parking instead of housing

I am working on a project to find some of the land in the central city that could be housing instead of empty land, or surface parking lots. To me, every surface parking lot is a crime against the climate because it spreads out housing and other amenities to the point where driving becomes preferred if not necessary. But while comparing the county parcel map to the current land use, I was struck by what a sad, sad loss of housing there has been, particularly in the downtown section of the central city. To highlight this, I picked a block very close to where I live, the block bounded by P Street, Q Street, 11th Street, and 12th Street. On this entire block, there is one temporary building, a state child care center, and a small power facility related to the SacRT light rail tracks on 12th Street.

The image below shows the county parcels, labeled with addresses, overlaid on up-to-date ESRI Imagery layer. The child care building is in the lower right corner, at the intersection of 12th Street and P Street, and the SacRT facility is on the unlabeled square on 12th Street. The entire remainder of the block is parking. Some of the parking is state-owned, some privately owned. Every single one of these parcels at one time had either housing or business, or both, though there is some indication that the northwest corner large lot may have been a gas station for a period of time.

Sacramento parcels overlaid on imagery, P Street to Q Street, and 11th Street to 12th Street

I first looked at Google Earth historical imagery, but the only fact from that is that in 1993 all of the block had been converted to parking, and the child care center was probably there (the photo is fuzzy). Then I looked through Center for Sacramento History photos. I have only started through the archive, but did find some photos of the block or nearby blocks. One things that surprised me is that in the early 1950s homes were already being torn down to build state buildings. The photo below shows 1116, 1118, and 1124 P Street in 1949. If I’m able to get a better image, I will replace this one. It shows what seems to be typical of housing in this area, single-family and multi-family mixed in.

The Sacramento Redevelopment Agency was established by 1951, and its mission was to remove all housing that didn’t meet its standards, which meant all housing occupied by lower income and people of color, centering on Japantown.

CADA (Capitol Area Development Authority) was established in 1978 to save what little was left of housing in downtown, so it is probable that the housing had been torn down by the state or city well prior to that. If so, that means that this block has been a parking lot for at least 43 years. Probably much longer, perhaps back into the 1950s. What used to be homes and businesses, has been essentially worthless for that entire time. So, so sad.

For more info on the destruction of downtown, I recommend any books by local author Bill Burg (in local bookstores for paper copies or on Amazon for Kindle copies). You can also find a number of papers and research documents on the Internet by searching ‘Sacramento redevelopment’. I have hardly scratched the surface.

There are several entire blocks of parking in downtown, and many, many blocks that are mostly parking. What a waste!

I ask that the state transfer all surface parking lots under its control to CADA. The state has as many office buildings as it will ever need, but there is no housing to support the office workers, and particularly the lower income maintenance workers that support these office buildings. More to come on that idea.

I welcome historians, particularly Bill Burg, to correct or amplify my information.

non-essential driving

The last month has brought an awareness to many people about what essential is. I doubt if you asked people in January who the essential workers are, you would have gotten an answer that matched who turned out to be essential. I probably would have missed most of them. It is not the rich, or the techies, or the entertainers, or the politicians. It is the lower paid workers, the people who pick, harvest and prepare food, the people who staff grocery stores and pharmacies, teachers, and of course the medical profession. I am not in any of those categories, and the fact that I am not, and am still working and getting paid, means our society has been valuing the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

With our new understanding of essential, I am wondering how we apply this to driving. What is essential driving? Streetlight VMT Monitor indicates that driving in Sacramento County is down 66% (2020-04-14). What were those trips that were formerly being made? Well, some of them were commuting to work trips, but those would account for no more than 2 one-way trips per day, for some people. Nationally, commute trips are down below 25% of total trips. So that can’t explain a 66% decline, even if no one were going to work, which we know is not true. I suspect people who are doing what could be considered essential trips – to essential jobs, and to the grocery store and medical services – are about the same rate as before, so that doesn’t account for the decline either. The only conclusion I can come to is that a significant portion of those trips not now being made were non-essential.

