Posts Tagged ‘parking’

The Camden, NJ has a huge parking crater extending from the waterfront to downtown. Now the city’s Parking Authority wants to hollow out downtown even more:

When the Parking Authority of the City of Camden decided it wanted to tear down the decades-old Commerce Building in the heart of downtown to put up a parking garage, it made an offer far below the property owner’s expectations.

The Estate of Milton Rubin, a real estate investor in the city, had been paying property taxes on an assessment of $1.66 million, and in 2007 had prepared to sell it for $4.5 million.

The Parking Authority’s offer came in considerably lower.

In a letter in June, the agency raised the specter of eminent domain as it offered minus $200,000 – essentially asking the estate to part with the building and pay on top of it.

“There’s just a level of some inexplicable absurdity here,” Robert S. Baranowski, attorney for the estate, said last week. “I’d love to go around taking people’s property and telling them they have to pay me to do it.”

“Absurd” doesn’t even begin to describe it. The property sits one block from a PATCO subway station, and is across the street from the Walter Rand Transportation Center (an intermodal station with rail and bus service). It is the last place where a city should be replacing buildings with parking.


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Socialist Parking Meter Hours

The nerve of those Berkeley socialist hippies! Restricting automobile traffic in order to increase the value of private property:

Berkeley’s attitude towards automobiles has always been pretty plain if you’ve ever tried to drive there — bring ’em if you want, but we ain’t making it easy. The city has closed off many of its side streets with barriers and huge potted plants, pushing up property values on those lucky streets at the stroke of a pen, while pushing traffic onto just a few clogged, noisy streets.

Oh, but it gets worse:

But Berkeley isn’t against making a buck off parked cars, and over the past year or so it has been looking for ways to charge more in busy areas.

Why? Because Berkeley hopes to change the behavior of drivers, who park longer in downtown spaces after 6 p.m., when they don’t have to pay. Calling those two extra hours “a high-demand time for many businesses,” Berkeley says it will be helping them by forcing shoppers to shop quickly, hustle back to their cars and make room for more shoppers to park and spend.

Something I will never understand is why business types think the law of supply-and-demand doesn’t apply to parking.

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Here is another one of those stories about absurd parking subsidies. The city of Madison, WI has several parking garages that are functionally obsolete. The city wants to replace these facilities with new underground parking — and use the land above for new development.

In theory, that is not a bad idea. It frees up land for new infill development. The problem is that underground parking is ludicrously expensive. So the city is proposing a change in state law that would allow the use of tax-increment financing to fund it:

Under TIF, the city freezes the value of property in an area and uses new tax revenue there to support private development and public infrastructure. After loans and debt are repaid, all value is fully returned to the tax rolls.

In the early 1980s, the Legislature found TIF inappropriate for large public projects that rely on user fees such as sewage and water facilities. Madison can’t use TIF for municipal parking structures because its parking utility, created in the 1940s, has relied on user fees and revenue bonds to build structures.

Now, the city is seeking funding options to help pay for public parking at Judge Doyle Square and parking garages Downtown that must be replaced in coming years and decades. Being able to use TIF would make it more feasible to put parking underground and attract private development and private tax base on prime real estate above it, city officials said.

Putting parking underground can increase the cost of a garage by 50 to 100 percent, city Parking Operations manager Thomas Woznick said.

In other words, the city would subsidize the facilities instead of charging users the market rate. The development would receive other taxpayer giveaways as well:

The city is considering investing a record amount of public money into the project, which has evolved from a plan to replace the crumbling Government East parking ramp at Pinckney and Doty streets into a $160-million or more multi-phased effort including a luxury hotel, new office space and market rate housing.

First-term east-side Ald. David Ahrens has emerged as the most outspoken leader of the opposition, questioning the need for a new hotel that backers say will help bring more business to the city-owned Monona Terrace Convention Center.

Last month, Ahrens brought nationally known convention business critic Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas-San Antonio, to Madison for a public discussion on the project.

And first-term southeast side Ald. Denise DeMarb, who recently proposed an open meeting of the full City Council to discuss the project, says she has some serious concerns about a potential $50 million or more in tax incremental financing or other public subsidy.

“This is a huge project, with potentially a lot of taxpayer money going into it and that is something I take very seriously,” says DeMarb, the former finance director at Trek Bicycle Corp.


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Park Or Stadium Parking?

