Why parking has everything to do with the vibrancy of a great place.
But first: did you know that parking has its very own rock star? Bet you didn't - and neither did I. Apparently though, much of the really smart thinking abut parking has been done by a guy who even has a Facebook group named in his honour: The Shoupistas. They're probably not the people you want to be stuck in a lift with for hours but Donald Shoup just might be. Read Speck's book if you want the list of degrees he has; I'll just content myself with saying that he's opened this little layperson's eyes to the economics of parking and how parking planning can make or break a downtown.
Parking economics in 30 seconds
Firstly, it costs a lot to building parking spaces. In the US, and I'm sure it's relatively similar in Australia, it costs about $4k to put a one-car parking space on a slab of asphalt on a piece of almost worthless land. The most expensive parking space, in a parking station, costs about $40k. In fact, staggeringly, Shoup estimates that the cost of all parking spaces is greater than the value of all the CARS and may even be more than the value of all the roads. Add to this the fact in many areas, the cost of the parking doesn't cover the costs, and you start to see the glimmering beginning of the problem.
Of course, add zoning regulations into the mix and the picture gets worse. By that I mean, basically, the rules that dictate how much parking has to be associated with any of the uses you'd find in a city - adding development costs but also reducing density, which in its turn reduces walkability.
However, the problem deepens again as we look at the relative pricing of an on-street parking space vs an off-street parking space. The scenario is basically this: if on-street parking is priced much cheaper than off-street parking, in parking stations for example, what will you do? Go to the parking station? Of course you won't. You'll drive around looking for an on-street park...adding congestion. Speck quotes a study of six different urban sites that found that roughly a third of all traffic congestion was made up of people trying to find a park - but also pollution, slow emergency response and let's face it, road rage too.
Parking pricing and the 85% rule
Apparently Shoup recommends three key aspects of parking planning that cities need to get right, to help create a great place, not hinder it.
1. Abolish off-street parking requirements. Do this, and the market will work out how much parking is needed - and stimulate an active commercial market for it. Shoup also talks about different levers that can be used to help achieve this like 'pay-in-lieu' schemese or parking cash-outs for employer provided parking, but as to the ins and outs read Speck, or better still Shoup on this.
2. Price parking at a level that results in an 85% occupancy rate. Apparently this number equates to about one empty space per block, and if executed in the most sophisiticated way, it means true variable congestion pricing. (But read more about that in Speck's book.)
3. Institute parking benefits districts. In essence, take the revenue you generate from parking meters and use it locally. Do this and you improve the place - and get shop owners and residents on side too.
The Shoupistas are ready for their day in the sun
Or so says Speck. The key is to have a comprehensive plan and collectively manage on-street parking, off-street parking, parking permits and parking regulations to help preserve or create walkability - and a great place.