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Monday
Dec022013

The meaning of #BlackFridayParking

We're getting to the end of the year. This is our last week of new content before we switch into "best of" mode and then shut it down for 2013. If you have not yet taken the time to become a member of Strong Towns, please consider doing that now. And if you want to support our work with a tax deductible donation, you can do that here or contact Jim Kumon, our Executive Director, for a discussion about supporting the initiatives we have scheduled for 2014.

First, let me thank all of those people who participated in our #BlackFridayParking event. Absolutely amazing. We tracked pictures of unused parking lots from all over the country and shared them worldwide. The response was incredible. This needs to be an annual event until these ridiculous parking policies are rescinded.

My two favorite photos of the day were not from a parking lot, per se, but from vastly more expensive parking ramps. The first is from frequent contributor Alex Pline in Annapolis, MD.

The second was taken in Salt Lake City. Wonder what the return on investment for all this concrete is.

So why did we do this event? Michael Roden succinctly stated one of the main reasons.

We literally can't afford all of this unproductive space. When you look at the Big K and Jimmy's Pizza we featured in last week's post, the major difference in the financial productivity of the properties is the amount of land devoted to parking. Storing cars is very expensive. The only thing more expensive is building parking spaces to store cars and then have them never be used. What a waste!

Can you imagine Wal-Mart building an entire row of their store and then leaving the shelves empty? It would be ridiculous. Why then do we simply accept that large swaths of their land would be built upon for a use (parking) that literally never happens? We accept it because that is the price of entry, the cost of complying with local regulations.

Which brings me to another great Tweet about the event. 

There is no penalty for the local planner zoner that mindlessly copies a parking regulation from somewhere else, applies it dogmatically to their community and then uses their position of power to justify it after-the-fact with pithy statements like, "Well, the day after Thanksgiving...." That bureaucrat pays no price but the costs to society are enormous.

For small businesses -- especially a startup -- providing parking is a huge, expensive burden. When the parking required is excessive to the actual needs of the business, a local government is forcing that business owner to allocate scarce capital to unproductive uses. If you are pro- small business, you are anti- parking minimums.

Do you think Wal-Mart opposes parking minimums? They may on an individual site here or there, but in general, parking minimums are one of their best advantages. They simultaneously raise the cost of entry for competitors while further tilting the marketplace in favor of businesses catering to people who drive (a segment Wal-Mart dominates). It is a self-reinforcing, downward cycle. If you are pro-biking, pro-walking or pro- transit, you are anti- parking minimums.

And parking minimums force some of the most ridiculous land use decisions I have ever seen. An individual wants to take a vacant storefront and open a business but then city hall tells them they need five parking spots. Where do they get that? Well they either don't (likely) or they buy a neighboring property, tear down whatever is on that lot and convert it to financially unproductive parking. This decimiates the tax base when it happens and encourages horizontal expansion when it doesn't. If you are pro- environment or if you advocate for a strong, healthy tax base, you are anti- parking minimums.

So who is pro- parking minimums? Many planners zoners, large corporations, asphalt companies and people driving around looking for a parking spot. For them the not-so-old adage holds: you can never have enough parking.

Here's the great thing: the solution to this problem is really, really easy. All a city needs to do is repeal their parking minimums. If you want to stop this ridiculous waste of resources, support small businesses, encourage reuse of existing properties, limit environmental degradation and make your city financially stronger, just repeal your minimum parking requirement. No lawyer or expensive consultant is necessary.

But Chuck...what about that day after Thanksgiving? What if the parking lot fills up and people can't find a place to park? What if they (gasp) park on the street? What if they start parking in the ditch? We would have to ticket them...or even tow them....what a horror. Isn't just easier to require a ton of parking?

And what if the neighboring city has lots of excess parking and all we have are parking lots full of cars? Won't everybody just go there? (Yeah, it often does feel like Yogi Berra's insights have inspired the design of our cities.)

If you want to build a strong town, get rid of your parking minimums. Any chaos that ensues will be healthier for your city than the acres of unproductive, wasted space we have justified with a veneer of professional expertise.

And as for that professional expertise....

 

 

I'm back from weeks on the road and so I'm going to be spending more time than usual getting caught at the Strong Towns Network this week. You can join me, our friend Joe Minicozzi and many others there for more discussion on this approach and whatever you bring to the table.

It's that time of year as well, so if you want a present for that conscientious person in your life, check out my book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1). It is a primer on the Strong Towns movement and an essential read for those wanting to get up to speed quickly.

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Reader Comments (20)

Charles -

You may found the the lastest post on the Georgia Municipal Association's blog, peopleplacepurpose.com, interesting. It looks at the seemingly never ending dilemma of parking in our downtowns and how “place” is the true driver for marketing our historic downtowns.

http://peopleplacepurpose.com/2013/11/22/the-p-word/

Brian Wallace

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Wallace

Nice piece. Love the slideshow at the end. Would love to see the name of the city tagged to each picture. I think showing that parking minimums are ridiculous for large, medium and small cities from coast to coast would be powerful for those that feel, "It might work somewhere else, but it would never work HERE."

