Inside this great piece by Angela Galloway at the P-I there is this gem:
[F]ree parking costs everyone, said Donald Shoup, the nation’s most prominent academic on parking policies and an urban planning professor at the University of California-Los Angeles. Free parking inflates grocery bills, housing costs and movie ticket prices, he said. The burden is heaviest on the poorest, he said.
“Even if you’re too poor to own a car, you have to pay for parking,” said Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking.” Like other cities, Seattle has “very expensive housing of people and free parking for cars — and I think we’ve got our priorities the wrong way around.”
I live close to downtown, where free parking is tough to find. However, there are plenty of pay lots available, and parking is free on city streets after 6pm and on Sundays. Lots of people take the bus to work in the downtown core, and the people who do drive have a look of pain on their faces as they idle in gridlock on downtown streets.
(Folks in Seattle often say “there isn’t any parking downtown.” What they mean is there isn’t any “free” parking downtown. How folks spend money downtown while expecting their car to stay for free is beyond me.)
In his book, Shoup makes it clear that even if I choose not the drive, I still pay costs for parking. When new condo developments are built, new residents who choose not to own a car are nonetheless paying more for their units. Essentially, residents are socially engineered into owning cars.
U-District community activist Matt Fox (who comments anonymously on some local blogs) isn’t on board:
Officials say forcing unneeded parking inflates cost of development. Each above-ground spot costs developers about $20,000, below-ground spots can cost $30,000 to $40,000 or more, said City Planning Director John Rahaim.
Officials say unnecessary parking costs undermine the city’s efforts of providing affordable housing. But some doubt the relaxed rules will produce the anticipated savings.
“It’s really good for developers’ bottom line, but it’s not good for the quality of life in the neighborhoods or for small businesses,” activist Fox said.
Back in my car-drivin’ days, I used to spend entirely too much time on my Saturdays circling the Ave, block after block, looking for a spot to park my Geo Metro. The spot I found was usually really far from the Ave, and I did a fair amount of walking around from shop to shop before trekking back to the car. Now that Metro does my driving, the bus drops me off right on the Ave. After ditching the Geo Metro in favor of King County Metro, I go to the U-District more than ever for all sorts of things.
What kind of stuff, you ask? A used Adidas track jackets at the Buffalo Exchange, or maybe a movie at the delightfully dilapidated Varsity (or the Neptune, which is very cool). The UW Bookstore for Marx or Friedman. Maybe Costas for those goofy-ass french fries or the College Inn Pub for several pints of their finest bitter. Over time, the Ave holds up well, even after a controversial makeover a few years back. I have relatives who still love the Ave, years after their college days.
Maybe further auto restrictions will be the death of commercial districts all over Seattle. I do not believe it will be.
But what about folks who have to have a car to get their work done?
[Ditching her car is not] an option for Morley, who is on two waiting lists for spots in private garages, she said. Many mornings, 40 minutes after she arrives at work, an alarm on her computer reminds her to get back in her car and head toward the good spots.
If she misses out, sometimes she parks in a nearby free one-hour spot and resets her alarm for another try. Or she can pay for up to two hours at one of 570 Uptown street spots that were free until the city installed meters there last year.
Leaving the car at home is not an option, she said.
“I’m in sales, so I have meetings all day. So it’s not really a choice for me,” said Morley, whose work takes her around town and to the suburbs. She said the city’s policies don’t take into account people for whom “driving is part of your job.”
For sales folks, parking a a big deal. I don’t want to minimize their frustration. That said, companies are going to have to figure out solutions to these problems sooner or later. Companies are already utilizing Flexcar or other car-sharing programs to make it possible for folks to leave their car at home but still make errands during the day. New ideas like this require folks in HR and at leadership positions within companies to be flexible to the needs of their employees.
So, yeah, our transit options aren’t what they could be. We’re building the light rail system we could have had in the 70’s, and we’re building our first streetcar lines since the 40’s. (This one doesn’t count!) We’ve got catching up to do. Until then, have your transfer ready for the driver or get ready to pay more to park.