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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why We Need a Parking Maximum

posted by on September 30 at 14:40 PM

The building under construction at the north end of Broadway, across the street from the nearly-finished Brix development, is slated to include 357 underground parking spaces—or more than 1.2 parking spaces for every single residential unit in the building.

Contrast that to legislation the city council adopted in 2006, eliminating minimum parking requirements for new buildings in urban centers and around light-rail stations. (Outside urban centers, multifamily buildings must still include 1.25 parking spots per unit). The legislation was an explicit acknowledgment that people who live in dense parts of Seattle don’t necessarily need to own a car; it was also intended to reduce the traffic impact of thousands of new center-city residents. The added benefit of eliminating parking requirements is to reduce the cost of housing; parking adds between $20,000 and $30,000 to the cost of a unit.

The problem with simply eliminating minimum parking requirements is that developers can still build as much parking as they want—and that extra $20,000-$30,000 gives them a strong incentive to do just that. It doesn’t matter that this new development will be four blocks from a light-rail stop, and on three Metro bus lines; as long as developers can build, and charge for, additional parking spaces, they will.

Parking maximums, in contrast, both acknowledge that you don’t need a car to live in the central city and eliminate the incentive to build as much parking as possible. And they work: In San Francisco, maximum parking standards in the densest neighborhoods range from .75 to one parking space per unit. According to one study, housing without parking sells for 12 percent less in San Francisco than housing with parking, and is affordable to 24 percent more households. Other studies have found that reducing residential parking decreases traffic congestion and improves streets for bikers and pedestrians.

Another smart reform—also in San Francisco—requires developers to sell parking separately from residential units. This, again, makes housing cheaper, because people only have to buy as much parking as they need. As Seattle’s neighborhoods densify and it becomes easier to get around the city without a car, these are the kind of reforms that both non-drivers (who’ll save money on housing costs) and car owners (who’ll benefit from reduced congestion in the urban core) should be able to get behind.

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I would only support an idea like this if it were explicitly connected to the creation of mass transit options that reduce the need to own a car. The idea that eliminating parking spaces will somehow by itself increase the availability of other transit options seems to me like so much wishful thinking. It may be towards a liberal end, but it employs a laissez faire, let-the-market-take-care-of-it approach that is all the rage with Libertarians and free-market Republicans.

If you just let developers off the hook for building parking spaces, they'll pocket the money and still lobby against mass transit.

Posted by flamingbanjo | September 30, 2008 2:52 PM

Wait, you want to require developers to not build spaces that people want to buy?

What the hell? The spaces add revenue because people--residents--are buying them. You can frame this as anti-developer, pro-resident, but if residents didn't pay $20k-$30k more for a place with parking spaces, developers wouldn't make $20k-$30k for those same spaces.

So why don't we discuss this as legislation that will prevent residents from being able to buy spaces they're willing to pay for, while driving up the cost of the remaining spaces? Isn't that an equally fair framing?

Posted by Dan | September 30, 2008 2:57 PM

This seems like one of those things the market can go ahead and handle on its own. I sure as hell would not live in the city without a car.

Posted by Giffy | September 30, 2008 3:05 PM

I say that people simply move to SF since it is the clearly superior city.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 30, 2008 3:06 PM

Some comments:

#1, San Francisco is a lousy, lousy case study for mass transit. I just spent two weeks staying with a friend in Hayes Valley while commuting to downtown using their public transit, which sucks in so many ways:

- No unified farecard system for busses / muni / BART

- BART coverage downtown is limited to a single corridor

- Service in the BART corridor is running at maximum capacity & still so pitifully inadequate that they are going to raise fares during peak hours in an attempt to actually *discourage* riders

- Muni surface transit is like being stuck in a car that is not only stuck in the same nasty traffic as everybody else, but has to make an extra stop every 2 blocks on top of all that

#2, and somewhat more to my main point, I don't think parking maximums will do as much to encourange ridership as it will to simply drive up the prices on existing parking and annoy people in general. (If I owned Diamond Parking, I'd love to see limits on the creation of new parking.)

What Seattle really needs is a transit system that works better than driving privately. A proposal to annoying drivers without improving the alternatives is a proposal to just reduce quality of life for everybody.

And, oh, by the way, when I elected to take the 9, instead of my car, from Capitol Hill to Columbia City last week, the damn thing was 20 minutes late. And we're talking about limiting the alternatives to experiences like that, in the hope that more people will choose to put up with it?

Give me real transit - like DC, or NYC, or any major European city - and you can just skip the whole hassle of limiting the construction of new parking.