I know that when I am out walking and bicycling for physical activity, I see a lot of people who are probably just driving for pleasure. Obviously those speeding egregiously, which is at least 20%, are driving for the pleasure of doing what they want on the mostly empty roads, other people be damned. And a lot of the other people do not seem to be heading towards or away from work, or the grocery store. A lot of people are just out driving around. If we eliminated these non-essential trips, I suspect VMT would be down at least 80%.

Even the grocery store is problematic. I see people coming out of grocery stores with a small purchase, an amount that could easily be carried on a bike, or even walking. Of course I don’t know how far these people are going, and what their specific situation is. It true that many, many people have chosen to live in places where the distance to a grocery store is not walkable or bikeable, the sprawling suburbs. Conversely, some people don’t have much choice about where they live, and end up in food deserts, because they can’t afford to live in places with grocery stores. And there are a few people whose only reasonable transportation mode is a car, due to physical disability, but those are very few in number. I am going to say that many trips to the grocery store also fall into the non-essential driving category. (Note: this was going on long before the pandemic, with Trader Joe’s being the poster child for people who drive to the store and leave with small amounts of groceries not requiring a multi-ton motorized vehicle to transport.)

Let me say up front that I have no data to back up what I’m going to say. But it does fit the data about VMT reduction, and what we know about travel modes, and what I observe on the street.

At least half the car trips formerly being made were non-essential. Probably much more.

So what? Well, we know, unless we are ideologically opposed to knowing, that motor vehicle travel is 40% of all carbon emissions in California, and it is the portion of our emissions that we have made no progress in reducing. So, every non-essential car trip is a crime against the climate, a crime against people’s health, a crime against livability of cities.

I am not sure how to best eliminate all these non-essential trips. Pricing fuel, or travel, or parking, is part of the solution. This is often called congestion pricing, but the point is not to reduce congestion but to eliminate unnecessary travel. We need to stop subsidizing non-essential travel, we need to make it hard for people to make this choice. Obviously the controls cannot be primarily economic, as that would hurt the people the most, who have the least choice. But it must be in part economic, because middle and upper income people make choices based on money.

Some suggestions:

  • Convert areas of the city that are and look urban (downtown, primarily, but other areas as well) into superblock areas, a la Barcelona, where many of the streets become car-free or car-light. This is easiest to do where there is a grid street network, harder but not impossible to do other places.
  • Reduce street parking significantly, starting with streets where the right-of-way is needed for other purposes, such as sidewalks, sidewalk buffers, and bicycle facilities. I am not against street parking, as it does serve somewhat to slow traffic, but where the space has a higher use, it should be eliminated and reallocated. At the same time, we should never build another structured parking deck (parking garage). These structures NEVER pay for themselves in parking revenue, and so they are a subsidy from everyone to drivers (whether they are public or private, makes no difference, they are an inefficient use of capital). I would suggest we eliminate 10% of all parking in the central city, within one year, and then evaluate the impact on non-essential travel. If it has not decreased significantly, then eliminate another 10%, and on until non-essential travel becomes rare.
  • Charge the real cost of parking, on street and decks. The city only charges enough, roughly, to cover the cost of the program, meaning enforcement and administration. The land used by parking comes free, as a subsidy to those parking. The cost of repaving the parking lane (which we should not be doing anyway) comes free, another subsidy. The difficulty the city has in converting parking space to other uses, such as bike corrals, parklets, delivery zones, and drop-off/pick-up areas, which are often higher uses than parking, is another give-away to drivers, and residents and businesses who think they own the parking spaces.
  • Shift transportation expenditures away from private vehicle transportation, in favor of necessary freight, transit, walking and bicycling. That means #NoNewRoads and #NoNewLaneMiles. We maintain what we have but we don’t build any more. We stop paving parking lanes to the same standards as streets, and let them deteriorate. And we let low-traffic streets that serve very few people (cul-de-sacs, primarily, though some semi-rural roads, as well) go back to a natural surface, unless the users of that street want to pay the full, unsubsidized, cost of paving.

