Do parking minimums restrict competition?

During the Unitary Plan submissions process, a number of retailers and shopping centre owners took a pretty conservative stance on transport. They argued for maintaining parking minimums, replacing maximums with minimums in some areas, and so on. Some argued that cars would always be the main way of getting to shops, and this should be written into the Unitary Plan. I’ll tackle that in another post, but for now, let’s talk about parking minimums and competition.

Raising the barriers to entry?

Among their other faults, parking minimums can actually be quite anti-competitive. Looking at supermarkets, for example, reviews both here and in Australia have shown that the biggest “barrier to entry” for new competitors is the difficulty in acquiring suitable sites.

Parking minimums make it even harder to get sites which are large enough. If you want a 3,000 square metre supermarket, say, and the rules say you need to have 1 carpark per 25 square metres of space, then that’s 120 carparks you’ll need. Those will take up about 3,600 square metres, so overall you need to find a site which is 6,600 square metres in size and meets your other location criteria. Not an easy task. If not for the parking minimums, you might decide you’re happy with 60 parks instead, for example. That’d shave 1,800 square metres off the size of the site you’d need. That’s a hypothetical example, and you could make the same argument for department stores, hardware stores, shopping centres, or really any kind of retail development, large or small.

BOTANY

Botany Downs: a popular retail node, but very car-centric

The extra competition from removing parking minimums can mean lower prices at the shops, but it’s not just about that. It also means lower time and travel costs for consumers. If you live 10 km from the nearest supermarket, but then one opens up just 5 km away, you’re better off, even if the prices are the same.

Or making it easier for freeloaders?

Most of these submitters were concerned about freeloading, and they argued for minimums to remain to prevent this. The argument is that another developer could come along, build a store or shopping centre, and not provide enough carparks. Their shoppers would then overflow into other areas, parking in existing carparks on the street or (more relevantly) by existing stores. Those carparks would then become unavailable to the existing stores’ customers.

This is a “negative externality” in economics jargon, and it’s legitimate for retailers to be concerned about it. We’ve probably all been guilty of using one of those carparks when dashing to another store, the post office etc. But the argument is also one which can restrict competition. Parking minimums are often arbitrary – quite ridiculously so for taverns – and different retailers will have very different requirements based on their business model, location, availability of driving alternatives and so on. Generally, those retailers or shopping centres have a good idea of how many parks they will need, and should be free to provide as many or as few as they like, with the costs internalised (more jargon).

What’s the way forward?

The Unitary Plan has to find a balance between two sides. On the one hand, you have retailers who don’t want their carparks being used by freeloaders, with new competitors having an unfair advantage if they don’t have the same requirement to provide parking. On the other hand, parking minimums have their own problems – they can encourage undue reliance on cars, a larger-than-optimal amount of parking, more pressure on the road network, and so on. These are externalities too. Plus, as I’ve argued above, there’s the externality of reducing competition.

We need to be careful with whether we let the car-dependent business models of today to be enshrined into the future; retail should be free to adapt and change. It’s the nature of the beast. The Unitary Plan will last for ten years. A decade is a long time in retail, and the new shops that we build in the Unitary Plan’s lifetime will be around for much longer.

The Death of Parking Minimums

A week or so ago the Council considered feedback on the Unitary Plan’s approach to parking and made a few recommendations around potential changes:

Rules on parking requirements for residential dwellings, and retail and business locations were considered by councillors and local board chairs at the Auckland Plan Committee workshop on the draft unitary plan today.

“The discussion reflected just how complex an issue it can be in trying to match expectations of individuals and businesses with the greater shift towards public transport,” said committee deputy chair Councillor George Wood.

“The general approach is to reduce the need for parking spaces where appropriate in those areas well serviced by public transport and where better public transport is planned.”

The draft unitary plan approach recognised that people will continue to use and depend on cars but this will reduce with the increase in more walkable neighbourhoods and quality intensified areas as envisioned by the Auckland Plan.

The general direction given is that it is appropriate to apply maximum parking provisions in our metro, town and local centres, and mixed use zone. These maximums need to recognise that retail businesses require more parking than other activities because of their dependence on short-term parking for customers. Minimums would apply outside these areas.

It supported no minimum parking allowance in the city centre but a maximum of one park per 200m2 of gross floor area.

Council staff will report back on allowances for outer centres, such as Wellsford, Warkworth and Pukekohe that are not well served by public transport.