Posted by Eric Arrr | September 30, 2008 3:07 PM

Eric is right on the fucking money. SF and the Bay Area is not by any stretch of the imagination, a good example of mass transit. Every time someone in Seattle mentions it I wonder theyve ever lived there or if Seattle is really that bad in comparison.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 30, 2008 3:14 PM

#5 - Standard MUNI monthly passes work on all forms of public transit in San Francisco, including BART, buses, light rial, and streetcars. And it's only $45 a month. Hayes Valley to downtown - that's either a 15 minutes walk or two stops from the Van Ness underground station.

It's true though, BART is just a linear commuter train, and much of the city is covered only by painful, painful bus rides or surface level light rail. Still, if Seattle had a system like this, it'd be a 200% improvement.

Posted by Dougsf | September 30, 2008 3:16 PM

If I'm remembering correctly, the City of Seattle imposed a Parking Maximum on downtown office development years ago, at a level of about one parking space for every 3 employees. Nobody much complained at the time, and downtown transit commute ridership is very high, in the vicinity of 50%.

That Maximum, or some similar ratio, needs to be applied throughout the Center City area. In South Lake Union, developers are building office space with one parking space per employee! Same with the proposed new building at First & Atlantic, next to Safeco Field.

Stop the insanity.

Posted by Transit Voter | September 30, 2008 3:19 PM

I think option 1 is stupid, for reasons already stated. I like option #2. Creates Cheaper condos for those without cars, and those with 4 cars can just plunk down an extra 100k

Posted by DJSauvage | September 30, 2008 3:20 PM

The Taliban is real good at telling people what they need and don't need, too.

Posted by ivan | September 30, 2008 3:23 PM

@4: Maybe you ought to do that Bellevue Ave.

Posted by Mikki | September 30, 2008 3:23 PM

I am for the parking spots if some (10%?) are available on an hourly basis for retail shoppers. Back in the good old days (early 1990s) it wasn't too difficult to find a parking spot in the Broadway Market or behind the Seafirst for people visiting Broadway to shop. Broadway can't sustain itself just by the people who live in the neighborhood.

Posted by elswinger | September 30, 2008 3:25 PM

Plus a cap would make certain areas more desirable to those who are already predisposed to going without a personal automobile. If the city is going to give away all that airspace, to the uncompensated detriment of neighbors, it can certainly demand something like this in the name of an offsetting amelioration.
Of course our fat-assed developer's-man-whore of a mayor would never countenance such a thing.

Posted by kinaidos | September 30, 2008 3:28 PM

hmmm even if there is a case for parking maximums, most of the city today is subject to those parking minimums and there could be a stronger case for getting rid of the parking minimums all over the city.

1. forcing people to buy parking is immoral. Even if the market mostly wants parking, and only 10% of all units would come without it, for God's sake why force those 10% to buy the parking they don't want?

2. Often the parking requirement drives the whole project.

Many lots are too small to economically build underground parking; so instead of a nice 20 unit apartment without parking -- which we have all over Cap. Hill for example, and all over many cities all over the world -- you get the dumbass ugle so called townhouse qualroplexes. Because for those, you can have above ground parking (less expensive). The result is many 6 story zoned lots all over the city don't get fully built out and have the more expensive 1700 SF townhouses on them (with parking natch) rather than more affordable mix of apt. or condo units without parking.

Pls. don't tell me how much you like parking or how much everyone else does. You or I like flat screen TVs too but you don't require someone to buy one when when buying a unit!

Posted by PC | September 30, 2008 3:32 PM

People very often buy with an eye toward resale value. And there's no doubt that a unit that comes with parking is much easier to sell, and many buyers will pay a premium.

Posted by rjh | September 30, 2008 3:34 PM

What did affordable and available parking ever do to you, ECB?

Sense much hatred in you. Lead to the dark side, it will.

When has negative social engineering ever truly worked? Don't wants and desires always resurface?

If you want people to drive cars less, give them working alternatives. Make it cheaper and better not to.

Simply making it more frustrating to drive but without a direct connection to a viable alternative is doomed to failure.

Posted by pgreyy | September 30, 2008 3:39 PM

This is a great idea, though I don't think all units should be treated equally. Three bed room units should have more spaces than one bedrooms.

Posted by Andrew | September 30, 2008 3:52 PM
1. forcing people to buy parking is immoral. Even if the market mostly wants parking, and only 10% of all units would come without it, for God's sake why force those 10% to buy the parking they don't want?

Immoral? What the fuck is this, religion? So if you buy a unit that has parking with it, and you want to be like Erica or Kinaidos and not own a car, then rent out the space to someone who values it, and make your money back and then some. Show some fucking enterprise.

How do the developers know that the next tenant, or any future tenant, will be carless by choice. They don't know, and they can't know.

Parking maximums will never fly. When cars get 200 miles per gallon and run on piss, everybody will want one. Those cars will need right of way and they will need parking, and this "new Urbanist" fad will have gone the way of the Nehru jacket.

