April 07, 2006

Parking Paradigm Shift?

Parking_meter_000000040193 Editor’s note: This post was contributed by Todd Litman, author of “Parking Management Best Practices," and founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. For more information see his free summary report (pdf), Parking Management: Strategies, Evaluation and Planning.

A great example of the maxim “no free lunch” is the common struggle over parking. Motorists often assume that parking should be abundant and free at nearly every destination, and any deviation from this is considered a problem that must be solved by developers (who are forced to construct ever larger parking facilities when building or upgrading buildings) and governments (who are forced to provide subsidized public parking).

But—as noted in these three recent Planetizen op-eds (and previously in this blog), none of this parking is really free. We all pay double through higher rents, higher prices, higher taxes, increased traffic problems and sprawl. These practices are also inequitable since they force non-drivers to subsidize parking costs, reduce travel options for non-drivers, and reduce housing affordability.

The good news is that a fundamental shift in parking planning is gaining momentum. Communities and planners are beginning to adopt the “no free lunch” approach to parking. They’re developing policies and programs—called parking management--that use parking resources more efficiently. And they’re reaping benefits ranging from more-vibrant downtowns to more-affordable housing to a greater variety of transit options.

Here are some examples of successful programs.

Downtown Pasadena Redevelopment: During the 1970s Old Pasadena’s downtown had become run down, with many derelict and abandoned buildings and few customers, in part due to the limited parking available to customers. Curb parking was restricted to two-hour duration but many employees simply parked in the most convenient, on-street spaces and moved their vehicles several times each day. The city proposed pricing on-street parking as a way to increase turnover and make parking available to customers. Many local merchants originally opposed the idea. As a compromise, city officials agreed to dedicate all revenues to public improvements that make the downtown more attractive. A Parking Meter Zone (PMZ) was established within which parking was priced and revenues were invested.

With this proviso, the merchants agreed to the proposal. They began to see parking meters in a new way: as a way to fund the projects and services that directly benefit their customers and businesses. The city formed a PMZ advisory board consisting of business and property owners, which recommended parking policies and set spending priorities for the meter revenues. Investments included new street furniture and trees, more police patrols, better street lighting, more street and sidewalk cleaning, pedestrian improvements, and marketing.

This created a “virtuous cycle” in which parking revenue funded community improvements that attracted more visitors which increased the parking revenue, allowing further improvements. This resulted in extensive redevelopment of buildings, new businesses and residential development. Parking is no longer a problem for customers, who can almost always find a convenient space. Local sales tax revenues have increased far faster than in other shopping districts with lower parking rates, and nearby malls that offer free customer parking. This indicates that charging market rate for parking with revenues dedicated to local improvements can be an effective way to support urban redevelopment.

Tri-Met Parking Management in Portland: The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District, which manages transportation in the Portland, Oregon area, has implemented various parking management strategies around transit stations to minimize costs and support transit-oriented development.

These include:

  • Sharing parking with Park & Ride and other types of land uses, including apartments, churches, movie theaters and government buildings near transit stations.
  • Using lower minimum parking requirements around transit stations.
  • Allowing Park & Ride capacity near transit stations to be reduced if the land is used for transit-oriented development, thus allowing walking and bike trips to replace car trips.

More Accurate Parking Requirements in Vancouver: Vancouver, British Columbia, is developing a more flexible approach to parking requirements for multi-family dwellings to support efficient transportation, smart growth and housing affordability objectives. The program is loosely based on the LEED TM Green building rating system. Developers receive credits for reducing the number of parking stalls, providing parking spaces for carshare vehicles, and providing annual transit passes to building occupants.

Rich Sorro Commons, San Francisco, California (USEPA, 2006): Rich Sorro Commons is a mixed-use project with 100 affordable units and approximately 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail. Conventional standards would require 130 to 190 parking spaces for such a building, but it was constructed with only 85 parking spaces, due to proximity to high-quality public transit services, the provision of two carshare parking spaces in the building, and the fact that the building provides affordable housing, with tenants who are less likely to own a car.

Reduced parking supply freed up space for a childcare center and more ground-level retail stores. Just 17 avoided spaces allows the project to generate $132,000 in additional annual revenues (300 square feet per space at $25.80 per square foot in rent), making housing more affordable. Two carshare vehicles are available to residents, giving them access to a car without the costs of ownership – a particularly important benefit for low-income households.