For residential rules, there was general agreement on retaining maximums of one space per studio/1 bedroom dwellings; 2 spaces per 2+ bedroom dwellings; and 0.2 visitor spaces per dwelling in the city fringe area, metro, town and local centres, terrace house and apartment building and mixed use zones. No minimum parking requirements would apply to residential developments in these areas but would still apply outside these areas.

Further work is being done on the parking rules for the mixed housing zone.

As we’ve discussed many time before on this blog, while the Unitary Plan is certainly a step in the right direction in shifting away from parking minimums just about everywhere, there are still valid questions around whether it goes far enough. Especially in the Mixed Housing Zone. It will be interesting to see the result of further work being done on parking requirements for that zone – as hinted at in the final line the above release.

parking lot_01

Like Auckland, many other cities around the world are reconsidering the traditional approach of requiring parking with every development. Washington DC is the latest to go down this path:

D.C. city planners, watching the town’s car-ownership rate fall year after year, are finally asking that question themselves. At the end of this month, they plan to propose to the city’s Zoning Commission that parking requirements for buildings near transit stops be eliminated, following the lead of other cities like Denver, Philadelphia, L.A., and Brooklyn that have reduced or eliminated mandatory parking quotas.

One of the prime reasons for getting rid of parking requirements is that they’re actually enormously expensive to comply with:

The average parking lot cost is $4,000 per space, with a space in an above-grade structure costing $20,000, and a space in an underground garage $30,000-$40,000. To give us some sense of the opportunity lost, [author Elan Ben-Joseph] says 1,713 square miles (the estimated size of all surface parking lots in the U.S. put together) could instead be used for spaces that generate 1 billion kilowatt-hours of solar power. With just 50 percent of that space covered with trees, this space could handle 2 billion cubic meters of stormwater runoff, generate 822,264 tons of oxygen, and remove 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Another article notes that there are a number of horror stories of requiring incredibly expensive parking provision – only to watch it go unused a lot of the time:

In 2008, the District spent $47 million to build a 1,000-space parking garage under the new DC USA multilevel shopping center. The city’s zoning code mandated four parking spots for every 1,000 square feet of commercial space. But the developer, Grid Properties, persuaded city officials to cut the required total by nearly half.

Still, those 1,000 spaces turned out to be more than needed, because many shoppers ride the Metro to the mall. The garage languished more than half empty until the city courted nearby businesses to let employees park there. “That really hurt, to pay for a parking garage that was hardly used,” [Harriet Tregoning, director of the city’s Office of Planning,] said.

That’s a lot of money to have wasted unnecessarily.

BANKSY Los Angeles 2010

BANKSY Los Angeles 2010

Reducing or eliminating minimum parking requirements doesn’t mean that you’re getting rid of the ability for parking to be provided. In fact, you’re creating a market for parking to be provided in a more central location that can be much more space efficient (because parking can be shared between different uses that might have different peak demand times). Technological developments over time may also further enhance the efficiency of dedicated parking structures – as it happening in New York City:

To park at the garage, drivers will pull their cars into one of 12 entry rooms, where plasma screens, mirrors and laser scanners help direct the vehicle into the correct position. The driver then locks the car, takes the keys and heads to a kiosk to answer a few safety questions before swiping a credit card or key fob and leaving.

Light sensors measure the car’s dimensions and cameras photograph the vehicle from several angles. Once that is complete, the car is lowered into a parking vault, where it is moved into a parking bay. The cars are parked side-to-side and bumper-to-bumper, two levels deep. Special machinery allows access to the cars in narrow and limited spaces. Upon returning, the driver simply swipes the same credit card or key fob at the kiosk, and the car is returned to the entry room, which is supposed to take no more than two minutes.

Crazily enough, this behemoth will cost only about half as much to build as a conventional garage, and the director of planning for Automotion, the company building it, points out that it cuts down on the emissions cars create while circling a typical garage looking for a spot.

The shift away from parking minimums in the Unitary Plan, especially if extended to much of the Mixed Housing Zone, may well be one of the most important changes made to Auckland’s planning framework – enabling land to be used far more efficiently than has previously been possible.

Parking Minimums: a fear of Ponsonby/Grey Lynn?