Posted by ivan | September 30, 2008 3:54 PM

Upon further consideration, I say to ECB:

The point of all this is of course to improve the quality of life for people living in the city, and I agree with you 100% that good mass transit is critical in making a city a nice place to live.

By fetishizing over ridership numbers, you're completely missing that point.

Reducing available parking won't automatically make mass transit better. Sure, it'll goose the ridership numbers, but it won't make the 9 run on time, it won't improve route coverage, it won't create more bike racks, it won't encourage people to travel to Broadway to shop, and it won't increase property values.

("Increase property values" is not just Republican-speak for making the rich richer, by the way. It also means the neighborhood is considered a nice place to live.)

If we all sit around and think of ways to punish ourselves for not doing the Right Thing, while not bothering to actually go out and get the Right Thing done, then all we're doing is hassling ourselves and our neighbors for naught.

And that is why we absolutely, positively do not need a parking maximum.

Posted by Eric Arrr | September 30, 2008 3:57 PM

So that's why they're still not done digging up dirt at that site. Christ.

Posted by keshmeshi | September 30, 2008 4:05 PM

I'm sorry Erica, but you're way off on a couple points here. For me, the most notable offender was: "developers can still build as much parking as they want(!)" Coming from someone who writes the feasibility studies that many Seattle developers work with/from, I have *never* heard a developer that worked in core Seattle say they wanted to build more parking. I'm sorry that you didn't speak with enough, or possibly any developers before you wrote this, but if you had, I'm certain that they would tell you that underground parking is never something they want build more of. Below-grade parking is terribly expensive to build and really adds nothing to the developer's margin. When you consider how difficult it is to secure financing for a mixed-use project, as well as the staggering equity requirements, underground parking is often what makes or breaks a deal. The more you have to build, the less money you make!

Posted by Preston | September 30, 2008 4:12 PM

I agree with Eric Arr's posts and also have to wonder if Erica's secret plan is to make people so miserable they will HAVE TO vote for transit.

The real way to get transit is to not let endless referendums and navel gazing about whether "this the best most earth-friendly choice" continue to screw things up.

Parking maximums are just invasive and stupid. Is that underground space more useful undeveloped?

Posted by Dawgson | September 30, 2008 4:15 PM

It's hard for me to agree, the reason I don't like congestion now is that it's pumping out toxic fumes, it won't be like this forever. Soon we'll have environmentally friendly vehicles and I'd rather have people building buildings with this in mind, when the future comes everyone should be able to have their own car.

I say let as many people who want to own a car downtown have one, because chances are unless you do business outside of town you'll have little to no need for a car. You'll find that out, and if you're going from downtown to downtown you'll have to worry about parking again. Our mass transit system should be competing with this idea, to make it faster than driving. I think first we have the challenge of making our buses faster than walking, but I don't agree we need parking maximums. It's not going to stop anyone from buying a car, if you live downtown and your goal in life is to buy a car, no piece of legislation is going to stop you, congestion however will.

Posted by Chris | September 30, 2008 4:22 PM

Mass Transit advocates have never been able to sell Mass Transit as a replacement for auto travel, nor has the driving masses ever been able to view it as such.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 30, 2008 4:37 PM

Seriously. Doesn't anyone remember the movie Singles?

Posted by Mikki | September 30, 2008 4:41 PM

I also agree with Eric Arr's posts. If mass transit were better, then people would use it. Forcing more people into our existing shitty system would only make it worse. So, ECB, I believe you are putting the cart before the horse.

I also sympathize with anyone who lives downtown, owns a car, but doesn't drive it very often (a.k.a. people who live and work in the city, but occasionally like to get out of the city). Without off-street parking, those poor saps are constantly hogging the already hard-to-find street parking while doing their best to avoid tickets.

Posted by Mahtli69 | September 30, 2008 4:44 PM

I think Erica is of the belief that the more riders there are the better the system will become. What evidence is there that more riders precede better service and not vice versa?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 30, 2008 4:46 PM

$30,000 would pay for about 4-5 properties' worth of sidewalks (@ ca. $7,000 per residential plot).

Posted by Simac | September 30, 2008 4:48 PM

And theres a very obvious reason why rider demand isn't met by transit supply; transit isn't wholly funded by ridership. Supply of transit won't increase in relation to demand if the demand doesn't make a dew drop of difference in the supply available.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 30, 2008 5:03 PM

Eric (19) is right on.

If the goal is to improve mass transit, just improve mass transit directly by directing more tax revenue at it, favorable legislation, etc, not by indirectly increasing the incentive to do these things by penalizing car ownership.

If the goal is to increase mass transit usage, just make usage more attractive by improving mass transit, not by penalizing car ownership.

