I have my hands full with various real and side projects that have kept my attention away from home base here, including a full feature article for Columns Magazine on the New Parkland Hospital. Last week, I was posting snippets of a draft on parking issues within the City of Dallas. Well, for the next week while I’m off handling other bidnass, chew on the full shebang (footnotes and endnotes excluded in the copy/paste):
Policy Paper for the Revision of Parking Code for City of Dallas
By: Patrick Kennedy AICP, CNU
August 10, 2010
Disclosure: I was not paid to do this. I was only motivated by my civic duty as a Dallas citizen and the sense that nobody had yet come to the fore presenting a real understanding of the what, why, and how various parts of the City are affected by parking, either too much or too little. Meanwhile many parts of the City work just fine. My intention is to arrive at a solution that is incremental, that is contextual, that is sophisticated, and is understanding of and appropriately calibrated to the subtleties and nuance of local dynamics of place.
Also: Special thanks to all that assisted in taking a review of this.
“The car is like your mother-in-law. You must have good relationship with her, but she shouldn’t control your life.” Jaime Lerner
Because of antiquated and arcane formulas, parking, as the result of formalized inertia, has become a problem in cities throughout the country, one that has yet to be fully solved because it is not fully understood. It is too often treated with blunt tools when delicacy, as defined by place, should determine the appropriate approach. In order to create timeless, lovable, and livable cities, our underlying codes that define place must be aware of the place they are trying to create. The following is a position paper outlining the specific and broader issues imposed by parking and its various permutations and suggesting an additional implementation component be added as an addendum to the Dallas Comprehensive Plan and the Vision North Texas 2050 Regional Plan that calls out problem areas and outlines them as either Regional or Neighborhood Centers with specific policy directions for each. By doing so, the City of Dallas will become a leader in applying forward thinking principles for urban development, will stimulate investment in areas, and create more successful, appropriately-scaled centers of activity.
A common solution to parking problems affecting American cities is to convert to a market-based pricing approach. While this is appropriate in some locations, a strictly market-based approach works only when curb parking is underpriced and when overcrowded; however, there is plentiful off-street parking, the problem is the very code demanding excessive spaces. Cities can therefore eliminate cruising by either charging market prices for curb parking or by requiring enough off-street spaces to reduce the price of off-street parking to zero. The price of curb parking is one of the few policy variables that cities control directly, but almost all American cities have chosen the wrong policy: requiring plentiful off-street parking rather than charge fair market prices for scarce curb parking.
For Dallas, however, the problem is not that simple. Simply switching all parking to market-based pricing is not enough. Expecting different results by following past policies or principles is the definition of folly. This paper intends to point out the multitude of negative outcomes for the city that are produced by the current parking ordinances as well as suggest a road map for guiding future development in the City of Dallas based on more context-sensitive parking solutions.
Currently, there are two general parking scenarios emerging in Dallas. Using Jan Gehl’s terminology , these are the Invaded City and the Abandoned City. An invaded area is one where the demand to be there remains high enough that visitors often search endlessly for free parking and crowd into residential neighborhood streets. In Dallas, some of these areas include the neighborhoods of West Village, Lower Greenville, and Bishop Arts.
Abandoned places are areas where walking and public life has become almost nonexistent due to excessive parking. Downtown Dallas was first invaded by automobiles in the 1950s, only to eventually be abandoned by reactionary measures. Today, much of downtown remains abandoned (that the Main Street area of downtown is in the process of oscillating back from abandoned to being an invaded place, underscores the need for a parking code that is finely tuned to the intricacies of place).
A new parking code creatively and strategically amended, will solve both problems. Ultimately, this report suggests that regional and local centers be differentiated from the rest of the development code. By doing so, this would create special provisions to these overlays for parking and transportation provisions associated with the goals and principles of the area as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan.