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Hosea

Not recalling good examples off the top of my head here, but there have been some success stories of developments that have been able to build less than the minimum required amount of parking by committing land to green / open space that could be converted to parking in the future, should the need arise. I don't believe a single instance of it has ever necessitated conversion of that open space to parking. It's one way to disproving the myth of standard parking minimums.

Also, I really do wish there was an easier way to monitor and count parking usage. If we have good data on this, in real-time, in every parking lot in a single town, you would force the decisions to be made on actual data.

"And parking minimums force some of the most ridiculous land use decisions I have ever seen. An individual wants to take a vacant storefront and open a business but then city hall tells them they need five parking spots. Where do they get that? Well they either don't (likely) or they buy a neighboring property, tear down whatever is on that lot and convert it to financially unproductive parking. This decimiates the tax base when it happens and encourages horizontal expansion when it doesn't. If you are pro- environment or if you advocate for a strong, healthy tax base, you are anti- parking minimums."

This needs to be reinforced, maybe even in a separate post. So many towns with older urban fabric completely unoccupied because they changed their zoning so that their original form isn't even legal anymore. What a shame. I used to work for an urban planning firm whose clients just did not understand this.

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLou

This was a really fun project and hope it becomes an annual tradition as well. Abolishing parking minimums should be an easy win that both free market advocates and environmentalists can get behind.

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJesse

To be fair, there are lots of planners who are pushing back on lowering parking requirements/creating parking maximums... but I've found that it can be a very hard sell to your elected officials, community and neighbors. It's a process of education, for which photo-thons like this are very helpful!

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterseth

Looking at the slide show, I notice that it almost impossible to tell where these places are, other than the occasional unfamiliar store name. My comment is not that I want the places named, but that excess parking is part and parcel of the blandness of big box stores and suburban shopping centers. You could be anywhere, but your are NOWHERE.

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Allison

@Lou "Also, I really do wish there was an easier way to monitor and count parking usage. If we have good data on this, in real-time, in every parking lot in a single town, you would force the decisions to be made on actual data."

I think it would be good enough just to count the total and available parking spaces at various times of the day and days of the week to determine the weekly utilization ratio. If a parking lot is 100% filled all day Saturday and Sunday during store hours but only 50% filled the other days of the week, then weekly utilization at the "crowded" parking lot is only 64%.

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerek

I actually don't think data helps us here. The amount of parking necessary is always going to be based on so many variables -- things impossible to control or measure -- that data is essentially useless. From year to year, decade to decade, you are not going to be able to predict with any degree of confidence what is needed.

And if you could, what would make you think that was the "correct" amount? Is full usage the correct amount? I don't know....is being open 24 hours a day a good amount? Just because someone might shop at 2AM doesn't mean the expenditure of the extra resources was worth the effort. So what is to say if you had all the data in the world that you would make the "correct" regulation that would get this just right?

There is no good reason to regulate private parking except to keep it from becoming parasitic and taking over an area. I would have parking maximums, but never a parking minimum.

Public parking need not be regulated. If it becomes scarce, simply raise the price until the scarcity is alleviated. In most places it is not scarce (and that is no coincidence).

It is okay to accept that some things may not be hyper-optimized, even if it were possible to do so (which it is not).

December 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterCharles Marohn

Michael Roden, your article is interesting, but missing really important elements - like, what is the exact parking minimum requirement for each of the developments shown - was it the choice of the marketplace to building more parking than required? I think you will find it's the latter - thus the expose on parking requirements should probably be the financing community that requires this ridiculous amount of parking, not the regulator.

There are cities that do have parking maximums, and there are reasonable uses for parking minimums. For instance, have you ever had to retail space in a traditional area of town convert to nightclubs and then fill up neighboring residential streets with drunk patrons until ungodly hours? Parking minimums can prevent that from happening and pushing the problem to other areas.

Lastly, it's not the policy makers that fill in overbuilt parking lots, it private development ultimately in the end. You need to target what is creating this issue, not your local planner (or even "zoner").

December 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason Burton

@Jason Burton....please read the comment prior to yours. It is not about data.

Also, I don't believe parking lots for nightclubs is a great example of the value potentially provided by the planning profession. Only someone with their nose buried in a code book would think it made sense to require a huge parking lot for an establishment that people visit to consume alcoholic beverages.

December 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterCharles Marohn

I find it a bit sad that I can't tell where any of these places are from looking at the photos. Other than the age of the buildings themselves, all these shopping centers look the same.