There are a lot of reforms that must happen at the state and federal level, and I’m not addressing those here. These are ideas that can be implemented locally, at the city and county level.

bike/scooter share enforcement

From the City of Sacramento City Express blog: https://sacramentocityexpress.com/2019/11/18/traffic-and-parking-enforcement-begins-for-shared-e-scooters-e-bikes-on-nov-19/.

The city will be enforcing both parking and traffic for the electric assist bike share JUMP, and the JUMP and Lime electric scooters. Many people are still riding the scooters on sidewalks, so I would expect citations for that. Under state law, not Sacramento law, scooters must be ridden on the street. The amount of parking that endangers or impedes walkers has fallen off over time, so there should be much less of that, but it will be interesting to see how exactly that will be enforced. The city still does not have sufficient bike parking, particularly in neighborhoods but even in commercial and mixed areas, and though it has installed a few bicycle and scooter corrals, they are far from enough.

Walkable Sacramento #9: parking

Parking can either support or handicap walking, depending on where it is placed and how it is managed. Parked cars do provide a barrier between walkers and cars, and where a sidewalk buffer is not possible, or not desirable such as in busy retail areas, parked cars are a good. But the imagined need to preserve parking can also harm walkers when it is used to prevent crosswalk daylighting and curb extensions, or to argue against sidewalk widening. Where is works, parking is a good thing, where it does not work, it is a bad thing.

Policies:

  • Parking in such a way as to block a crosswalk, whether marked or unmarked, will be a top priority of parking enforcement, and will be added to the 311 app and website, and recognized by 311 operators.
  • Since surface parking creates more distance between walkable destinations, parking minimums will be eliminated everywhere, parking maximums may be established, and the overall size of surface parking lots will be strictly limited. Big box stores and malls, where they exist, will break up expanses of parking with walkable safe routes, including continuous safe paths from streets to entrances for people who walk. 
  • Though on-street parking (parallel, diagonal, and separated) may create a safer and more comfortable environment for walking and bicycling, preservation of existing parking will never be prioritized over installing or widening sidewalks where needed. 
  • Divert parking revenues beyond those necessary to maintain the program to the neighborhoods from which the income came (Shoup, Parking Benefits District), expended solely on walking infrastructure improvement within 1000 feet of the meter. Lower income areas without meters would be funded at the same level with other funding. 

Parking in the protected bike lane

People are again parking in the protected bike lane (correctly called a separated bikeway in California) on 10th Street in Sacramento, approaching K Street. This happened for about two weeks after the facility was installed, and then seemed to stop as people adjusted to a different street configuration, but now it is happening again. I was not sure whether this is illegal or not, but the city confirmed that it is illegal. The parking meters are for the parking spaces in the parking lane to the left of the bike lane, not for the curb. Confusingly, the red curb was painted over, probably in a misguided attempt to follow city design guidelines without thinking about the real world.

The bike lane here needs to be changed to prevent this from happening. The 10th Street bikeway is full of compromises made with parking. Mostly, it works, despite that, but in this particular place, it does not.

Irrational thinking about parking

This week Sacramento News and Review’s Streetalk (not available online as far as I can tell) interviewed five people in midtown about parking meter hours. Facebook also has had a number of posts about parking in the central city. I am amazed that seemingly intelligent people have such fuzzy thinking about parking. Just as with driving, it engenders thoughts that have no grounding in reality, but if anything, parking is a stronger influence. Despite what many people think, free parking is not guaranteed in either the constitution or the bible. (Cheap gas is, though, look it up. – I’m joking.)

First, let me say that I don’t believe the parking changes are solely due to an effort to pay off the city indebtedness for the arena, but I also don’t deny that the arena has driven the pace of the changes and has city officials (elected and staff) drooling over the income. But let’s look rationally at some of the benefits.