Planning for the Future by Addressing Now, Flexibly
In ten years, what will the City of Dallas look like? How about in twenty? Fifty? One hundred? The truth is that no one knows. One hundred years ago, the dire urban planning issue of the day was accumulation of horse excrement. The near-term answers are far easier to imagine than future ones. . The unpredictability ought to give us some insight into the process of zoning and coding for the City of Dallas.
The United Nations defines sustainability as taking care of the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs as well. In many ways, our building and zoning codes should represent a similar logic to be more accommodating for our needs of today while being more adaptable for the future. The codes must achieve the goals set forth by the city, yet be adaptable to prevent the institutionalization (and inertia) of one generation’s preferences at the expense of another’s.
In a period of economic (and general) transition for people and their cities, now is the time to revisit codes cemented in place and mold the underlying “genetic” codes of cities for the functional urban form we desire. Geographer Richard Florida similarly refers to the present version of these periods of varying degree of trauma as the Great Reset where the economy and its primary facility, the City, are recalibrated and repurposed for long-term prosperity.
Urban Genetics, the underlying code and resultant physical form
Howard Bloom, popular science author and neurobiologist , calls these recessionary lulls the growing pains of shedding a no longer useful form of living for another (a new, and often yet to be determined one). If our cities are the physical manifestation of our economies (which are constructed in service to human emotion: wants and needs) our “urban phenotype” or the physical form of the city is directly produced by its genotype, or underlying genetic code. To get the cities we want, we must alter the genetic code of cities.
Our current challenge is unpredictability: what if we rewire the City’s code incorrectly? The worst thing to do is the obvious: to stick with the status quo. If Bloom is to be believed, we do not yet know what the future city will be because it is yet to emerge from the competition to replace the failing version of the existing. However, it is equally pernicious to code a potentially incorrect prediction. We need to allow for flexibility and the determination of potential new urban phenotypes to battle it out and determine the optimal direction for our City. The lesson: Do not code to specifics.
The need to “overwrite” prescription with proscription.
The majority of contemporary zoning codes in the U.S. are overly prescriptive in that they predetermine what the result will be as well as the process to achieve it. While a prescription is a rule that defines in detail what to do in a given situation, a proscription is a template for defining prescriptive rules, a pattern for a rule. This means that it is in favor of things, but how to get to that result is up to the determination of the designers, builders, and owners in direct response to variable site issues, opportunities, and constraints.
Most of the cities we love from around the world were and continue to be defined by simple patterns. For example, Portofino, Italy had no more complex building codes than certain established priorities such as views of the water. Siena, Italy was defined and arranged by physical capabilities of movement at the time of its development, on two- or four-legs. This led to winding and curving forms in response to geography. Another example is Washington, D.C., which was designed to preserve the prominence of the governmental and cultural institutions housed there. The resulting form is of streets and view corridors organized around the primary monuments and seats of government, as well as height limitations that maintain a pedestrian scale.
While we must allow for flexibility during changing times, needs, and technologies, which drive a future city form that we cannot comprehend or predict with any accuracy, in any living system, complexity is necessary to ensure survival. More heterogeneity equates to increased resilience. Cities are no different. In many ways, we squelched complexity in favor of uniformity, which was merely a direct response to codes that ensured uniformity and lack of innovation. Overly complex codes have produced overly homogenous places. Our cities must be responsive to our desire for different types of experiences and neighborhoods. We are now feeling the pain of those decisions as some parts of the city are overwhelmed by an influx of cars, others by too much parking.
In order to climb out of recessionary lulls, like any business, our City needs to best embody the spirit of the times. As the Better Block Project in Oak Cliff has shown, the Citizens are rejecting the uniformity of place and beginning to shape their neighborhoods. We need to unleash the creativity of the millions of Dallas residents in order to shape the future of the city toward one common goal of a more livable, a more vital, and a more empowering city for all.
The Need for Complexity through Simplification
A blanket code cannot effectively adapt to site conditions effectively. In response to this shortcoming, Dallas has created over one-thousand Planned Development Ordinances, meaning each zoning case becomes a lengthy and expensive negotiation for both the private entity and the city. This represents a desire by the market for less uniformity, but the result is administratively difficult.