If the goal is to decrease car usage, I would argue that that is best accomplished by improving mass transit usage (see above), but barring that, there are far better ways to penalize car usage that don't unintentionally reward parking space owners and increase the cost of spaces (and thus the cost of housing that comes with spaces--which is completely the opposite of one of Erica's stated goals, to lower the cost of housing). For example, higher license plate tabs, higher gas taxes, etc, all directly disincentivize car ownership.

I want to highlight the above point, though: restricting the number of parking spaces will increase the value of the existing spaces and drive up the price of housing that comes with spaces (which will still exist, since the market obviously desires it). Thus it will increase at least some housing prices, not decrease it as Erica apparently intends. As #16 said, negative social engineering rarely works.

Posted by Dan | September 30, 2008 5:04 PM

Further proof that ECB knows about as much about economics as she does land use and transportation planning, which is to say very little indeed.

I mean, really, developers are paying more to add what ECB views is unnecessary parking to a project so they can increase the cost of their units?

Exactly what planet do you live on, Erica?

Posted by Mr. X | September 30, 2008 5:11 PM

We own a condo with one space. We own two cars. I haven't driven my car since April, yes, freakin' April, except to move it around the block once in a while taking up public parking spaces.

No, I'm not getting rid of it. And yes, we'd pay for a second spot if we could buy one.

Posted by StC | September 30, 2008 5:13 PM

...and to put a finer point on it, in the current glutted luxury condo market, absolutely nobody is being forced to buy a condo with a parking spot they don't want.

The developer is putting parking in because - surprise, surprise in a City where close to 70% of work commutes still occur by car - his tenants/buyers want it.

Posted by Mr. X | September 30, 2008 5:24 PM
When has negative social engineering ever truly worked? Don't wants and desires always resurface?

ummmm. everything from the height of buildings to the size of parking spaces to the brightness of neon signs is regulated. are you against stop signs because you think people will run through them even faster because of their hidden wants/desires?

if you guys are so against social engineering (ie, "laws"), how about a nice market-based parking space tax in the city center? 10% of the value of your home per year for being a public danger and environmental nuisance.

Posted by jrrrl | September 30, 2008 5:24 PM

Do you have any idea how fucking stupid you are?

Jesus christ.

Posted by Andrew | September 30, 2008 6:55 PM

@35: What's your problem? Seriously.

It's not the parked cars that congest traffic, inflict wear & tear on the roads, and pollute the environment.

A person can only drive one car at a time. So why not let them park as many as they're willing to pay for?

Posted by Eric Arrr | September 30, 2008 7:31 PM

@35: The question I actually meant to ask was, "Why not let them use as many parking spaces as they're willing to pay for?"

I am definitely not defending anyone who leaves a half-dozen beaters rusting along the curb outside their townhouse or whatever.

Posted by Eric Arrr | September 30, 2008 7:37 PM

Too bad there's no bike parking in the plans.

But, hey, if you can't drive your Hummer, why bother overspending on a place to live?

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 30, 2008 7:41 PM

And now a words from the facts:

1. Surprising that Erica is just now discovering this, since those of us who were at the design review meetings knew what was up a year ago.

2. My understanding is that its going to be rental apartments, not condos, so no one is going to be buying those parking spaces along with their new 'loft' or whatever.

3. Having lived in Capitol Hill, yes, you can get around just fine - even better - without a car during your work week. But last time I checked there is no light rail line to the ski lodges, or the state campgrounds, or where ever you may want to go for the weekend.

So yes, my dear Erica, even people who can or even prefer to go mostly without using a car can choose to have a car around, hence the once space (or so) per unit that is common in Seattle's dense neighborhoods.

4. Gasp! It is possible to be bike, bus, and walk most of the time, and still own a car and even use it from time to time. What tires me about your relentless anti-car position is that you come across as either/or about it - either you must eliminate all autos from your life forever no matter what the circumstance, or else you must be so surgically attached to it that you can't be parted from it, not even to go to bed.

5. And yes, the first floor of the parking is for retail customers, though there probably still is 1 or 1.2 tenant spaces per rental unit.

Are we all better now?

Posted by I am your Mother | September 30, 2008 9:04 PM

This is going to be a mixed-use building, so many of the parking spots will be used by retail customers. Nothing wrong with that .... or am I being hopelessly reactionary here?

Posted by CripKev | September 30, 2008 9:14 PM

Good piece of thought - got a lot of mixed thinking here. What I take away from it is most people are not of a mindset to accept maximums yet - but selling the parking seperate from the unit (even at the $20k lower end of cost), that could be a good thing to require - and the market would very quickly start to balance parking development to demand.

Posted by TheDude | October 1, 2008 12:54 PM

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