In yesterday’s post about minimum parking requirements I noted that the only situation when these regulations have any effect is when the market wants to provide a lower level of parking than the minimum. In that case either the landowner relents and provides more parking than they’d otherwise want to; or they apply for a consent (usually at the cost of quite a few thousand dollars) and ‘try their luck’ at getting a dispensation. impact-of-minimumsThe justification for minimum parking requirements is usually something alone the lines of forcing a higher level of on-site parking to avoid ‘spillover parking’ – typically in the form of on-street parking.  Spillover parking is parking generated from activities on a particular site needing to be accommodated somewhere else (i.e. it “spills over” elsewhere). Given that minimum parking requirements have a huge impact on the development potential of a site (often requiring that more land is set aside for parking than for the actual activity) then one would expect the impacts of “spillover parking” to be utterly horrific. After all, we take some massively drastic steps to avoid this problem.

This conundrum is actually something we can test quite well, because much of Auckland was developed before minimum parking requirements existed. Pretty much all the inner suburbs were built in a way that didn’t require off-street parking and the entire city centre (a bit of a special case) has never had minimum parking requirements. How do these places work? How much of a problem is it that most of the shops along Ponsonby Road do not provide ‘sufficient’ off-street parking to cater for their demand? How terrible is it that some (super expensive) villas in Ponsonby, St Mary’s Bay, Grey Lynn and elsewhere don’t provide any off-street parking? How does a small local shopping area like West Lynn survive without any off-street parking?

harvest

West Lynn shops seem to do pretty well even with no off-street parking

It seems to me that these places generally do just fine. Sure, the lack of off-street parking might put some people off buying or renting a particular house – but it’s hardly like we have a plague of abandoned properties in our inner suburbs. Plus not having half the kerb as driveways means a lot more on-street parking is available. And it doesn’t seem as though the lack of off-street parking create a huge amount of congestion along Richmond Road or Ponsonby Road. It also doesn’t seem like these shopping areas struggle due to a lack of parking spaces. I certainly know that I’m usually able to find a parking spot fairly easily – the same for Parnell, Mt Eden Village and other places. Occasionally there will be a shared parking area (though not for most of Ponsonby Road or any of West Lynn shops as far as I know), which seem fairly well used and efficient. Other shared parking areas, like behind the Pt Chev shops on the motorway side, seem completely empty and excessive (a good land-bank for future apartments?)

I suppose the point of this post is fairly simple – to really question what the problem actually is that minimum parking requirements are trying to solve? Does it really matter if there’s on-street parking? Does a lack of off-street parking really seem to undermine the economic viability of shopping areas (more a maximums question than a minimums one by the way)? Going by the evidence of Auckland’s inner suburbs it seems that we get by just fine when spillover parking happens. And this is the problem with minimums, there’s just no real reason for them, there’s no problem for them to fix, there’s just no point in forcing people to provide more off-street parking than they want to. There’s no need to fear Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, they’re perfectly nice places.

The madness of parking minimums

One of the most important directions in the Auckland Plan, in my opinion, was the strong emphasis on shifting away from the current way we manage parking regulation. This may sound like a pretty mundane issue, but if you read on, you will discover the complete and utter madness of the way parking is managed at the moment – and how ensuring that the Auckland Plan’s direction comes to fruition in the Unitary Plan is going to be one of the most important transport issues that this blog will focus on in relation to the Council’s new planning rulebook.

Here are the directives in the Plan that relate to parking, somewhat hidden away in the Urban Auckland chapter:

Inappropriate regulations and inflexible standards can impact negatively on good design. They impede the development of more intensive housing and mixed developments. For example, at times traditional parking standards (minimum numbers of car parking spaces) are imposed in areas where alternative options (parking buildings or investment in public transportation) imply that such minimums are counterproductive to delivering the goal of intensification, mixed use and affordability. The Auckland Council intends to review its approach to parking, as part of the development of the Unitary Plan (see Chapter 13: Auckland’s Transport).

Directive 10.6

Parking standards and innovative parking mechanisms should take account of multiple objectives, including the need to:

  • facilitate intensive and mixed-use developments within strategic locations
  • improve housing affordability
  • reduce development costs
  • encourage use of public transportation
  • optimise investments in public parking facilities, civic amenities and centre developments
  • foster safe, convenient and attractive walkable neighbourhoods.

Interpreting this, the Plan may as well have said “the Unitary Plan shall not include minimum parking requirements”.