The zoning code for our City must be FOR shared principles towards an improved City and AGAINST things such as mandatory parking minimums that interrupt the natural fabric of a City with wasteful surface parking space. The eventual patterns would be the basic principles and goals through which all more detailed decisions would be filtered. There are currently no basic principles in Dallas’s code that limit the destructive effect of parking on urban fabric and economies or guide our city towards increased lovability and vitality.
None of us lives in the future; therefore, we cannot dictate the rules of the City to citizens of Dallas 2050 as many of our antiquated zoning rules have done to us. Our goal should be a new code that shapes the City in a way that (in one hundred years) the City form will be so lovable and useful to the citizens that they will want to protect what we, the Dallas citizens of today, have created. Furthermore, the code should be flexible and adaptable enough to still apply or be malleable enough to respond to the needs of their time adequately.
It is no longer the 1980s. City building strictly for cars is no longer considered a futuristic utopia. It is expensive both individually and collectively. Our parking standards, in effect, require car ownership and the personal cost that goes with it. Dallas continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the country. In order to accommodate the influx of people, the City must evolve in a sustainable fashion, and that means making infill development attractive and profitable for investment.
Accommodate sustainable and creative development forms.
Dallas and its densifying areas cannot compete with suburbia and should not have similar codes. Nor can it compete with the great cities of the world, as Dallas often aspires, with 20th century models, but rather by best representing the 21st century. This does not call for otherworldly futurism, but for appropriate guidance of the market and allowing the new city to represent the outgrowth of the desires and personalities therein. Great cities are defined by their authenticity and this must be the underlying logic for cultivating Dallas.
In other words, we must begin framing policy to allow for natural demand-oriented corrections to the market, which would ensure maximum flexibility and eschew the tendency for cemented policy that is resistant to the natural change all cities perpetually undergo.
Now is the time to be proactive rather than reactive and to guide what we want our city to be, how we want it to look, how we want it to function, and how we interact within it. Dallas’s parking code is an outdated, formative coding mechanism that has had a profound effect on eventual urban form and needs to change. However, unwieldy the process might seem, it can be refined with a thorough understanding of the issues and a few simple directives (overlays).
Any city can be understood as a spectrum representing the various and sometimes competing needs, wants, and desires of all its citizens, businesses, and stakeholders. Any building, zoning, or parking code must understand and accommodate this spectrum. Effective cities and urban economies offer a range of experiences, densities, and types of places, and the code must reflect that.
Only through creative market-oriented solutions can the city stir competitive progress, guided by (not dictated) by code. The code should be contextually-based on location, related to proposed or desired density, and limited to guiding principles or patterns, wherever possible, allowing for a flexible and adaptable city.
This paper is not presenting definitive solutions, but a detailed account of the relevant issues from the perspective of a professional urban designer and interviewed local developers. Only through true understanding of the issues, purposes, and function of such codes can we successfully tailor it towards an urban form that we desire, that is effective, sustainable, and contextually- and time-responsive.
Background and History of Parking Minimums
The current iteration of zoning (although amended over decades) was largely created more than fifty years ago in order to protect human health, public interest, and property values. Parking is only one portion of the zoning code, but a tremendously influential one in terms of resultant urban form and function as well as financial dynamics of real estate development.
Historically, new drivers began parking cars much as they would tether horses: anywhere they could on the side of the street because there was no infrastructure to house this motorized newcomer in the cities of the day. In response, cities began imposing mandatory requirements on private development to limit the competition and crowding of public streets.
Parking minimums on private development were enacted because of the excess demand on the limited public street space. Furthermore, because the pre-automobile cities were built around the mobility of the pedestrian (or train, or horse) and therefore were dense places, the introduction of the automobile meant excessive congestion, particularly as drivers circled endlessly for an available parking space.