Austin Parking Benefit District: Many neighborhoods experience parking spillover problems, including difficulty finding parking for residents and visitors, concerns that public service vehicles cannot pass two lanes of parked vehicles on the street, or that parking on the street reduces neighborhood attractiveness. These problems become an opportunity with the establishment of a Parking Benefit District (PBD) A PBD is created by metering the on-street parking (either with pay stations on the periphery of the neighborhood or with the traditional parking meters) and dedicating the revenue, minus City expenses for maintenance and enforcement, towards improvements in the neighborhood that promote walking, cycling and transit use, such as sidewalks, curb ramps, and bicycle lanes. Charging for parking and promoting alternatives reduces parking in neighborhoods and helps fund neighborhood benefits. The PBD may be used in conjunction with a Residential Permit Parking program to ensure that parking is available for residents and their visitors.

Using Parking Revenue to Support Transit in Boulder: Faced with a shortage of parking for customers, Boulder, Colorado. developed a program to encourage downtown employees to use alternative commute modes. In 1993, Boulder’s City Council mandated restricted downtown parking and appealed for parking demand management for the city’s commuters. The Central Area General Improvement District (CAGID), made up of many of downtown’s 700 businesses, responded to the Boulder City Council’s demands by creating a system using revenue from downtown parking meters to pay for free bus passes. The passes are provided for all of the district’s 7,500 employees, and cost $500,000 each year. The City of Boulder offers deeply discounted Eco-Passes to businesses outside the CAGID, and to residents, and encourages walking and bicycling. The program has changed travel behavior, freeing up valuable customer parking spaces and reducing parking costs, congestion, accidents and pollution emissions.

  • Employee carpooling increased from 35% in 1993 to 47% in 1997.
  • The district’s employees require 850 fewer parking spaces.
  • More available parking has increased retail activity in downtown Boulder.

Although individual parking management strategies often have modest impacts, typically reducing parking requirements by just 5-15%, their effects are cumulative. A cost-effective, integrated parking management program can often reduce parking requirements by 20-40%, while improving user convenience and helping to achieve other planning objectives, such as supporting more compact development, encouraging use of alternative modes, and increasing development affordability. This can increase profits and help address a wide range of transportation and land use problems.

P.S. For more information, see VTPI’s summary report, Parking Management: Strategies, Evaluation and Planning

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March 29, 2006

Last Stop in the Free Ride Zone

Usedcomputerssmall The market for electronics just got a little fairer. Starting January 2009, my fellow Washington residents will no longer be unfairly punished for my penchant for electoxics (you know – toxic electronics – like it?). That’s because the Washington State legislature just passed the most advanced producer responsibility law in the United States - ESSB 6428 – the Electronic Waste Recycling bill.

The bill basically says, “You can make and sell toxic electronic products, and you can buy them, but Washington's taxpayers are no longer going to foot the bill for cleaning up your mess.” Put more diplomatically, it establishes a “shared responsibility” model, where those who enjoy the benefits of the transaction (the producer and buyer) are those who pay for its negative impacts. Or, as dad used to say, “You gotta pay to play.” Or mom, more to the point, "Go clean your room."

This is how the Washington program will work:

  • In every county in the state, consumers (including residents, schools, charities, small businesses and small governments) can drop off their old monitors, computers and TVs at convenient no-charge collection centers, including retailers, non-profits, and local waste facilities. Retailers will be required to let buyers of new equipment know about the recycling centers, and the Department of Ecology will maintain an informational website.
  • Manufacturers can either finance and set up an independent program, or participate in a standard program if they don’t want to set up their own. Regardless, each manufacturer will have to pay their “fair share” of the overall costs of the program based on their share of the products being brought to the collection facilities.
  • The Department of Ecology will establish the processing standards that manufacturers must meet, and provide general oversight and enforcement.

Washington’s law is a great example of a policy solution that gets prices to tell the truth (at least to stop lying through their teeth, anyway), and it gives manufacturers ample incentive to design products that put safety first, causing fewer problems down the road.

Imagine you’re a manufacturer of a super cool electoxic. There are lots of things that determine how you design your product – features consumers want, how it looks on the shelf, what price point you’re trying to hit, what will get CNET reviewers raving, cost of materials, etc. But what it costs to dispose of your product at the end of its "useful" life (which is less than 5 years for a typical electronic product) has never entered your equation. Nor has the cost of the myriad health impacts your product contributes to.

