by Stewart Schwartz
Editor’s Note: The City of Richmond has launched a parking study focused on seven distinct areas of the city and is holding seven public meetings this week. Meeting dates and locations.
Parking is perhaps the most important aspect of a city to get right if we are going to address traffic, make housing more affordable, and create a sustainable, walkable, bikeable city. The City of Richmond is growing, but if it’s to grow without making traffic really bad, we need to get parking right. Too much parking, especially free or underpriced, will lead to more driving and traffic. Too much parking can also drive up building costs and housing prices, making it harder to provide housing affordable to the full range of our workforce.
As we grow, we need to provide good alternatives by expanding our transit system and adding more dedicated bus lanes over time, and adding bike lanes — especially protected ones, and make walking safer and interesting. Combine these with car sharing like Zipcar and Car2Go, taxis, and ride hailing like Uber and Lyft. With all of these options, you may not need a second car, and for some people, any car at all.
Cities around the U.S. are adopting a range of creative parking policies that combine both market-oriented and regulatory approaches to managing parking. These include:
1) Setting the right price for parking on the street so that there is good turnover in retail districts and 20% of spaces are rotating open at any one time.
2) Using residential parking permit programs but pricing the parking passes appropriately and adding car sharing options to the neighborhood.
3) Dropping use of parking minimums and putting in a maximum limit on number of spaces, while exempting small buildings from having to have any parking. Today our city actually has many zoning districts which actually do get parking right — without requiring too much.
4) Sharing parking between users — one example is daytime office parking used for nighttime entertainment parking.
5) Pricing all off-street parking in lots and structures and separating the rental of parking spaces from the apartment lease or condo purchase price, and from the office lease. This makes clear the high cost of providing parking and always results in lower demand.
6) Equalizing employee commute benefits — instead of just offering free or subsidized parking, an employer should also offer a transit pass benefit, or even a “parking cash out” where an employee offered a parking space can “cash it out” for an equal value in a transit pass + cash, or cash + walk or bike to work.
For a comprehensive presentation on modern parking policies, I recommend this presentation to the City of Portland, Oregon by Jeff Tumlin of Nelson\Nygaard. Jeff is one of the premier national experts in parking policy. Or for the scientific and technical basis for changing a city’s parking policies, see UCLA Professor Donald Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking.”
If Richmond wants to maintain its quality of life as it grows, the city needs to get parking right. Hopefully, the ongoing study will lead to the adoption of the best combination of market-rate and policy solutions for our community.
Stewart Schwartz is a board member of the Partnership for Smarter Growth and executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.