The result was an overreaction that created mandatory, inflexible parking minimums to ensure that new developments would provide for the necessary mobility in a world where the only way to get around was by car. This implies that all must move around by car. Therefore, there must be a parking space waiting at the end of all trips. This has created many, previously unforeseen, negative outcomes, which will be described in the remainder of this document.
Parking as a poor substitute for mobility
Fortunately, our understanding of mobility has broadened and necessarily so. Dallas has added an extensive light rail system, has connected to Fort Worth via the TRE, and has a burgeoning bicycle culture to go with an on-going street bicycle plan. It also has some of the most successfully walkable urban developments in the country and federal funding for a new modern streetcar. With new transportation alternatives, the definition of mobility has changed; this means our requirements to ensure mobility must change as well.
Axiomatic transportation and parking formulae still assume a car-dominated world as the optimal end-state of cities and must also adapt. As Lewis Mumford states in The City in History, “An effective transportation network requires the largest number of alternative modes of transportation, at varying speeds and volumes, for different functions and purposes.”
New transportation alternatives (Dallas Area Rapid Transit, streetcar systems, and bikes) are adding overall capacity while reducing car use, meaning an increasingly lessened demand for parking. Parking codes written today (or yesterday) should not prohibit these necessary reductions. In fact, they arguably should be steering the market towards providing less parking within a City where it is less necessary.
Now one size fits all – zoning and parking code currently creates for a monoculture…
Car-oriented development has stretched cities beyond their ability to maintain their infrastructure. In a fast growing area with more growth expected, we simply cannot sustain “more of the same” development. The trouble is that because sprawling development was defined by policies such as the current parking code (favoring cheap land over efficient and best use of it) it was and is not indicative of natural, demand-oriented growth. Instead, sprawl cannibalized from the core of the City leaving behind untended areas that are important to us culturally, historically, and economically, and replaced them with a relentless sameness of place and experience.
Parking formulae –along with things like the way we count and predict traffic, zoning, etc– are generative: forming a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Code an area for a certain development prototype, all you will get is that prototype. Furthermore, there is no distinction between uses based on context, location, or transportation (particularly with regard to choice). An office building must be parked at X spaces per 1000 sq ft regardless if it is on a DART line or has a residential base within short proximity. We have achieved a homogeny of place that works for only one segment of the market yet attempts to cram everybody in, like square pegs into round holes.
Furthermore, strictly car-oriented development ensures the mandatory car ownership and maintenance by the working poor, who often pay as much as 30 or 40% of their income on transportation. Often these cars are older models that are polluters, potentially unsafe, or in need of extra maintenance. This means there is potential for isolation and exclusion from participating in the local economy and increased self-sufficiency. We need parking codes that allow for development types (and ultimately neighborhoods) that provide transportation alternatives and options for a variety of affordability levels and personal preferences.
The transect shows a city can and should be made up of a variety of scales and densities, offering choice in the housing marketplace. The parking code must be tailored to specific densities and organized around land use and mobility choice in order for investors, developers, and designers to be responsive to the needs of place, the market, and the goals we have set forth as a City. The goal should be a resultant parking code that is malleable, contextually focused, market-oriented and site appropriate.
Lack of empiricism to the “Science” of Parking Standards – has no basis or responsiveness
Parking expert Professor Donald Shoup cites Connecticut zoning administrator Carol Gould’s writing in the journal Transportation Planning, “Parking requirements in most zoning regulations are not founded on an empirical analysis of what any land use will require to meet patrons’ needs, but appear to have been “handed down” from one community to another.” The result is standardized parking minimums that have no basis in reality or in how cities and people actually function. By standardizing parking requirements, particularly as minimums, the codes ensure a self-reinforcing feedback loop where parking begets road capacity and road capacity begets more parking.