Now imagine that you’re actually responsible for collecting and figuring out what to do with your toxic components. Not only do you have to collect, but you have to disassemble the products to extract the toxic stuff, and pay for the safe disposal of every pound of toxic. Talk about a great incentive to innovate!

Now this law is by no means perfect, and there's still a lot to work out between now and 2009. But what I especially like about this approach is that it provides at least some pressure on both sides of the P&L for manufacturers. On the revenue side, demand for toxic products will drop because consumers won’t want to pay higher prices as the costs of recycling get passed on to them by the manufacturer. (Even better would be if buyers knew what share of the purchase price was going to pay for disposal of the toxics within. I can dream, right?) On the expense side, manufacturers will start to figure out ways to reduce their recycling and disposal costs, namely designing products that are easy to recycle and use fewer toxic components. And, because the manufacturers will be involved in the creation and management of the program, the feedback loop to the product design process will be much quicker than if they just had to pay an annual polluter fee like some other programs. 

E-waste legislation is the hottest sector of the nascent “extended producer responsibility” policy category. According to Washington Environmental Council, 19 other states plus New York City currently have electronic waste bills pending. If you’re interested in learning more about EPR, check out the Product Policy Institute.

Kudos to Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation, WEC, and all the others who got the WA bill passed – with huge bipartisan support to boot.

And please, can anyone think of a better name for “extended producer responsibility?” I love this stuff, but that name makes even my eyes glaze over.

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March 28, 2006

Alan (Heart) This Report

A year ago, Seattle Mayor Gregg Nickels assembled a “Green Ribbon Commission” to advise him on how to keep his trend-setting Kyoto pledge.

Last week, the commission released its report.

The global significance and political symbolism of the event have drawn much well-earned comment. The report itself has not.

How is it? Superb. I’m in love.

It’s well researched, innovative, and (mostly) courageous.

(Full disclosure: the commission is also full of friends and even funders of Northwest Environment Watch. Click through the break, and you'll see I’m not just sucking up.)

It recommends many of the policy solutions that we've become convinced are smart and systemic. A sampling of the 18 highly praiseworthy recommendations:

Lead a regional partnership to develop and implement a road pricing system (about which we’ve written much). Road pricing is the only way to solve congestion, and it’s a potent stimulant for alternatives to driving.

Implement a commercial parking tax (ditto). Taxing parking is a great way to pay for alternatives.

Expand efforts to create compact, green, urban neighborhoods (double ditto). Ultimately, compact neighborhoods are the real alternative to driving.

What’s left to say? I’ll stifle a long list of wonkish addenda that I scribbled in the margins (ideas for refrigerator bounties and lightbulb brigades), and limit myself to three things: a curiosity, an observation, and a regret.

My curiosity: The report mentions that 25 percent of Portland’s arterial streets have striped bike lanes, while only 1.5 percent of Seattle’s do. Could those numbers be right?! Wow.

My observation: The report calls for a regional road pricing system – right on! When reading Clark’s post about Stockholm, it occurred to me that the ideal opportunity for a downtown (London-style) tolling anywhere in Cascadia would be when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is torn down. Whatever it’s ultimately replaced with, construction will take years. And during that period, local leaders will have an unusual degree of political cover to implement ambitious steps such as congestion pricing.

My regret: In a report that’s courageous enough to suggest parking taxes and regionwide tolls, it’s disappointing to see the veil of politeness descend in one case that’s critically important—the case of highways reconstruction.

Early in the report, the commissioners plead for a measly $57-73 million a year extra to fund transit improvements that they call “the keystone for other actions.” Then, on page 21, buried in a discussion of “leveraging state and regional action” the Green Ribboners finally refer to the elephants in the living room—the huge highway rebuilding projects planned for the city:

"For example, decisions on major transportation infrastructure improvements, such as the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the two Lake Washington bridges, must closely consider the climate impacts of investment alternatives."

That statement is true, of course, but it’s awfully mild. It’s a bit like a report on global disarmament only mentioning thermonuclear weapons in a footnote. Here’s what I (the impolitic dreamer) wish the commissioners had said,

"The mere fact that city leaders are seriously considering rebuilding multibillion dollar freeways through our city—while the ice sheets are melting, our snowpack is dwindling, our transit system is starved, our bike lanes are few and glass-strewn, and a quarter of our streets lack even sidewalks—is proof that we still have terribly far to go. Freeways are giant emissions generators. They’re the antithesis of climate leadership. We should never build another one in this or any other city. We should begin to tear them down."

