Thoughts on Rezone to CBD; Forget the Parking

Comments I’m preparing for presentation to Moscow P&Z tonight (7/26) regarding rezoning 2 parcels to CBD

I’m going to read some tonight from The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup you can buy on this page of the American Planning Association website. You can read the first chapter before you buy in this PDF.

The website says:
“Free parking isn’t really free. In fact, the average parking space costs more than the average car. Initially, developers pay for the required parking, but soon tenants do, and then their customers, and so on, until the cost of parking has diffused throughout the economy. When we shop, eat in a restaurant, or see a movie, we pay for parking indirectly because its cost is included in the price of everything from hamburgers to housing ….  But free parking has other costs: It distorts transportation choices, warps urban form, and degrades the environment.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup proposes new ways for cities to regulate parking, namely, charge fair market prices for curb parking, use the resulting revenue to pay for services in the neighborhoods that generate it, and remove zoning requirements for off-street parking. Such measures, according to the Yale-trained economist and UCLA planning professor, will make parking easier and driving less necessary.”

From the book:

“This book will argue that … there is no such thing as “free” parking. The cost of parking is hidden in higher prices for everything else. In addition to the monetary cost, which is enormous, free parking imposes many other hidden costs on cities, the economy, and the environment.  (pg 1)

and

“Free curb parking presents a classic “commons” problem. Land that
belongs to the community, and is freely available to everyone without
charge, is called a commons. City life requires common ownership of
much land (such as streets, sidewalks, and parks), but the neglect and
mismanagement of common property can create serious problems.

“The archetypical commons problem occurs on village land that is freely
available to all members of a community for grazing their animals. This
open-access arrangement works well in a small community with plenty
of grass to go around. But when the community grows, so does the num-
ber of animals, and eventually, although it may take a while to notice it,
the land is overrun and overgrazed. Harvard economist Thomas
Schelling describes the problem:

‘The commons has come to serve as a paradigm for situations in which people
so impinge on each other in pursuing their own interests that collectively they
might be better off if they could be restrained, but no one gains individually
by self-restraint. …’ (17)

“Free curb parking is an asphalt commons: just as cattle compete in their
search for scarce grass, drivers compete in their search for scarce curb
parking spaces. Drivers waste time and fuel, congest traffic, and pollute
the air while cruising for curb parking, and after finding a space they have
no incentive to economize on how long they park. …. (pg 7)

and

“Although urban planners have not ignored the commons problem created by free curb parking, they have misdiagnosed it. Planners have identified the source of the problem not as the city’s failure to charge market prices for curb parking, but as the market’s failure to supply enough off-street parking. Cities therefore require ample on-site parking for all new buildings. The logic behind this policy is simple: development may increase the demand for parking, but cities can require developers to provide enough on-site spaces to satisfy this new demand. If a new building increases the demand for parking by 100 spaces, for example, cities can require it to provide 100 new spaces so that competition for the scarce curb parking doesn’t increase. Curb parking remains a commons, and cities require enough off-street parking to satisfy the increased demand.” (pg 8)

Last time, P&Z was thinking about requiring Beebe’s development to provide ample parking. Beebe even offered to do this on the most southernly parcel. You then moved in the direction of seeking a ‘parking mitigation’ plan.

Beebe (following Shoup) might have proposed his mitigation plan as elimination of free parking throughout the CBD, arguing that the market would better allocate parking than the commons. Would such a plan have been accepted?

Returning to the book:
“Most markets depend on prices to allocate resources—so much so that it’s hard to imagine they could operate in any other way. Nevertheless, cities have tried to manage parking almost entirely without prices. To see the absurdity of this policy, look at it from a new perspective. Cities require off-street parking because the market supposedly fails to provide enough of it. But the market fails to provide many things at a price every-
one can afford. For instance, it fails to provide affordable housing for many families. Advocates for affordable housing usually find themselves in an uphill battle, but without a second thought cities have imposed
requirements to ensure affordable parking. Rather than charge fair-market prices for on-street parking, cities insist on ample off-street parking for every land use. As a result, most of us drive almost everywhere we go.”
(pg 8 & 9)

He goes on to analyze the larger social impacts of driving everywhere.

Consider another local example, the Food COOP.  The COOP is struggling with congestion in its parking lot, and from what I can gather, the COOP feels that some of the problem originates from people who park in their lot and then go elsewhere. The COOP is part of the free parking commons downtown.

To be as charitable as possible, let’s assume that everyone who parks in the COOP lot shops in the COOP, but then some of them run across to Howard Hughes or peek into Goodwill, or do another quick errand without moving their car. The COOP is unwittingly supplying part of the parking to the downtown commons. Were they to add another parking spot, or free one up by getting anther customer to use alternative transportation, the gain is not  theirs alone, it is a benefit to all their neighbors.  In the current situation, there is no incentive for any CBD property to add free parking because it is to the advantage of their neighbors and a cost to themselves. Its a situation of one member paying to build more commons.

Murf said it in his editorial (6/16) following the Beebe hearing: “Parking downtown is a problem that the City leadership needs to address.” I agree. Its time for some leadership from Council on this issu

While we await that leadership I suggest that P&Z not make the solution more complicated by bringing new parcels into CBD with special parking requirements. The proposal tonight is asking to join its self to the parking commons on the standard terms, and I assume its done with the knowledge that when there is a solution, the costs of the solution will be applied across all the members of the CBD.

I’d suggest you bring more parcels into CBD on the same footing, with no special parking requirements imposed and let developers decide if and how they provide onsite parking  — and keep pushing the real problem to Council.

Or, you could find that more CBD, with its mixed use, smart growth potential, is not in the interests of Moscow and direct retail development elsewhere (forbid the thought).

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