Mandatory minimums lead to a situation where supply always vastly exceeds demand except for rare or special occasions. During off-peak hours, days, weeks, or months, there are vast surpluses of parking that reduce property value, land use, and the public’s perception of safety. Parking, as a necessary resource because of transportation policy, either becomes scarce in those peak times or incredibly abundant during off-peak times and therefore devalued. Neither of which is ideal.
The challenge is that even if studies were commissioned to determine actual parking need by use, the resulting code would still reflect the car-oriented city we want and need to leave behind.
Establishing Goals for the Future and Modeling in Support
Traffic volume modeling is slowly but surely migrating towards a smarter system (like the one San Diego recently implemented) that makes distinctions based on the character of area. From now on projected vehicular trip generations by land use dichotomizes between conventional suburban and urban mixed use categories of development and the load each puts on the transportation network.
While San Diego has at least identified two, there is certainly a greater range of possible development categories and related impacts on transportation and modal share. We know here in Dallas (from working with private developers) that at least three exist for daily trips produced by use. They are Conventional Suburban as the baseline of 100%, Walkable Suburban Mixed-Use (such as Legacy Town Center in Plano) which reduces trips by approximately 20% or 80% of conventional standards, and Walkable Urban Mixed-Use allows for approximately 40% trip reduction or 60% of conventional standards.
As we get smarter with our other data and formulae and as distinctions are drawn for road capacity and layout, we must also do the same to create a parking code that is smart and context-based.
Understanding the Market, meeting the market, and shaping the market
We often fall into the trap of following various dogmas. One of which is the infallible magic of the invisible hand of the market. We have a representative democracy where governments create markets and the infrastructure for them to exist freely and fairly. Government is the invisible arm leading that hand.
Markets generate immense amounts of directional inertia that becomes difficult to reverse if not properly guided. As previously stated, because of faulty policies towards automobile hegemony of the transportation system (the byproduct of relative monoculture of development), the market as it stands today, chooses standards similar to what has already been coded. The market has been conditioned to want exactly what it was coded to have.
It is necessary to clarify the distinction between merely responding to the market and preventing the creation of a plurality of new markets to exist – new ways of living, new ways of being, and new ways for the city to exist, representative of the diversity of the people living within it.
In development, parking ratios are wielded as a necessary response to market realities. They are often of today, if not yesterday, but clearly not of tomorrow. Government policy, including the parking code, for nearly a century has favored car-oriented, unsustainable development leading to a place where the market has no choice but to adhere to the status quo rather than being responsive to changes in the market. Policy prevents progress.
It is critical to know that markets are constructed on demographics, as are representative governments. The response to one tautologically constructed market prevents delivery to the larger, broader market – that of walkable urbanism.
Economist Christopher Leinberger, in research for his book The Option of Urbanism, found pent-up demand, where 40% would like to but only 3% of the population actually do live in walkable urban environments. If we desire private investment in Dallas, we must overcome the barriers created by rigid, inflexible, and antiquated parking requirements.
With increasing mobility thru a variety of alternative transportation modes, only through the allowance of creativity, can Dallas, its citizens, and its creative agents, in the market lead the way into the 21st century and become a national and global leader for how cities can be more livable, more sustainable, more responsive, and more representative of their citizenry.
Government can also play a guiding role by creating overlays around transit areas, limiting parking to maximum ratios, reducing the burden on developers to provide parking, and allowing for flexible and creative solutions to providing the same mobility that parking requirements were intended to ensure in a strictly car-oriented environment.
The Forward Dallas Comprehensive Plan provides a starting point by defining how we want our city to be and not how it is. The new parking code should allow for guided, incremental change towards the general defined goals in Forward Dallas. However, after participating in and reviewing the process, there are not enough classifications in strategic land use areas for the range and flexibility the market would actually deliver.
However, from a geographic and mapping standpoint, with new streetcar and bike initiatives, it is already an old document. To evolve incrementally the Dallas Parking Code, we should establish transit-oriented, form-based overlay zones with new, flexible parking requirements (possibly even maximums) within a 15-minute walking shed around transit hubs, stations, and corridors.