December 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris L

This is a great idea. Similar to another commenter, I do take issue with this assertion:
"...the solution to this problem is really, really easy. All a city needs to do is repeal their parking minimums."

As a Planner, I helped advocate for our community to reduce parking minimums substantially. While this benefited some of the smaller, mom & pop stores, it had no effect whatsoever on regional and national chains that significantly exceeded even our older minimums in virtually every project. While reducing or eliminating parking minimums is a great first step, it will take the development community and their financial backers to make a change as well. While I support parking maximums, especially in certain districts, that is a very tough sell to "development-friendly" policy makers when Walmart is telling them we can't build our store without x number of parking spaces. Definitely agree with what you're advocating, but it will take a multi-faceted approach to change things, not just eliminating minimums.

December 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJon J

Black Friday parking photos are great. Time stamps would make them even more convincing.

December 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterH. Pike Oliver

@Jon J "...Walmart is telling them we can't build our store..."

You make that sound like a bad thing.

December 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerek

@Derek ... To elected officials in my Texas city, the answer is yes, Walmart is a good thing that we want to encourage. But even Walmart aside, in my experience in more progressive states, many elected officials are going to have a hard time telling a business "no, you can't have as many parking spaces as you want". I'm not saying that's the right answer, just a political reality. Having said all of that, I'm an optimist that sees that things are moving in the right direction (partly with the help of folks like Charles Marohn) and I believe things will change for the better with our help, albeit probably more slowly than we would like.

December 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJon J

Let's face it, people just don't go out and shop the way they use to in the suburbs for disposable income items, they use the internet, save the inconvenience of driving in traffic, lost time finding parking, inconvenience of dealing with the masses, paying for gas, perceived risks involving theft flamed by the news channels, etc - so far, the internet has less hassles and is becoming an viable alternative for shopping for a good amount of people.

It would be interesting to see how many people are shopping in urban areas stores, where they can get to them by walking, biking, taking public transportation and compare that to the suburban stores. Also, just imagine what could be done with those asphalt and concrete jungles that are underutilized.

December 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterraydl

@Jon J "While this benefited some of the smaller, mom & pop stores, it had no effect whatsoever on regional and national chains that significantly exceeded even our older minimums in virtually every project."

Stores that require copious amounts of parking like Home Depot and Costco will continue to provide it when parking minimums are reduced or eliminated. Setting parking maximums will only drive those stores away, for better or for worse.

Stores that don't require so much parking but provide it anyway of their own free will, will be at a disadvantage to the competition who downsize their parking lots, at least until they do the same and sell off some of the excess land for more productive uses. At least there won't be much to tear down when these property owners come to their senses.

Stores that don't require so much parking and therefore don't provide it will benefit from the beginning when minimum parking requirements are abolished.

So my suggestion is to reduce or eliminate minimum parking requirements, try not to feel pressured to enact maximum parking requirements, and let the market sort it all out from there.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerek

This appears as an issue in residential also: http://www.thestar.com/business/2013/12/02/cost_of_gridlock_is_that_condo_parking_spot_becoming_an_albatross.html

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhal

Not all pavement is equal in value to the community and the the mall businesses.

What about a land tax regime with stepped rates (or better, a continuously variable formula for rates) applied to parking lots.

Say we start with a base rate for the first 2 spots (600 sq ft. or so of asphalt) per ______ sq ft of retail floor, comparable to the current flat rates applied to such land use.

The third 3rd spot is taxed at 135% (or some other increment), the 4th at 1.35 x the 3rd's rate, and so on.

The geometrically increasing tax on added parking spaces would be a continuing (and avoidable) cost of building more parking than can pay its way. And it would an incentive to reduce economically excess pavements.

The municipality could use the new revenue to afford some tax incentives to the malls when they made themselves more pedestrian, transit and bike and environmentally friendly... sidewalks, better crosswalks, shuttles, delivery services as good as what Amazon provides, ...

This tax regime does not prescribe what the alternative use should be. The incentive might result in some ingenious transformations on the fringes of over-sized lots by creative entrepreneurs.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Zimmer

I like the idea of #BLACKFRIDAYPARKING but the thought is that this is the highest demand day for parking of the year. What if we each started collages in our community?

Last year for us it was during Ithaca (NY) Festival--the busiest the downtown ever is, and at least 1/2 of a nearby parking garage was vacant. There are no other days when the downtown is busier, certainly not on Black Friday.

QUESTION: What are the busiest days/events for YOUR downtown/neighborhood/city? Take pics on Black Friday for the downtown and the big box parking lots, but also check out the busiest days for grocery stores pre-thanksgiving, etc.
Please DATE & TIME your Photos, and provide the LOCATION and CONTEXT

e.g. Ithaca NY; Ithaca Festival 2pm May 31 2012, Cayuga St Parking Garage

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Keough
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