Sigh.

Well, anyway, I’m still in love with this report.

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February 06, 2006

Ever closer to PAYD

Pay-as-you-drive auto insurance keeps coming closer. There are now at least three different technology companies in the market with pay-as-you-drive systems. These are not yet insurance plans available to Cascadian consumers. They're products--little electronic gizmos that connect to GPS and/or wireless networks and/or the USB port on your home computer--that insurance companies can adopt to collect data for PAYD insurance plans.

Each product is a bit different and each has its own answer to privacy concerns. I'm not endorsing any of them.

My point here is the same one I made before: information technology, not lane-by-lane HOT lanes, is likely the shortest road to prices that tell the truth about driving.

A Waterloo, Ontario company is launching a pilot soon for its iPAID system.

An Atlanta, Georgia company is aggressively promoting its product called DriverScore.

And a third firm called Sensomatix reportedly has a product on the market, too, though its website doesn't yet describe it.

Getting the policy details right--protecting privacy and incentives for fuel-conserving vehicles--will be the giant issues in this space. Not whether the technology sweeps into the market.

State transportation and insurance agencies, are you listening?

Posted by Alan Durning | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 01, 2006

Not Going the Extra Mile

A promising new development for pay-as-you-drive auto insurance (PAYD): a nascent pilot project in Washington state.

King County--leading a coalition of local governments, state agencies, and nonprofit organizations--has won a grant of up to $616,000 from the Washington State Department of Transportation for PAYD. And the county is seeking an additional $1.5 million from the federal Department of Transportation to underwrite a 5,000-car demonstration project.

First step: select an insurance company willing to not go the extra mile, or at least, to reward its customers not to.

The county and its partners are issuing an invitation to insurers to indicate their interest in the project, which will help its insurance partner pay the up-front costs of developing a PAYD system. Let your friends in the insurance business know!

This effort is on a tight timeline. Insurers must indicate their interest in writing by February 15. For more information, inquire with Bill.Roach (at) metrokc.gov.

(Full disclosure: NEW is a participant in this project, though not a financial beneficiary of it.)

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Principles of the State of the Union Address

I hadn't intended to join the cacaphony of bloggers and pundits who are Monday-morning-quarterbacking the State of the Union address. But NEW's all-star board member, Laura Retzler, asked a great question last night that I've been puzzling over since: what's NEW's take on Bush's plan to end the nation's addiction to oil?

It later occurred to me--too late to answer Laura--that my reply should have been rather obvious to me. NEW is developing a concise statement of values and principles, that will orient and unify our research. Among these values are two that are especially germane to energy security: "make prices tell the truth" and "build complete, compact communities."

In his speech Bush called out technological innovation as the primary way to break the addiction. Certainly he's right that technology should play an important part in diversifying our energy portfolio--especially certain types of biofuels, new clean energy sources, and lighter-weight vehicles, for just a few examples that NEW promotes. Yet technological solutions may not be the surest path to ending our addiction.

That's where NEW's principles come into the picture.

"Making prices tell the truth" is especially important. The price of gasoline does reflects only the direct costs of extracting, refining, and distributing it, not the full costs that are externalized to society, such as air pollution, climate change, and even entanglement in unstable regions. By the same token, "free" parking often carries with it high costs, similarly externalized. With a smart restructuring of parking incentives, including parking taxes, there's reason to believe we can achieve substantial gains in both energy efficiency and conservation.

Another of the principles, "build complete, compact communities," would improve home energy consumption and render driving, which has high energy demands, optional or even irrelevant for many people. We already know that compact urban development with good transit and pedestrian alternatives yields dramatic reductions in energy need, even while it boosts health for residents.

NEW's principles may not point to flashy promises of zero-pollution cars or safe nuclear energy. (And they may not come with strings attached to big subsidies.) But they point to hidden levers in our economy and society--small tweaks that can yield outsize results for energy security.

So that's may belated reply, Laura. Thanks for setting me to thinking about this.

*********

By the way, here's the full text of Bush's remarks on energy last night:

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.

The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources, and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative, a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy.

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

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January 06, 2006

The Stockholm Syndrome

This will be fun to watch:  the city of Stockholm, Sweden is starting a trial run of a congestion pricing scheme that would make drivers pay about $7.50 per day to drive into downtown.  London has a similar, though considerably pricier, system:  drivers now have to pay about $14 to get into downtown London.  But Londoners have been surprisingly supportive, since the fees have made a considerable dent in congestion, while transit service has been increased to help people get into downtown if they choose not to drive.