Costs vs. Returns?
One of the challenges Dallas faces in becoming a ‘smarter’ city is the availability of data and information regarding how people live and operate within the City, including measurements of preference over practice, i.e. pent-up demand. One such data vacuum is the proper valuation of externalities. Simply put, many things just cannot be objectively assigned dollar-amount values. However, slowly but surely, we are learning of the negative costs associated with the current, antiquated parking policies on the urban fabric of our City.
The over-abundance of parking reduces property value and instills a perception of lack of safety, while the spatial requirement for cars and their auxiliary infrastructure undermines interconnected nature of successful urban economies.
As stated in the Market Section above, the commonly accepted market-requirements for parking are often very similar to code. In today’s economic environment without creative solutions, mandatory parking minimums become a barrier to investment. This particularly effects potential investment in difficult urban infill development sites, the places where we want it in order to catalyze urban revitalization.
Specifically, there are the literal, objective costs to parking and its infrastructure. Costs can reach upwards of 20% of hard costs for what is generally non-productive space. A single structured parking space costs a minimum of $10,000. Usually in the central city, this figure is much higher – $20,000, $25,000, or more. Parking costs often make-up the negative “gap” between land and development costs and return on investment. This is often made up for by public subsidy in order to attract the kind of development we want, urban infill.
The spatial requirements for parking also take up valuable floor area, which hinders necessary qualitative infill growth and delivering sustainable, affordable housing in a safe, walkable environment. Often the incremental difference in parking costs ends up being all subsidies when it could be profit, increased amenities, or reduced prices for consumers.
As mentioned before, there are also the external costs of overly abundant parking instilled by the logic of increasing supply rather than reducing demand. These include flash flooding due to rainwater runoff from excessive impervious surfaced parking lots, a perceived lack of safety, and perhaps most importantly from a zoning standpoint, a negative effect on neighboring property values.
A History of Subsidized Parking
Parking has long been accepted to be a free commodity; thereby skewing the real estate market and city form. Free parking encourages increased car usage, meaning more congestion, traffic collisions, pollution, and the incentive to circle for that hard-to-find, close, and free parking space. More drivers also mean more stress on a road system already in need of maintenance dollars.
In addition, more drivers on the road mean that private parking lots and garages (essentially non-productive space from an urban standpoint) become the highest and best use for many properties, particularly in areas of high demand, thus reducing the quality and character of those places. Effectively, this is market rate parking, but it is corrosive to the fragile bonds of the urban economy. Therefore, the solution is not as simple as just converting to it market-rate as many advocate.
The conventional solution has been to continually add more supply to road capacity by widening roads, but now we are arriving at the reality that we can no longer afford maintenance and further road expansion. Furthermore, a study by the RAND Corporation concluded that expanding supply only temporarily reduces congestion due to induced traffic. The only proven solution is to reduce demand, and one way is to de-incentivize parking.
Shifting modal share
Transportation policies must reflect the demographic and political shift towards a hierarchical system of overlapping transportation modes. A functional city allows for choice of mode, route, and speed, all appropriate to the purpose and function of the trip. The rise of bikes, transit, streetcars, and livable density means less car travel in the future and thus less need for parking, yet also the inevitability of more traffic. Except to accommodate the increased traffic, transportation policies should acknowledge and balance a variety of transportation modes, particularly of those with less negative externalities, in order to maximize capacity, efficiency, and safety.
While DART represents an extensive rail and bus system, it is still inefficient in relation to the City’s auto-oriented, sparse land use, and overall lack of density. A transportation network represents the bones of a City and the people and uses represent the body. The City needs time, perhaps even generations, to adapt incrementally to its new bones. In order to do so, it needs a genetic code that is responsive to changing dynamics.