Economists often criticize the ridiculous costs of professional football stadiums. A modern stadium can cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion, even though the typical NFL football team plays just 8 home games per year. And it isn’t just the cost of the stadium itself, but also the massive amount of parking:

There is a huge uproar right now over the revelation that the San Francisco 49ers still have to find 5,000 more parking spaces for the new stadium being built in Santa Clara County. It set off arguments among a number of different groups. Some people are wondering where those parking spots will come from. Locals worry the team will pave over a soccer spot, or destroy butterfly or bird habitats or an ancient Ohlone Indian burial ground.

The city estimates Levi’s Stadium needs 21,000 parking spaces. So far, the 49ers have 16,000 right now. They need 5,000 more and what better place than right next door to the Santa Clara youth soccer facility.

One of the options is the Ulistac Natural Area just down the street. Opponents say the fields would back up almost all the way to the levee and all that will be left will be the wetlands and the area immediately around and south of the bird and butterfly habitat garden.

So the plan is to destroy parks and soccer fields — all to accommodate 8 home games per year.


Guadalupe River Trail, running along Ulistac Park

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Parking Rightsizing

The next time merchants in your downtown demand another parking garage because of the parking “shortfall” you can recommend a radically simple solution: Shrink the size of the parking stall.

Whereas the size of a standard American parallel-parking spot is 23 to 24′ long, in the UK it is more like 20′. In France (and much of continental Europe) it is 18′.

Just imagine if the parking spots in crowded downtown areas were reduced by 6′ — that increases parking utilization by a whopping 25%.

Oh, but what about the poor SUV drivers who can’t fit their Lincoln Navigator into an 18′ stall? Well, so what? Why should cities reduce their parking supply by 1/4 to accommodate oversized SUV’s? And in any case, anyone who can afford to gas up an SUV can pay to park their vehicle in an offstreet garage.

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Who Determines Parking Requirements?

Let’s say you are a developer, doing an infill project in an area of considerable transit and walking potential. What possible reason to include parking as part of the project? It reduces the total amount of floor area that can be leased/rented out. It can also be very expensive to build, if the parking is in a garage.

So I put this question to a developer of a major infill project — and I was stunned by his answer. I had assumed the reasons had to do with the local zoning rules, and the difficulty in getting a variance. Or perhaps he felt parking was needed to make the project marketable.

In fact, he totally agreed that the parking was expensive and unnecessary. The building was in a desirable location, and did not require offstreet parking. And yes, there were zoning requirements, but a variance would have been possible.

Nope, the reason had to do with the bank. The people doing the financing had a standard calculation for the minimum amount of parking. Without parking, their view is that projects are not economical, and did not want to risk a default on the construction loan.

Now, this could have been a unique situation with just one particular bank. But researching other infill projects, there does seem to be a trend. For example, here was one creative solution to the problem:

Tenants who wanted a space on-site paid a premium for it—usually between $150 and $250 a month. The price varied to ensure that some on-site parking spaces were available when one of the building’s luxury units became vacant). The parking spaces in the structure blocks away, meanwhile, were leased primarily to nonresidents—office workers and other downtown commuters. The primary purpose of that parking structure was to secure a construction loan.

So to all you activists working to minimize parking requirements in the General Plan for your downtown area — you are probably wasting your time. It is the banks you need to worry about, not the local zoning.

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Suburban Whiners

Lately, there is trend among “Big City” newspapers to feature columns catering to the suburbanites. Perhaps it is just a lame attempt to attract a more affluent demographic, but the columns have a boring predictability. Each week one can expect a gripe about the usual urban failings — lack of parking being the biggest complaint.

But even with that mind, this column from Chris Johnson deserves extra special mention for his gripe that the Oakland Coliseum should have provided parking for 70,000 U2 concert goers:

U2 fans who drove to the stadium assumed there would be ample parking for the event, and they were sadly mistaken. And Coliseum officials – and apparently BART operators – who assumed that Coliseum visitors were aware that parking options are limited and that BART always runs late for Coliseum events – didn’t hold up their end well either.

Pity the poor out-of-down yokels who didn’t know there was a modern train service, and tried to drive to a venue with limited parking.

Crowds Walking from BART Station to Coliseum

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To entice shoppers to drive their cars into its shopping districts, the city of Berkeley is having two parking holidays. Parking revenue averages $20-$50k per day, so the total cost of the parking subsidy could be as much as $100k.

Like most California cities, this has been a rough year for Berkeley’s budget. The police department is under-staffed, and a popular neighborhood pool was shuttered. And yet Berkeley, despite having a Climate Action Plan, despite having a Transit-First policy, will literally give away $100k in free parking.

What is really odd is why merchants would ask for such a thing. The whole point of parking meters is to encourage higher turn-over. This is a complete lose-lose proposition.

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