So what are minimum parking requirements and why are they so mad? Well let’s have a look at them for a moment, courtesy of the legacy District Plan which applies to the isthmus area. Parking is considered from page 15 onwards. Here are the objectives and policies of the parking section, highlighting what the rules are trying to achieve:

I suppose before we give this too much stick, it must be remembered that the isthmus plan was drafted up in the early 1990s when public transport use was at record lows, petrol was dirt cheap, we didn’t mind too much about sprawling and so forth. Transport planning was pretty much solely about traffic capacity so perhaps it’s not too surprising that all the matters now considered important in the Auckland Plan (as per above) in relation to parking regulation weren’t yet seen as important by those writing the isthmus plan.

Some further detail, explanation and reasons are outlined in the plan, and included below:

To paraphrase, the assumption is that everyone will drive for every activity, any on-street parking is the horror of horrors and therefore it should be required that huge chunks of our off-street urban environment must be dedicated to the storage of vehicles. Once again absolutely not consideration of the potential adverse outcomes like stymieing development or subsidising driving – but I guess they weren’t too concerned about such matters in the early 1990s.

Where things get really hilarious though is in the application of different parking standards for all sorts of activities.   

These numbers raise some pretty amusing questions.

  • Why does an entertainment facility require one space for every three people but premises for cultural activities or natural displays only one for every five people?
  • Why do integrated housing developments require more parking spaces than non-integrated developments?
  • Why are healthcare services one for every 20 square metres, offices one for every 40 square metres but laboratories one for every 50 square metres?
  • Why is there a distinction between indoor and outdoor eating areas?
  • Why do places of assembly require one space for every 4.5 square metres – and do they realise that means any site will become around 80% parking because a car is bigger than that?

Surely with the imposition of any regulation a process needs to be undertaken which seriously asks the question of whether or not that rule or regulation generates benefits that outweigh its costs. Not just financial costs but also the regulatory burden and how these rules might discourage development that would otherwise happen.

In future posts I’ll look to go into some further detail around the negative impacts of minimum parking requirements but generally I find myself wondering why we bother with something that seems to be a huge amount of hassle for next to no gain. Really, what’s the point?

It’s the parking (minimums) stupid!

My quest to rid the world of minimum parking requirements got another boost this week, with The Atlantic Cities reporting a study in London which showed how removing minimum parking requirements had made a massive difference to the amount of parking supplied. Here are the main findings:

In an upcoming issue of Urban Studies, researchers Zhan Guo and Shuai Ren of the Rudin Centre for Transport Policy and Management at NYU consider two core questions when it comes to London’s reform. First, does the parking minimum truly create more parking than people want? Second, is a parking maximum necessary to promote sustainable transport, or will the market alone take care of it?

On the first question, Guo and Ren returned a pretty definitive yes. They examined parking supply at 216 residential developments in London approved from 1997 to 2000, when the parking minimum was in effect, and then roughly 8,250 developments approved from 2004 to 2010, after the minimum was removed and the maximum imposed. Before parking reform, developers created 94 percent of the required minimum; after it, they created just 52 percent of the old minimum.

In other words, parking reform reduced the parking supply roughly 42 percent, the researchers report. Additionally, about two-thirds of developers provided a supply below the old minimum — further evidence that the minimum encouraged the construction of excessive parking spaces. Guo and Ren conclude that 98 percent of the reduced parking supply came from removing the parking minimum.

While London is certainly a different world to Auckland when it comes to urban form and transport, what the study really highlighted was how interested developers were in cutting the number of parking spaces they provided, once they had the opportunity. Furthermore, the removal of minimums seems to have been much more important than the application of maximum parking requirements – I guess because the market wanted to provide the lower number already. The Atlantic Cities article also pontificates whether the maximum rates were a bit too generous.

What’s perhaps a bit more surprising is the second finding of the study, which looked in more detail at where the removal of minimum parking requirements had resulted in the biggest changes to the level of parking provision:

Onto question number two: the effectiveness of the new maximums. Since the purpose of London’s parking reform was to promote alternative transportation, the researchers looked at how parking supply fluctuated in areas with high density and transit access after 2004. What they found is that that the actual parking supplied was higher in Central London, where density and access are greatest, compared to adjacent outer areas.

Guo and Ren call this finding “unexpected.” They suspect that local authorities may want to keep a high maximum (and therefore allow more spaces) to avoid a parking spillover onto already crowded streets in Central London. Another explanation is that the market simply wants more spaces there: people who can afford to live downtown are willing to pay a premium for parking.