People complain that later hours will reduce the amount of parking available. In fact, it is quite likely to have the opposite effect. The reason there is “no parking” in the central city is not because it is priced too high or the hours too long, but because it is priced too low and the hours too short. When people have free parking, whether during the day or the evening, they do several things: 1) they drive when they don’t need to (they often could walk, bicycle or use transit) because that choice is subsidized by free parking; 2) they stay longer in the parking spots because there is no cost of doing so; 3) they don’t carpool when they could; and 4) they don’t plan out trips so that they can maximize efficiency, rather they make trips on the spur of the moment. That drive to get coffee, for example.

The key factor that determines whether parking works for people is turnover. If there aren’t any parking spaces open, it is because metered spots are priced too low and free parking is given away for, well, free. Metered parking, if the pricing is either dynamic or increased to reflect demand, guarantees there will be open spots. Open spots mean that people won’t have to circle the block(s). I live at 16th & O, and I see a lot of drivers circling and circling, just looking for that one close spot. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an open spot, would you not rather be eating or drinking or listening to music or hanging out with friends, than circling the block? Or even better, if you must drive, park further away and get in some of your daily physical activity.

I can’t resist replying to each of the interviewees:

  • Christina: Why will it be a major inconvenience? Is that something you said because you’d heard other people say it?
  • Beth: “It would inhibit people using this area…” Why? Do people not go to work because they have to pay for parking? Why would they not do the things in the evening they want to do, and pay for parking? Most evening activities are not low budget, no matter what you are doing, and parking fees are not going to be a significant part of that. With a $25 dinner and $20 in drinks (or more), parking fees are just not that big a deal.
  • Vanessa: The reason it is so hard for you to find parking (if it really is) is that parking is underpriced and therefore overused. You can use the new SacPark app to extend your time, if you wish, or just park in a garage and walk to work. What a concept!
  • Kayla: If you can’t be away from your car, then perhaps you should move out. But, how about giving up your car and having a better life? “…my free spaces…”? I always wondered whose free spaces those are, and now I know, they belong to you. Not.
  • Tavares: Midtown is popular because of the culture and opportunity, not because of free parking. People will continue coming, and fortunately they will be able to find parking because there will be some metered spots open and they won’t have to circle the block, wasting time and gas.
  • Montha: “…coins in my pocket…? Are you telling me you don’t have a credit card? Most parking has been converted to single space smart meters that accept credit cards, and the kiosks also accept credit cards. Are you telling me you don’t have a smart phone? The SacPark app allows you to easily pay for your parking without a single coin in your pocket.

Yes, I’m pretty unsympathetic. I live car-free in midtown, and in part I live here because I can have a great life and be car-free. My main complaint about parking is that 10-20% of my rent goes to subsidizing free parking spots for other residents in the apartment complex. I’d have an even greater life if I had that as disposable income to enjoy midtown even more.

This issue has caused me to look into the census characteristic of the central city residents, and I’ll have more posts on that soon.

Sac Grid 2.0

Tomorrow (Monday) an open house / community meeting will be held on the Sacramento Grid 2.0 project which aims to improve transportation in the downtown/midtown area of Sacramento.

I attended the stakeholder meeting October 20, and had input leading up and as a result of that meeting, but then forgot to post. Thank you, Ken Petruzzelli for reminding me to post.

The stakeholder meeting was all about the maps of each component (pedestrian, bicycling, transit, and others), gathering feedback about what works and what doesn’t. Of course with physical maps you can’t overlay different layers to see what the correlation is, but the facilitator at my table did a good job of relating the layers. The maps have not been made available to the public yet, and what you see on Monday could differ from those shown at the stakeholder meeting.

Significant issues in my group (there were six groups) were: whether bike lanes on both sides of one-way streets made sense, with the consensus being that they were not needed except in special circumstances of heavy bicyclist traffic turning left; whether the two-way cycle-track (separated bikeway) on N Street between 3rd and 15th would work well at intersections in the western part; and that nothing in the plan seemed to address a reduction of signals and stop signs throughout the grid that would improve transportation flow and actually reduce speeding.