Furthermore, traffic congestion wastes many millions of dollars in productivity each day and DART is in need of ridership. To succeed and operate effectively and efficiently, it needs livable, walkable, safe density around its stations. In order to support DART’s goals, increase ridership, and catalyze the eventual shift to a city organized not just around the car but also around transit, Dallas must make driving (and parking) less easy, less subsidized, and pay its full costs on the City and its networks.
Oft-cited example of what is wrong today – Lower Greenville – misappropriating blame.
People often think about parking and urban places the wrong way. State Thomas/Uptown Dallas is one such place that is often skewered for not having enough parking. By conventional standards this is true, parking at .88 spaces per bedroom. It is also very walkable. In not many places worth going can parking be found ubiquitous and plentiful.
Lower Greenville is another case where lack of parking incites a reactionary response of either “more parking” or “close the generators of traffic.” The real issue is the various nodes along Lower Greenville are built at a scale and density of a neighborhood center. The lack of supply of similar activity centers within walking distance from an adjacent neighborhood elevates Lower Greenville to the status of regional destination, drawing people from all over the Metroplex. The real response should be creating more places like Lower Greenville, so people from all over the Metroplex are no longer parking in the front yards along the various residential streets perpendicular to Lower Greenville.
Instead, they can leave their car parked at home and walk a few blocks to their own neighborhood store or restaurant. We need more similarly walkable centers of activity embedded within and scaled to their neighborhoods in order to not draw from all over the city but allow residents to walk more often to their own center or (on special occasions) to others. This will improve real estate values at the various centers, the neighborhoods nearby, and reduce citywide VMTs (vehicle miles traveled).
Actual regional destinations need to be served by the regional transportation network, so that the infrastructure of movement and parking accommodates a regional magnet. This means DART, particularly where nightlife (alcohol) is concerned. There must be alternative forms of travel to reduce incidents of drinking and driving. DART service means reduced parking loads for those types of businesses that currently (and shockingly) have minimum parking requirements encouraging driving under the influence.
Regional and Neighborhood Centers
City Hall should be taking a guiding approach, not a defining one, in order to allow the market and context-based approach to adapt to the City’s new bones of transportation hierarchy and choice. However, it should establish areas so that the transportation infrastructure is appropriate for different types of urban areas rather than defined for specific individual uses. It is the opinion of this paper’s authors that the City needs to outline and define Regional and Neighborhood centers throughout the City as an addendum to the Comprehensive Plan and Regional 2050 Plan.
By definition, the regional destination is that which draws attraction from the entire region. In order to do so, it must have the facilities to handle high numbers of people and be served by a variety of transportation modes. The Green Line to Fair Park might be an example of an initial implementation of this idea. Neighborhood centers should be walkable, drawing predominantly from the immediately surrounding neighborhoods. Regional centers should be dense and walkable, but density, in and of itself, should not be the goal. Rather density should be the market oriented response to overall desirability of the regional center.
Both Regional and Neighborhood Centers should have associated codes and parking standards for their designed purpose. In neighborhood centers, parking should be limited in order to prevent neighborhood-scaled centers from becoming Invaded. Nearby residents should determine the policies for how to address parking in their neighborhood. Within regional centers parking management districts should be established to handle large volumes of cars while preventing parking facilities from negatively affecting the pedestrianization of the regional center.
Understanding the Fluid Nature of Parking and Recommendations
The last and perhaps most complex challenge to the parking puzzle is its fluid nature of peak periods of demand and supply. Those rare times and specialized uses of high demand create a perpetual over-supply of parking.
Parking formulas create a built-in over-supply to the point where there may be at least four empty parking spaces for every car owned in the country. A better system would narrow the gap between supply and demand considerably and an ideal system would never have excess parking. Even if that ideal is impossible, is it possible to limit empty parking so that it never corrodes the character of a place?
With that said, this paper wishes to offer some other general thoughts and potential creative solutions to address the problem of parking:
- Creative coding including reductions for transit, sharing spaces by land use, substitutions with bike/compact/vespa/motorcycle parking, or allowing for overlap of counting street spaces towards requirements.