What the second finding highlights to me is that perhaps the removal of minimum parking requirements will have benefits in the places we don’t quite expect (lower density places with less access to public transport), potentially (and this time it’s me pontificating a bit) in places where the provision of affordable housing is assisted by the removal of minimums. This reinforces that ultimately we should get rid of minimums everywhere, because it really does make a positive difference.

Minimum parking requirements in Parliament

Minimum parking requirements have been getting some long-overdue attention at central government level after the release of the Productivity Commission’s report recommending their removal from district plans.

Binthemins-FB-01 copy

Finance Minister Bill English has also expressed his support for binning minimums. So last week Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter – a longtime advocate of removing MPRs – asked Housing Minister Nick Smith whether the government had any plans to legislate to remove them from district plans:

Smith’s responses were a bit evasive but there were still a few interesting points raised in the back-and-forth:

  • Smith said that it would be complex to legislate to remove MPRs as they are in district plans rather than the RMA. However, back in 2012 the government changed the RMA to specifically rule out blanket tree protection rules in district plans. So I can’t see why it wouldn’t be possible to do the same with MPRs.
  • He also said that the government was developing a National Policy Statement on Urban Development, presumably to encourage better, less costly rules. That’s the first we’ve heard of that – I wonder who they’re consulting?
  • Smith also criticised heritage protection rules as a barrier to intensification, which he described as “part of the answer”.

Overall a pretty interesting exchange, and it’s good to see the issue getting more attention.

PARKING: Searching for the Good Life in the City

A good little video from Streetfilms and the non profit Institute for Transportation Development Policy on the issues of parking, particularly parking minimums.

Streetfilms is proud to partner with ITDP to bring you this fun animation that’s sort of a cross between those catchy Schoolhouse Rock shorts and a 1960s-style, Saul Bass film credits sequence.

For too long cities sought to make parking a core feature of the urban fabric, only to discover that yielding to parking demand caused that fabric to tear apart. Parking requirements for new buildings have quietly been changing the landscape of how people live. Chipping away at walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods has been a slow process that finally turned cities across the U.S. into parking craters and a few in Europe into parking swamps.

Many cities around the world are now changing course by eliminating the requirements while also investing in compact walking, cycling and public transit oriented neighborhoods. Soon cities in the developing world will follow, providing many new lessons of their own.

At Streetfilms, we realize that while parking is a difficult topic for most to comprehend, it is at the core of the transportation problems of most cities. We all hope this film helps change some minds and enlighten others

Perhaps this is something the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board need to watch after they had the Council submit this on the Unitary Plan.

UP council submission on minimum parking reqs

Residential parking permits – Paraphrasing opposing views

For those who have not heard, AT recently released a draft parking discussion document (PDD). The PDD has stimulated considerable discussion on parking issues in general and residential parking permit schemes (RPPS) in particular. In this recent post I outlined four reasons why I consider resident parking permits to be unwise, specifically:

  1. RPPS are unfair, insofar as they prioritise a public resource for a particular group of people based simply on where they live;
  2. RPPS are inconvenient, insofar as they make it easy to park your car in the area where you reside, but less convenient in other areas where you might travel;
  3. RPPS create poor incentives, insofar as they subsidise residential parking and thereby encourage residents to make inefficient use of on-street parking; and
  4. RPPS are not an enduring solution, insofar as they do not tackle the underlying problem (excess demand) and instead ration demand based on location (and often first-mover advantage).

In this post I will now list some of the opposing views which emerged in the comment thread to my earlier post. Ultimately, these arguments haven’t swayed me from my original position: I still consider (heavily discounted) residential parking permit schemes to be unwise. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth paraphrasing opposing views, if only so we can confront them head on. In the following sub-sections I present the most common opposing views.

View #1 – Respecting different definitions of fairness

Perhaps the most surprising opposing view was the suggestion RPPS were in fact “fair” because they provided inner-city residents with the same opportunity as suburban residents to park on-street for free in the area where they live. One commentator, for example, argued thusly:

” … They [RPSS] allow inner suburb residents the same option as residents in suburbs further away – a park outside your house.”

There’s a couple of interesting issues here, most importantly how one defines “fair”. In my previous post, I suggested RPPS were *unfair* because they restricted access to a public resource based solely on a person’s place of residence. Hence, I have defined fairness as everyone having the same opportunity to access on-street parking, irrespective of where you live and where you want to park.

