A Session on Parking Packs 'Em In

What does this say about the importance of parking as an issue for New Urbanists? Friday morning's panel "The Mythical Parking Shortage" drew an audience that filled the seats, lined up standing at the back of the room, and then spilled out of the room.

Washington A was so full, in fact, that the whole group was plunged into darkness more than once when one of the standees' inadvertently pushed the dimmer switch on the wall all the way to black.

Neal Payton, principal of Torti Gallas and Partners, introduced the session be describing parking as both a commodity and a part of the infrastructure of a place. Then Patrick Siegman, principal of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, commented,

"It's wonderful to be in Philadelphia, to walk the streets that Ben Franklin walked….and to look around and see that like so many American cities, it completely mismanages its parking." The telltale signs are curbside parking absolutely full – while the upper decks of parking garages languish almost empty.

He then gave a seven-step program for managing parking

1. Charge the right amount for curbside parking. That means enough so that there are one or two free spaces on every block at any time of day.
2. Return at least part of the money generated to the local community so that parking meters become a revenue stream for the community rather than just something that's anti-motorist.
3. Banish minimum parking requirements, e.g., six spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail space.
4. Drop requirements that commercial tenants be required to rent parking spaces as a function of their lease. If employers aren't required to rent parking, they have less incentive to offer free parking. It's an indirect connection, but ultimately some employees will figure out how to leave their cars at home.
5. Unbundle the cost of a parking space from the cost of buying a dwelling. If purchase of a parking space is optional, some homebuyers will opt not to buy.
6. Require employers who offer free parking to provide a "cash out" for employees who don't use the free parking.
7. Continue to subsidize parking where it's necessary to attract retail tenants, but in a targeted way: 90-minute free parking for shoppers, not all-day free parking for employees.

"All this could have a transformative effect on the American landscape," Siegman said.

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