- Allow multiple buildings or lots to count the same street spaces for their usage. This limits supply and increases demand for these spots, thus allowing the city to charge an acceptable, flexible market-rate for these spaces, which are at a premium (being close to their destination). Furthermore, there is often high turnover in these spaces, but multiple uses can’t count spaces that are typically needed only for short periods of time. Spaces within a certain distance from the lot can be double- or triple-counted to accommodate the fluid nature of the spaces.
- • Make on-street parking market-based and reduce parking requirements (if not also set maximums) to create more demand and therefore revenue for street spaces. Revenue which should be dedicated to localized public improvements in that particular district or block. The choice is to pay for close parking, get the exercise, or ride DART.
- Can a code be adaptive? Regenerative? Flexible? One of the great challenges of codes is the difficulty in replacing them when a new model comes along. Redoing this study is the primary case in point. Why entrench or institutionalize the needs of one generation at the expense of future citizens’ ability to shape the city to their needs? A city is a never-ending adaptive process, which is impossible to formalize. The code should be more about guiding principles and less about prescriptive rules.
- Allow for neighborhood by neighborhood determination (with some parameters). Would the neighborhood like to allow visitor parking? Should it be priced? Do residents get free passes? Where should that revenue go?
- • If maximums do not replace minimums in certain districts, allow for distance-based reductions for transit, i.e. X% for less than .5 miles to DART, streetcar, or bike lanes and steadily increase reduction rate for closer proximity. A formula could be developed based on proximity to alternative transportation.
- Create incentive policies for increased allowable FAR for sharing by use, substitutions by bike parking/compact spaces, or reductions for transit.
- The codes absolutely MUST be written according to the proposed character and density of neighborhoods and districts rather than blanket parking rate by land use. A multi-family building in a transit-oriented development or within a half mile of a range/mix of uses shouldn’t park at the same rate as conventional suburban development. Other possibilities include thresholds based on walkscore ratings for reductions or thresholds associated with LEED-ND ratings. These, however, seem reactive and ultimately not as influential.
Because of the inherent difficulties in completely overhauling and rewriting parking codes, an ideal intermediate solution would propose incremental changes to specific problematic areas of the city. As noted in the paper, these areas are often mixed-use (or similar) developments that are urban in form and in high demand. However, they range in scales of density, some being much more intensively developed than others that remain embedded in their single-family residential neighborhood, such as Lower Greenville.
Therefore, two distinct overlay zones should be defined as part of an implementation component to previous city-wide or regional plans. These two overlay categories would be called Regional Nodes and Village Centers, which would have some similarities and differences.
The two categories are similar in that both ought to be walkable, mixed-use developments. Both create directed infill opportunities by eliminating barriers to investment such as mandatory minimum parking requirements. Also, they are both destinations for bus and streetcar (long-term) destinations.
Where they differ is largely in scale and density. Regional nodes should be more dense in response to the increased demand, desirability, and intensity of activity happening there. Furthermore, because of these reasons, there should be a more robust variety and scale of transportation modes supporting Regional Nodes. Regional nodes should also have a parking management authority that presumably could include parking garages that can be shared between transit centers and private development.
On the other hand, to preserve the scale of walkable neighborhood centers and their surrounding residential context, parking should be capped in maximums rather than minimus requirements. While there may be overflow parking into the neighborhoods, the policies for such treatments can be locally determined such as having meters with local permits where the revenue is directed towards local public improvements.
As mentioned the study would outline recommended areas for each type of development zone through workshops with local stakeholders to determine the consensus-approved direction for the neighborhood in question. The study should then outline case studies for both zones with a variety of typical found throughout the City, with specific suggestions that may vary from the policies of the more general Regional or Neighborhood categorization.
Ultimately, the distinctions of these areas from the rest of the city would include new parking policies directed specifically for their role within the City, would mitigate issues of invasion and abandonment, as well as provide a hierarchy for directing public transportation investments and public-private partnership investment opportunities.