In contrast, the comment above suggests an alternative definition of fairness, specifically paying the same price to access on-street parking close to where you reside.

So in essence, the fairness debate boils down to one of subjective values: If you think that everybody should have equal access to on-street parking across the city, no matter where they happen to reside or drive, then you will likely agree with me that RPSS are “unfair”. On the other hand, if you think everybody should pay the same (zero) price for on-street parking in the area where you live then you might support RPSS. Respecting different definitions of fairness is important, if only because it helps us to understand what people value (image source).

Fairness

Personally I think the suggestion that everyone should pay the same (zero) price for on-street parking in the area where they live is somewhat unworkable. It would require on-street parking permits schemes in the city centre, for example, for which demand would quickly exceed supply. More generally, it rides roughshod over natural spatial variation in supply and demand and also ignores the potential for people to choose the area where they reside, and indeed the house they live in, based on their need for on-street parking. More on this below …

View #2 – Limited off-street parking

Several commentators suggested RPPS were warranted in areas with limited off-street parking. This argument goes something along the lines of:

  • Premise: Suburb A has limited space for off-street parking
  • Conclusion: Residents of Suburb A should have a parking permit scheme, which allows them to park their cars on-street for free.

The sheer weakness of this argument is overwhelming. Let’s try this for size:

  • Premise: Suburb A has limited space for bedrooms
  • Conclusion: Residents of Suburb A should have a bedroom permit scheme, which allows them to “park” their children on-street for free.

Imagine how popular that would be?!? I can see all the parents out there jumping up and screaming “right you little turd burgers – there’s no space for you here tonight. You’re out on the street.”

More seriously though, why are we prepared to cover for people’s inability to find somewhere to park their car? We don’t do that in a range of other areas of life. For example, if someone decides to save money and rent a house with three bedrooms when they actually needed four, we don’t turn around and say “hard luck Jim, why don’t we let you put a shipping container on the street for you to sleep in”. Seriously: Why are we prepared to dedicate space to provide subsidised car-parking, rather than subsidised housing? Surely there’s more need for the latter? As the infographic below suggests, the costs of providing free parking (on and off street) are enormous (image source).

Free parking

I’m generally flabbergasted by the temerity of the people who argue for residential parking permit schemes and minimum parking requirements. More on this in the following section …

View #3 – The eleventh commandment: Let there be parking

This is really a collection of “views”, which ultimately culminate in “more free parking reserved for me”. First I would like to quote from Oscar Wilde:

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.

In Auckland the “eleventh commandment” views are most clearly articulated by a group with the rather eloquent name “Auckland Inner City Suburb Parking Alliance” (AICSPA, which is pronounced with a hacking sense of disdain). Now when I first heard of this group I presumed it was the the new company resulting from the merger of Wilson’s and Tournament’s off-street parking businesses. But alas no, it’s a far more serious treat than a rapacious corporate monopoly.  According to this recent presentation to Auckland Council, AICSPA is actually …

ICPA (2)

The AICSPA presentation lists the following issues with commuter parking:

  1. Destroying community amenity
  2. Stressing heritage streets not designed for public parking
  3. Reducing safe access/egress to homes
  4. Stressing elderly and young who don’t have access to off-street parking
  5. Compromising the economic viability of local commercial/shopping areas

Let’s tackle these issues in turn:

  1. Community amenity – This has absolutely nothing to do with commuter parking. If cars parking on-street are detracting from amenity, then reduce the amount of on-street parking. Cars owned by residents will reduce amenity just as much as cars owned by commuters (although I do acknowledge that members of AICSPA are likely to have fancy new European cars).
  2. Inadequate street design – Again, this has nothing to do with commuter parking. If the street is unsafe for parking, then remove on-street parking. You cannot argue one type of car is more dangerous than another. That’s just silly.
  3. Reducing safe access/egress to homes – same as above. If lack of on-street availability is the issue, then we can solve that with pricing. We don’t need to ban commuters to increase availability.
  4. Stressing elderly and young who don’t have access to off-street parking – pricing parking would free up spaces for everyone, including elderly and young. Again, this issue arises in instances of too much demand, where old/young people can’t park close to their house. In which case pricing is the answer.
  5. Compromising commercial/shopping viability – Seems to presume that commuters don’t contribute to commercial/shopping viability, at least not as much as residents. At the very least this argument is not supported by surveys of relative expenditure levels. My experience is that commuters (more commonly known as “employees” or “workers”) do spend quite a lot of money.