Although the London congestion pricing system has been largely successful, the prospects for Stockholm may be murkier. Stockholm apparently faces nowhere near as much congestion as London -- and polling shows that despite Stockholm's green reputation, the tolls are pretty unpopular.  Plus, it's a short-term trial, so city residents may not have as much time to adjust their driving habits -- which may mean that they won't have as much time to see whether travel times really improve as much as they did in London.  Both of those factors could make the Stockholm experiment fall flat -- and make voters less likely to approve an extension of the system in a fall election. 

Of course, even if Stockholm voters reject congestion pricing, it wouldn't mean that the idea has no merit -- London's experience shows that it can be a popular policy.  But if the system does get nixed by Stockholm's voters, it could make other cities think twice about how (and whether) to use road pricing to ease congestion.

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December 15, 2005

Parks Instead of Parking - Literally

Parking_activismTalk about cultural creatives!

Via a blog reader, here's a nifty story about a "landscape remixing" effort in San Francisco that illustrates a point we've long made in a small, powerful way.

Between noon and two on November 16, a collective called Rebar turned one of the city's parking spaces into a small park. They fed the meter, rolled out some turf, put up a park bench and a tree, hung a sign, and encouraged people to hang out, read the paper, and enjoy the greenery that would usually be taken up by a vehicle. (Watch the slide show.)

Their aim was to:

"...transform a parking spot into a PARK(ing) space, thereby temporarily expanding the public realm and improving the quality of urban human habitat, at least until the meter ran out. By our calculations, we provided an additional 24,000 square-foot-minutes of public open space that Wednesday afternoon. "

We--and many others--have long talked about the disadvantages of devoting so much urban space to parking. Nice to see a visualization of the positive side of that coin. Is there a Rebar in Cascadia?

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November 07, 2005

Electric Boogaloo

Driving is far and away the biggest source of climate-warming emissions in the Pacific Northwest.Wa_co2_from_fossil_fuels  Together, motor gasoline and highway diesel account for about 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels in BC, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.  (In Washington, the figure is 36 percent -- click on the graph for details.) Nothing else we do comes close to matching the amount of CO2 that we emit when we drive.

Which would make one think that reducing emissions from driving is the highest priority for reducing our impact on the global climate.  Given the disproportionate amount of CO2 from driving, that sounds reasonable, right?

Only I'm not sure that it's true.  In fact, if I had to choose one area of the northwest's energy system to focus on, I'd probably choose the one that is, comparatively speaking, the most climate-friendly:  electricity.

Most of the Pacific Northwest's electricity comes from hydropower dams.  Now, obviously, the dams that staple the region's streams and rivers have their problems; they're largely responsible for the decline of the region's iconic salmon runs.  However, while hydropower isn't always climate friendly, the dams in the northwest are fairly climate-benign, as energy sources go.

But we've pretty much hit the limit on hydropower generation in the Northwest.  Annual hydropower generation varies with the weather, but the long-term average has been roughly stagnant for a couple decades. There simply haven't been many new additions to hydropower capacity recently: all of the good sites already have dams on them. So these days, new production comes from other sources; and while a few new wind farms have gotten a lot of press, we've been largely meeting rising demand for electricity by burning more natural gas and coal.

And coal is a real problem.  Coal emits more CO2 per unit of usable energy than anything else the nation's energy portfolio.  At this stage, anything we can do to keep coal in the ground has got to count as one of the best ways to help stem the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels. 

Now, the thing is that there's very little coal-fired electricity in the Pacific Northwest itself; the Centralia power plant in Washington is the only major coal-to-electric plant In the region.  But there are quite a few large coal-fired plants Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah -- plants that also power growing demand throughout the US West.  Arguably, the most climate-friendly policies we could pursue in the Northwest would...

  1. help us use electricity more efficiently -- which would reduce the demand for imported coal-fired electricity; and
  2. help us generate more electricity renewably -- which could help us export more electricity outside the region, offsetting electricity generation from coal-fired plants.

Of course, I think this line of thinking poses something of a dilemma: is it really possible to convince people that the best thing to do for the climate is to use less of the one energy source that -- in this region, anyway -- poses the least threat to the climate?

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