Taking Parking Lots Seriously, as Public Spaces

An article from the New York Times about the architecture of parking lots, and how they might be much better used as public spaces with some design tweaks. Some cities like Houston and LA, dedicate a full third of their land area to parking lots, creating hard paved urban deserts and storm runoff disasters. They say that simply suggesting that we “buy fewer cars” is glib (I disagree) but clearly point out the folly of requiring vast quantities of parking by law, and then giving it away for free, thus hiding the true costs.

The High Cost of Free Parking in Boulder

Antisocial Facades

Over the last year or so, I’ve been involved with the planning and design of the public space which will accompany some of the first re-developments in the Transit Village/Boulder Junction, mostly Pearl Parkway between 30th St. and the railroad tracks.  I’ve primarily given feedback as a cyclist and pedestrian — someone who uses our streets under my own power.  Even in Boulder, those of us who don’t own, and only very rarely use private motor vehicles are still unusual.  Nevertheless, the long term goal of the TVAP is to have 60% of all trips in the region done by foot, bike or transit — anything but the much loved and loathed single occupancy vehicle (SOV).  I was particularly taken by something Tim Plass said in the PLAN Boulder election forum this fall when asked to envision Boulder 30 years in the future: Every once in a while you’ll see an electric car on the road, but mostly it’ll be bikes and pedestrians and transit.  I agree with these goals; we should pursue them vigorously.  But the city being described by Plass and the TVAP is very different from the status quo today, and it’s difficult to take the steps necessary to realize it.  Sometimes I think of myself as a time-traveling constituent from this future city, describing what it is that we will want then, when the majority of people aren’t driving a private car everywhere they go.  One thing that I’m confident we won’t want is so much “free” parking.

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Parking Price Elasticity in San Francisco

Prices affect parking less than San Francisco expected, in its ongoing SFPark experiment, fully implementing dynamic parking prices with target occupancy rates.  Apparently people are willing to pay quite a bit more to be right next to their destination, instead of even one block away.  Either that, or they don’t realize how much parking prices vary block by block.  Perhaps each of the parking kiosks should have a prominent street-facing display, readable by drivers, advertizing the price they charge per hour?

Counting Parking Spots, From Above

A couple of researchers inferred the rate of parking supply growth in New Haven, Cambridge and Hartford from aerial photographs, between 1950 and 2010.  Both Connecticut cities had explosive parking growth, even while their populations were declining.  Cambridge enacted parking maxima in 1985, and its shrinking population trend reversed.  Thus parking is not required to facilitate growth.  Felix Salmon comments on the paper as well:

Parking lots are — with only a handful of exceptions — the best possible way of destroying a city’s soul. They’re gruesome, lifeless places, and I’m constantly astonished by the way in which governments and developers are convinced that they’re a great idea.

Portland’s bike corral backlog

Portland literally cannot build bike corrals fast enough to satisfy local businesses.  After installing 30 corrals in 2009 and 21 in 2010, there are now 75 businesses on the waiting list.  Once you reach a certainly critical mass of cyclists, swapping a single car parking space (1.3 customers) for a dozen bike parking spaces (12 customers) is no longer a difficult idea to sell to business.

2011 Boulder Cyclist Survey Results

Southern Sun Bike Parking

We put out a survey in early March (more detailed summary here in PDF format), asking a bunch of questions about the bicycle habits and desires of Boulderites, and we’ve gotten nearly 200 responses.  This is an attempt at a summary.

A large majority (83%) of respondents reported using their bikes as either their primary (53%) or secondary (30%) mode of transportation.  This isn’t too surprising, since we targeted cyclists in promoting the survey.  It’s important to realize though that at some level, our most important audience is people don’t currently bike, or identify as cyclists, but who could be potentially be enticed into riding given the right inducements.  This group is important both because it’s large, and because it’s not “the choir” in terms of preaching.  It isn’t your base that you aim for in politics, it’s the undecideds.  At the same time, the current cyclists are the political constituency that we are trying to represent in an advocacy context.

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