Too easy. In terms of underpinning principles, AICSPA seek: “Agreement that commuters to the inner-city must bear the full cost of taking their vehicle to the city …” Let’s replace the two words in bold in that sentence: “Agreement that residents and commuters in the inner-city must bear the full cost of taking their vehicle to the city …”

And a couple of slides later they start to be more explicit, and it’s not looking good:

AICSPA

The last two points provide the most significant insight into how these people “think”. AICSPA argue for securing “residents” rights, without acknowledging that commuters are residents too. The only difference is that the latter originate from other parts of Auckland. Their rights as residents of Auckland Council are no less relevant than yours.

Indeed, the dispersed, inter-connected nature of travel patterns in large cities like Auckland is one of the very reasons why AC/AT were formed (rightfully I think too). AICSPA need to realise that, from a transport planning perspective, integration across space is more important than integration across planning documents. In fact, I’d argue AT’s parking discussion document is, almost by definition, better integrated than what we have: Because what we currently have is a rag-tag collection of parking policies created by the former councils which is disintegrated across space.

And then the Moses punch: AICSPA want “sufficient on-site parking” in the city centre. What the flaming koala hell? Why?!? I live in the city centre and have done so for almost a decade. I live in a building with zero off-street parking. I have sufficient parking, i.e. none, because I DON’T OWN A FLAMING CAR. Requiring parking in the city centre is forcing people like me to live like AICSPA people. And I don’t want to. You people are crazy. That aside, my apartment was *cheaper* because it did not have parking. That enabled *me* to buy it.  If not then I’d likely still be renting.

Again to quote Oscar Wilde:

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.

Anyone who advocates for minimum parking requirements needs to read that quote over and over and over and over again until it sinks in. Some people argue that removing minimums is actually removing choice. To which I say balderdash. Removing minimums does not prevent developers from providing parking if people want it. Hence, in a situation with no minimums people who don’t want parking don’t have to pay for it, while people who want parking can still get it. Everyone gets what they want, and what they pay for.

The moral of the story is that residential parking permit schemes and minimum parking requirements are unwise public policies. In the next post I’ll outline what I think is the better direction for Auckland to head in with regard to on-street parking policy … just so y’all don’t start thinking I’m an overly negative Noddy.

Unitary Plan and Minimum Parking Requirements

The closing date for submissions on the Unitary Plan is coming up fast, with the cut off being 5pm this Friday. Compared to the major publicity that erupted around the first stage things have been very quiet so far. However it is still imperative that positive submissions are lodged in support of the good parts of the plan, and also suggesting improvements. Submissions can be made on the Auckland Council site here and the Council also have several documents that help submitters write their submissions. Note as this is a more legalistic process submitters are encourage to reference parts of the Unitary Plan they would like to keep or amend specifically and they have produced a guide to help with that as well.

One of my other roles is I am one of the writers of the Generation Zero submission, so each day this week I will write a post about the main points we are submitting on,  these are based on the 6 main points of our quick submission form from May last year. I will also include the provision numbers to help readers identify the correct areas in their submission too.

One of the major issues that came up was around Minimum Parking Requirements. There have been numerous posts on this blog outlining the negative impact these requirements impose on housing affordability, urban design and housing choice. The Draft Unitary Plan made some good strides in this area and the Notified Plan was improved further still. Under the old District Plans, Minimum Parking Requirements existed everywhere apart from the CBD. In the notified Unitary Plan, Minimum Parking Requirements can be found in PART 3 – REGIONAL AND DISTRICT RULES»Chapter H: Auckland-wide rules»1 Infrastructure»1.2 Transport»3. Development controls»3.2 Number of parking and loading spaces. 

Minimum Parking Rates have been removed from the City Fringe Zone (Parnell, Ponsonby, Newmarket, Newton), Metropolitan Centre, Town and Local Centre (except Rural Town Centres), Mixed Use, Terrace Housing and Apartment Building Zones. Instead of Minimum Parking Requirements, Maximum Parking Requirements apply instead. This a huge improvement from the existing rules and will allow developments to proceed that are more affordable, have better urban design qualities and better fit the needs of tenants in this area, so this should be supported.

However on the downside Minimum Parking Requirements still exist in the Mixed Housing Urban and Suburban Zones. These are the proposed rules in the notified Unitary Plan.

