Tony Bizjak wrote in his Back-Seat Driver weekly column yesterday about parking issues in the central city, Backseat Driver: Sacramento’s central city residents want parking rights protected (SacBee 2015-08-17), as a follow-on to the community meeting held by Steve Hansen last week.
I don’t know whether Tony was responsible for the headline, but the headline does at least accurately reflect the view of some central city residents that they have a right to free parking, right in front of their house, and of some suburban commuters that they have a right to low cost parking right at their place of employment. There is no right to parking. You won’t find it in the constitution, federal, state or local law, nor in the bible, protestations to the contrary. There are always trade-offs in providing parking, including reduced livability, air pollution and carbon release, potentially lower walkability and bikeability, a less effective transit system, proliferation of that most ugly of urban forms – the parking garage and the surface parking lot, and most of all, encouragement to drive everywhere – a relict of the 1950s and 1970s that most “world class” cities are rapidly moving away from.
The article opens with “A downtown can’t prosper if its people can’t park their cars,” which has become a tag line for comments at the SacBee, Facebook and Twitter. Says who? The implication is that all other considerations are subservient to the demand for parking. A city’s businesses can’t prosper if customers can’t find parking reasonable close to the business they wish to frequent, for those customers that must or choose to drive. All day commuter parking and all day and night residential parking are in fact what threaten the prosperity of downtown, and it is our existing parking policies that make this so. A downtown can’t prosper if it is not walkable, bikeable and transit friendly, and in my opinion those are at least as important as drivability. It is not that parking need necessarily conflict with these other goals, but it does currently, and the restrictions, requirements and limitations being asked by some residents and some commuters will make it worse, much worse.
The article mentions that a petition drive to prevent the parking fee increase from $1.25 to $1.75 has been started. I can’t grasp what these people want instead. A place where there is never any parking available because it is so cheap everyone treats it as something that does not need to be conserved and managed wisely, something to be squatted on rather than a shared resource? A setting in which “other” people pay for everything but they themselves don’t have to pay a fair market price for anything? Suburban commuters have made a choice to live elsewhere because they want lower cost housing and higher benefit jobs. To claim a right to convenient and low cost parking is asking that society now subsidize that choice (as though we don’t already).
There is a solution to central city parking issues, and that is to price parking in such a way that there are always one or two parking spaces open on a block, so that anyone can find a space without circling. If all the spaces are full for more than a brief period, it does not mean that more parking is needed, or that more restrictions should be in place, but that the price is too low.
The first article respondent online suggests that off-street parking must be required of all development. That was the policy for years, and the result was a dead and dying downtown. That requirement was removed in 2012 for the “Central Business District/Arts & Entertainment District,” that covers about half of downtown and a small slice of midtown (red on the map at right). Parking minimums were also reduced for other areas. This change is, in part, responsible for the vibrant change now going on in several areas, development that had been quashed for years by unreasonable requirements for free parking.
In the letters to the editor on the article, the theme is that people won’t come downtown if… with the answer often being oodles of free or low cost parking. An argument always brought up by the free parking crowd, but never with any supporting evidence. What brings people downtown is vibrancy, things to see and things to do, jobs and housing and cultural opportunities. Parking did not save the downtown mall. Parking did not save all the businesses that closed as the city emphasized driving above all other modes of transportation while it heavily subsidized suburban development. People come to downtown for life, and parking is only a part of that.
One writer says the city should require that parking be included in the price of rent. What? Should the city also require that the cost of utilities be included in the price of rent? How about food? How about furniture? What about people without cars, such as myself? Should the city require that I subsidize everyone else who does have a car? Oh, wait, they already do that in many ways.
Parking generates irrational thought, and the only counterbalance to that is parking management that actively seeks to have open spaces on every block, and to generate the highest benefit for everyone by providing parking in the most intelligent way possible. I hope that city staff and city council have the courage to make that happen.