Design & Development
July 13, 2018

The Fourth Mistake: More Parking

Daily Durning found another Great Mistake to add to the list, from Streetsblog: 

Parking spaces are everywhere, but for some reason the perception persists that there’s “not enough parking.” And so cities require parking in new buildings and lavishly subsidize parking garages, without ever measuring how much parking exists or how much it’s used.

Now new research presents credible estimates of the total parking supply in several American cities for the first time. The report from Eric Scharnhorst at the Research Institute for Housing America, an arm of the Mortgage Bankers Association, provides city-level evidence of the nation’s massively overbuilt parking supply and the staggering cost to the public [PDF].

Scharnhorst states:

After decades of requiring parking for new construction, car storage has become the primary land use in many city areas.

In Seattle, one-third of the city’s parking supply is located in downtown garages.  … the parking occupancy rate downtown is 64 percent. …

Scharnhorst concludes that cities should change course, and that in places with excessive parking developers should “allocate capital to non-parking uses” — a.k.a. housing, commercial buildings, and, in general, the sorts of things that make cities habitable for people instead of cars.

Images: Research Institute for Housing America

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You have to admire the good folks in Seattle for their approach to making the argument for safe, separated, protected bike lanes.
Last week, in order to encourage the development of a continuous separated bikeway, volunteers came out to create a “people protected bikeway”. And they did a very good job, as documented on Twitter.

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How did a transit-backward town become a national poster child for ridership success?
So asks CityLab; since 2007, the fastest-growing city in the country has added nearly a quarter million jobs (thanks in considerable part to Amazon), and has grown in population by more than 15 percent since 2010.
Remarkably, though, Seattle has not gained more cars in its most congested areas. The number of commuters driving private vehicles downtown has declined by 10 percent since 2010, even as new residents and workers have spiked. 

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Another backgrounder on the housing dilemma from the Seattle Times.  And just so you know, it’s estimated that 80 percent of residential land in Vancouver is zoned for ‘single-family’ — a misleading term, since it doesn’t define family, and almost every sf-home in Vancouver can have multiple units via secondary suites and lane houses. But you get the idea — they’re low-density, separated and super-expensive.
 

Rapidly growing Seattle constrains new housing through widespread single-family zoning

This is the second edition of real-estate reporter Mike Rosenberg’s new housing column, which takes a deeper dive into the booming housing market and answers reader questions. Read the first instalment here.

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Last month the Seattle Times sent reporter David Gutman up to Vancouver for a story on the similarities and differences in transportation between the two cities – an unusual commitment in this day of constrained resources.  He talked to a lot of people (including Price Tags) and here is a much-abridged version of what he found. (Full story here.)
 

With three fully-built light-rail lines and an interconnected bus network, Vancouver’s transportation system is like Seattle’s, just a couple of decades in the future. But the Canadian city differs in its rock-solid commitment to building housing right on top of transit.
Metro Vancouver — which comprises Vancouver and 23 surrounding cities and towns — is a region being built, more and more, around its thriving and ever-expanding light-rail system. …
South Lake Union, home of Amazon and the epicenter of Seattle’s construction boom, currently has 15 major projects under construction, about evenly split between apartments and office space.
South Lake Unions are sprouting up at SkyTrain stops all over Metro Vancouver. …
“There’s different attitudes about density than in Seattle, that’s for sure,” said Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink, the agency in charge of transit and roads in Metro Vancouver. “But if you’re going to manage congestion, which is getting worse and worse in Seattle, you’ve got to get people nearer to transit.”  …
Throughout the region, 146 developments are being built close enough to a SkyTrain station or track that they need special permission from the rail agency.
In 2012, there were only two such developments. …

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From the Seattle Times, via Daily Durning:

Seattle will develop a plan to toll city roadways as part of its efforts to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse-gas emissions, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Tuesday.
Details of what such a plan might look like are sparse, and will hinge on a tolling study focused on downtown neighborhoods that should have initial results later this year. …
Durkan said she was hopeful a congestion-pricing system could be in place by the end of her first term, in 2021. …
Seattle could implement tolling within the city without the permission of the state Legislature, but it would almost certainly require the approval of city voters.
In 2015, 56 percent of Puget Sound-area voters said systemwide tolling was a bad or very bad idea, according to a poll from the Puget Sound Regional Council. …
Revenues from congestion pricing would be used to increase transit service throughout the city and to support more electric transportation infrastructure, Durkan said. …
Limited tolling is already coming to downtown Seattle, with the opening of the Highway 99 tunnel, scheduled for later this year. But the state Transportation Commission continues to struggle deciding how much to toll and when to start tolling.
 

