Parking Hysteria is the norm -and that ain’t right

on street parking in queens

I was in Southwestern Michigan recently where I encountered an odd idea about parking on the street.  In many of the residential neighborhoods you cannot park overnight on the public street.  I asked if this was to facilitate snow removal during Winter months.  I was told that the ordinance is in effect all year.  Maybe there was a freak blizzard in July in years long past and that event lead folks to want to err on the side of caution.

Parking is a volatile subject.  Anyone who has ever be frustrated trying to find a place to park is an expert on the subject without applying any effort or legitimate mental rigor to the topic.  Proposals to change parking rules can whip up the kind of hysteria that makes you question the mental capacity of folks you used to hold in some regard.

What does this mean for a small developer looking to get relief from the municipality’s minimum parking requirements?  Don’t assume that common sense will prevail.  Parking can be such a hot button issue that it clouds the minds of otherwise reasonable people.  If you want to challenge or change the local parking rules, you really should not expect grownup behavior from your neighbors, city staff, or elected officials.  Don’t base your project on an assumption that you will get any reduction in parking, particularly if that relief will require a public hearing.  You may be able to get some relief, but don’t count on it to make your project pencil.

Many municipalities are getting rid of minimum off-street parking requirements, recognizing that cities have done a lousy job of guessing how much parking is going to be needed for any given use.  Other cities have figured out what a nifty tool charging the right price for parking is for managing the supply of public parking in desirable areas.  These islands of common sense are still too rare.  Professor Donald Shoup has done excellent work debunking common parking myths.  I recommend reading his book The High Cost of Free Parking (now in paperback) to anyone serious about understanding how to manage parking issues.

If you are not ready to read a 700 page book about parking, I recommend this short paper by Prof. Shoup as an illustration of how warped and hysterical everyday thinking about parking has become: Roughly Right or Precisely Wrong  Parking Bloat is needless and wasteful.  It is born of myth and sloppy thinking.  Providing alternatives will require clear thinking and well-informed local leadership, (so it is going to take a while)…


A great place eventually… Downtown South Miami with Victor Dover.

A straightforward little one story commercial building a half block off the main retail street.
Monte Anderson and I are in Miami for the final reviews of student infill projects at the University of Miami on Friday.  This morning we toured some of the infill sites in the Allapatha Neighborhood. We met Victor Dover at the Dover Kohl & Partners office and walked down the street for lunch.  Victor told us the story of how Downtown South Miami came back from $6.00 per SF rents and boarded up storefronts in 1992 to what we were seeing today.

Today there are no vacant stores, new single story and mixed use buildings have been built.  Dover Kohl pushed for eliminating minimum off street parking, but there was a lot of resistance, so the came up with a menu of common sense measures that each reduced the parking requirement.  The 5 lane Main Street with occasional

  on-street parking was reduced to 3 lanes with parking and the sidewalks we widened from 4′ to 15-18′.  Arcades and awnings were permitted to encroach into the public right of way.  The ban on sidewalk dining that had been in place since the Bronze Age was repealed.

The rents are now $60.00 per SF.  They got the basics right and the market is stepping up to pay a serious premium for in-town amenities.  Proper civilization makes money.

Umbrella/awnings for white tablecloth restaurant seating. Tables and chairs come out for seating in the evening.