The map approach at the stakeholder meeting left out that which isn’t spatial – policy. I think policy to support the transformation is at least as important as which streets are changed. What follows is a list of policy issues that I think must be addressed in the plan.

Continue reading “Sac Grid 2.0”

parking rights?

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.

Continue reading “parking rights?”

Hansen’s community meeting on parking

timed parking and residential permit
timed parking and residential permit

On August 12, Steve Hansen sponsored a community meeting on parking issues. This is a report and reaction. The meeting was actually quite civil, not often the case when neighborhood people get involved in issues. There was clapping for things they liked but no booing and no angry outbursts.

Matt Eierman, parking manager for the City of Sacramento, presented on the current proposals and a bit about future ideas, what the city is calling “parking modernization.” He addressed concern that there would not be enough parking for the arena by showing a map of downtown parking spaces overlaid with walking distance at the Sleep Train Arena (ARCO), with sufficient parking available.

Eierman claimed that credit card fees at parking meters cannot legally be charged back to the credit card holder, however, San Francisco and many cities outside California are doing just that.

Eierman said dismissively that he hates the idea of “dynamic” parking fees, the idea that parking rates would change with location, time of day or day of week. He said “no wants to drive up to a meter and not know how much it is going to cost.” This is an absurd statement, and I’ll provide an analogy. Would a person say they are never going to buy apples at the store again because they don’t know ahead of time whether they are $0.89 or $1.19 this week? Of course not, people make decisions based on changing information, and parking is no different. With a smart phone, the person would know the fee even before pulling into the space.

The two things being proposed to go the the city council in the near future are:

  1. An increase in the parking rate from $1.25 per hour to $1.75 per hour, at all on-street metered parking in the central city. The city pointed out that fees have not increased in some time, though costs have gone up, and that an increase for on-street parking would shift longer term parking off the streets and to city parking garages and lots, some of which are very underutilized.
  2. A SPOTZone (Special Parking Over Time) pilot in Old Sacramento and one location in midtown that would allow people to pay for time beyond the set time limit, at a higher price. The pricing would discourage long term parking, causing more spaces to be open, but through payment mechanisms (smart meters and smart phone payment) would reduce the number of parking citations.

Continue reading “Hansen’s community meeting on parking”

parking fees

The Sacramento News & Review published this week Parking Nightmare: Major changes in Sacramento could mean higher prices, stiffer restrictions, following up on a earlier blog post  (https://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/pageburner/blogs, scroll down to July 15). SacBee also had an article on Friday, Downtown Sacramento parking rates likely to rise. Apart from the SN&R click-bait headline, the article provides more depth than anything else available at the moment, and provides me a chance to review parking fees and consequences. First, I would not for a moment counter the claim that an increase in parking charges is due at least in part to the city’s need to increase revenue to pay off arena bonds. But beyond that, it is possible to evaluate how parking should be priced.

My views on parking are all based on two concepts:

  • TheHighCostOfFreeParking_coverThere is no such thing as free parking. If parking is free, it is being subsidized by someone. The seminal thinking on this issue is The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shoup, as well as writings by others. The objective of managed parking pricing should be to ensure some free parking on every block so that people do not circle looking for parking, and that some of the parking fee income be returned to the neighborhood for improving the right-of-way, including sidewalks and pedestrian amenities.
  • On-street parking is not, as some people think, a bad thing. It slows traffic by generating “friction.” On street parking might be removed when there is clearly a higher use for road right-of-way, such as bike lanes or sidewalks, however, in almost all cases, removal of a travel lane is better for everyone than removal of on-street parking. I don’t support on-street parking because I want to see more space devoted to motor vehicles, but because of the traffic calming effect and because I think on-street parking creates a more livable environment than do parking garages, which I consider to be the lowest use (or mis-use) of urban land, only exceeded by off-street surface parking lots. Our streets would in fact be safer if there were more on-street parking on weekends and evenings, when most of the extremely dangerous  and egregious speeding occurs.

Continue reading “parking fees”