Monday, March 14, 2016
Lieb on the Urban Parking Dilemma
(I was unable to give a decent report of Thursday's Planning Commission meeting because my brain short-circuited after about two hours. Fortunately, I write for a weekly, and have the luxury of letting things sink in. But Randy Kraft's story for WFMZ-TV69 is simply outstanding, and it. In the meantime, Dennis Lieb sent me an essay that essential argues that urban planners should de-emphasize parking garages. Lieb is a student od urban planning and was an Easton Planning Commissioner for about five years. Here are his thoughts.)
The Parking Effect On Urban Design, Mobility and Accessibility:
The complaints that more parking is needed to get the office development built is representative of the circular reasoning that created the car-dependency problem in the first place. I am not bashing anyone for holding this opinion since it is a common one that we have been led to believe, but it misses the counter-intuitive nature of the problem. As cities adopted suburban style development mentalities to compete with emerging suburban growth they provided more and more parking for places originally designed to be reached on foot or by transit. This was a misunderstanding of what the city had to offer vis-a-vis suburbia. The lesson - as yet to be learned in most parts of many cities, including Bethlehem - is that you compete by accentuating what sets you apart from suburbia, not by trying to become it. As we've seen all over the country, that was, and still remains, a losing proposition.
As parking lots and garages go up, their insertion into the street grid naturally spreads out the remaining destinations (housing, retail, office uses) over a larger physical area. As this occurs the willingness of people to walk to the remaining destinations diminishes. Studies have shown that most people are wiling to walk about five minutes or .25 mile (about 1300 ft). These walking statistical areas manifest themselves in something called a pedestrian shed: http://pedshed.net/?page_id=5
A series of them in a neighborhood might look like this (image courtesy of DPZ.com):
This is not an exact science and the real distances in any given place have a lot to do with the quality of the walk and what you can access by doing it. The average goes up to about 10 minutes and .5 mile if a quality transit station is at the other end of the trip - rail or bus. It you had a bit more of a sociable destination in mind you might want to whimsically map something like this:
As walking decreases, driving between locations increases and people are using more parking spaces as they move between destinations that were previously walkable. Downtowns with large gaps in their street faces due to empty lots and blank-faced garage structures actually discourage people - especially those without intimate knowledge of the place (like tourists) - from venturing very far down streets. Without getting too wordy, this diagram, lifted from Donald Shoup's book, The High Cost of Free Parking is used to illustrate the dilemma. If you start at the bottom of the wheel at "Suburbanization and Degraded Cities" and move clockwise you'll get the point:
Places like Bethlehem have a fairly compact core but a lot of suburban infiltration has occurred on the city's perimeter. It would be best to stop this before any more damage is done. Easton doesn't suffer much at all from similar fates since it is totally built out and has no sprawl potential and little opportunity for degradation of the existing fabric - but the city still makes a lot of iffy decisions as if it did; like the idea that we need two more parking decks downtown (a soapbox diatribe for another day). Anyway, more driving begets more cars and traffic, which begets more accommodations of both (roads and parking), which begets less walkable cities and the whole degenerating cycle winds down to urban deterioration.
So whats the answer to the person who says, "Well, we have all these people driving to get to things now. What else are we supposed to do?" The point that has been missed for a very long time is that when people are driving distances to get what they need the response should not be more accommodation of the car. It should be an evaluation of what is missing within their ped shed and to provide it. In technical jargon this would be called densification and intensification of the urban environment. In layman's terms its known as CITY BUILDING: give people what they need where they need it...commerce, supply and demand, capitalism. What is the big mystery here?
Build a better neighborhood that people think is beautiful; that functions simply for their everyday needs and that allows choices - along with the car but that are not exclusive to it - that address both mobility and accessibility issues equally.