Saturday, June 8, 2013

Pinched Parking

"Everybody knows the key to a good small downtown business is gargantuan gobs of (preferably free) parking. "    Right?

Ian Sacs P.E. takes an objective look at studies conducted in major US cities to discover if that premise is true. After-all every small retail business relies on that statement because urban planners, architects and policy makers have done so for decades. Urban design guides specify parking requirements handed-down for millennia.
"So it is written and so it shall be done". 

Ian looks at several studies showing what conditions promote downtown health and a vibrant  business district. What follows are highlights to those studies, you'll see ample parking is not a necessary intervention. "The one about the parking-pinched merchant...", Ian Sacs P.E., Planetizen.

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San FranciscoA Metro Transit Agency study showing 85% of visitors walk, bike or take transit. Other studies show merchants widely overestimate the number of patrons arrive by car.

Parking is Left Out
Michigan: This study included sixteen downtown characteristics, and analyzed their relative importance to health of the downtown district. Here is a high-brow chart of the findings. Three factors did not correlate to downtown health:  "Streetscape improvements," "Parking," and "Quick-stop shopping." See "Evaluating the Health of Downtowns, a study of Michigan Small Cities", U. Wisconsin-Coop Extension Center for Community Economic Development.

Philadelphia:  Econsult Corporation, assessed the performance of 265 commercial corridors and identified factors shown to improve them.  The study found that there was a consistently positive correlation between parking-spaces-per-store and shopper patronage, real estate values and retail sales:

"Along pedestrian-oriented commercial districts surrounded by dense residential neighborhoods, the availability of parking seemed to play less of a role in commercial districts success. This is likely because many residents are choosing to walk to the corridor instead of drive. So while parking may help an automobile-oriented commercial district better serve its customers, the study suggests that too much parking actually serves to decrease property values as compared to property values surrounding pedestrian-oriented commercial corridors."

From the LISC Institute, for Comprehensive Economic Development, "White Paper: New and definitive evidence on what works to revitalize commercial corridors", 2011.

New York City: The NYC Department of Transportation shows some startling statistics after applying street interventions for balanced mobility there:
  • 49% increase in local retail sales along its 9th Avenue segment
  • 49% fewer vacancies
  • 74% of users prefer the new configuration
  • 172% increase in retail sales, Pearl St. Brooklyn  
  • 77% increase in seated pedestrians
"In Europe, where this kind of modal manipulation is perhaps most advanced, the techniques used by transportation planners to actively better balance demand for various transportation options are generally called 'Mobility Management'. 
From the NYC Department of Transportation,  "Measuring the Street: New Metrics for 21st Century Streets", NYCDOT. 

New York City: 2006 A study of pedestrian space in Soho found 89 percent of people using Prince Street arrive by subway, bus, walking or bicycle (PDF), 9 percent arrive by car.  By 5:1 shoppers say they would come to Prince Street more often if they had more space to walk, even if it meant eliminating parking spaces." Rethinking Soho", Aaron Naparsteck,

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San Francisco: 2008 Columbus Street, the TA found that motorists accounted for only 14 percent of all users accessing the Columbus Avenue shopping district (PDF).

More studies:

Toronto 2009
West Palm Beach FL 2009

Find the last 3 examples and more in "The Myth of Urban Driving Shoppers", Matthew Roth, 2009,    -LS

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