem.

The other thing to identify is where does city generated parking revenue go? Does it go into the general fund and get lost? These revenues should be directed towards localized public improvements. However, all the revenue is sucked up by private entities. So that solution isn't a short-term fix.

Land is so invaluable currently (yet overpriced), that even in a downtown, it is a market-oriented solution to have surface parking lots, which then further undermine land value. Our roads and transportation system, paid for by taxpayers create that market. That is the deeper issue.

I ask the question, since the market can't/won't push out surface lot owners from downtown, do we have the leadership to drive it out?