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Along with  a high-speed train link to Seattle as reported in Price Tags Vancouver, there is a new “by sea option” too. After seven years of planning Harbour Air Group will work with Seattle’s Kenmore Air to fly four times a week between Coal Harbour and Lake Union in Seattle, very close to Amazon.com’s headquarters.
The big challenge for this route as reported by Glen Korstrom in Business in Vancouver has been obtaining a Canadian Border Services Agency approval for a customs desk at Coal Harbour. There already is an American customs facility at the Lake Union dock in Seattle.
The proposed flights will land passengers in Seattle under one hour. In the interim the B.C. government is also  contributing financially for a business-case  report on the feasibility of the high-speed train link, bringing these two Cascadia cities closer together along the “innovation corridor”.

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The Great Freeway Fight is one of the key mythologies of post-war Vancouver, still referenced as a key to understanding this place.  But at exactly the same time – late 1960s to 1972 – a parallel fight was happening in Seattle.  While I-5 had been built (and was used explicitly by the Vancouver Planning Commission to oppose the Chinatown Freeway), Seattle citizens were organizing to oppose two more freeways.
From NextCity:
The so-called Freeway Revolt didn’t just determine the fate of Seattle’s built environment — halting the development of the proposed R.H. Thomson Expressway and Bay Freeway — it was also a galvanizing force in local politics, according to a new directory released by the Seattle Public Library.

Seattle’s Freeway Revolt: A Citizen Movement that Shaped Seattle
In the late 1960s and 1970s, a broad coalition of activists in Seattle challenged plans for a dense network of freeways traversing and girdling the city. Seattle’s freeway revolt was remarkable in its scope and diversity, uniting geographically, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse groups across the city. Their collective actions over a multi-year period succeeded in halting two major freeways and significantly downsizing a third, saving parks, shoreline and thousands of homes and businesses. …
The freeway revolt was part of a unique period of activism and social change in Seattle, from the anti-war, environmental and Black Power movements to transformation of the Seattle City Council with a “new wave” of political leaders. The well-known “Save the Pike Place Market” initiative passed at the ballot only a few months before voters defeated the R.H. Thomson and Bay Freeways; leaders of the two movements were collaborators and colleagues.
Organizations such as the Seattle Model Cities program, Central Seattle Community Council Federation, Choose an Effective City Council and the Forward Thrust campaign came into being around this time and intersected with the freeway revolt around issues of community empowerment, civic leadership and mass transit.

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Like most things, when you look at pedestrian crashes and fatalities, these tragedies can be averted in a very simple way~but there is the cost to motordom of not getting on its vehicular way with the briskness drivers have come to expect. Many of the pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries happen when vehicles are turning left through a marked pedestrian crossing when the pedestrian has the right of way.  You can of course go ahead and build substantial infrastructure to narrow streets and build proper infrastructure. But there is one very simple way  to save lives at low-cost.  That is using the “pedestrian interval” as demonstrated in the YouTube video below.

 
As this article in CityLab states “Leading Pedestrian Intervals”  or LPI s  are streetlights that give walkers a head-start before cars venture into an intersection. Given even a few seconds of priority, most people wind up at least halfway into the crosswalk—where they’re plenty visible to drivers—before cars are allowed to go straight or make turns (including the ultra-dangerous left).”
When San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle adopted Vision Zero (with the goal of no lives lost to road violence) they also used LPIs at heavily used intersections. “New York City has been a leader, adding 2,201 since 2014 for a total of 2,483 across the boroughs. Now, nearly 20 percent of signalized intersections citywide have LPIs, according to a report by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. They give pedestrians a 7- to 10-second head start. Most are located in the city’s highest-risk traffic corridors.
And there are huge cost savings. The average cost of reconfiguring a crosswalk for an LPI is $1,200. As a New York City spokesperson noted “They don’t require any trench digging, concrete pouring, or lane closures. Sometimes new push buttons and controllers are needed; often engineers simply study local traffic patterns and reprogram existing lights.”
Research is showing that the use of LPIs can reduce pedestrian-vehicle collisions by 60 per cent.  A 2016 study of 104 intersections in New York City saw a decline in pedestrian and bike fatalities and severe injuries of  40 per cent. A report done by Transportation Alternatives suggests that these “head-start” lights for pedestrians may be the reason for the huge decline in New York City’s pedestrian fatalities, as many are the result of vehicles failing to yield in intersections. As the executive director of Transportation Alternatives states “Dollar for dollar, this is a really smart, life-saving investment that ought to be a part of any city’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths.”

 

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