Mixed Housing Suburban zone Dwellings – studio or 1 and 2 bedroom 1 per dwelling
Dwellings – three or more bedrooms 2 per dwelling
Mixed Housing Urban zone Dwellings – studio or 1 bedroom A minimum and maximum of 1 per dwelling
Dwellings – two or more bedrooms A minimum of 1 per dwelling
A maximum of 2 per dwelling
All other areas Dwellings – studio or 1 bedroom 1 per dwelling
Dwellings – two or more bedrooms 2 per dwelling

The rules are still much too strict in these Mixed Housing areas where major intensification is planned to take place. No minimums should apply in these areas.

Binthemins-FB-01 copy

Generation Zero graphic from September Unitary Plan stage

Minimum Parking Requirements also apply across the city (outside the zones identified above) for a range of activities such as Offices and Education facilities. There are still a few especially strange ones in there too. The favourite crazy example is of course Taverns, which still require 1 park for every 20m2 GFA! Ideally these Minimum Parking Requirements should be removed as well. In car dependent areas of town developers will still provide carparks where necessary, however over time as public transport improves, developments will be able to occur with less parking.

If you are interested in writing a more detailed submission on parking requirements, an excellent report was produced for Auckland Council by consultants MRCagney outlining the costs of Minimum Parking Requirements, and this is included as part of the Section 32 reports which provide the justification for proposed Unitary Plan provisions. Interestingly enough this report recommends against Minimum Parking Requirements in the Mixed Housing Zone, and also includes the Costs of Minimum Parking Requirements in centers such as Takapuna and Dominion Road outweighed the benefits by 6 to 1.

How off-street parking is hurting our neighbourhoods

Brent Toderian has written an interesting piece on Planetizen about the massive impact that garages (or perhaps more specifically off street parking) – has on just how walkable neighbourhoods or auto dependant our neighbourhoods are. The piece is quite timely with formal submissions on the Unitary Plan closing at the end of next month.

Many years ago, a suburban ward councillor in the city I was planning for, asked me for some unusual advice. Residents had been calling about speeding on the roads in their neighbourhood, and the councillor was wondering if posting lower speed limits might be a way to address the problem.

After looking at the circumstances, I told the councillor that the root problem was too many front drive garages.

What do garages have to do with speeding? In suburbs all over North America, front drive garages are causing ripple effects that change the design and nature of our neighbourhoods in many ways that we don’t initially realize.

Think about it. When you have a two, or even a three car garage in the front of your house, that usually creates a large “curb cut” driveway out to the street. That makes it hard, or even impossible, to park cars on the side of the street, because you can’t block driveways. Thus many suburban streets have little, if any, on-street parking.

How does that lead to speeding? Municipal streets are designed with a “design speed” in mind – a sort of rational speed that a reasonable person would want to instinctively drive at, based on the width and other conditions of the street design. I’ve heard it suggested by transportation experts that the actual design speed of most streets is actually higher than the posted speed limit, leading to an instinctive urge to want to drive faster than the speed limit. This has led in part to the growth in recent decades of the “traffic calming” movement, where new street designs or alternative design standards seek to create “friction” that slows down speed more effectively than the posted speed limit does.

But in these garage-filled suburbs, it gets worse than this regular design speed challenge. That’s because the width of streets across our suburbs is based on the assumption of on-street parking, usually on both sides, or at least one. So the streets are wide enough to accommodate very comfortable drive lanes, plus the on-street parking room. But as I’ve explained, the front drive garages and related driveways prevent that on-street parking, leading to extra-wide driving lanes with even higher design speeds. So its not surprising that people speed on these roads – the design is essentially tempting them to!

Of course many of the newer suburbs in New Zealand have exactly the same issues as being described above and it’s worth remembering that the outcome of garages and off street parking is not just something that was purely about people choosing it but that off street parking was enforced through minimum parking requirements.

In my suburb the prevalence of off street parking means that very few people ever park on the street itself leaving many roads very wide and conducive to speeding (which many do). Luckily in my suburb the frequent curb cuts that do happen are not the style where the footpath suddenly drops in a bid to make it easier for cars but makes for a quite uneven footpath and definitely not one friendly towards people in wheelchairs.

Perhaps one upside of the unused parking spaces is it should be fairly easy to implement the likes of cycle lanes on many streets – although probably not protected ones due to the need to allow for frequent driveway access.

But it’s not just speeding that is an issue; it’s never nice to hear about kids that get run over in driveways by family members who didn’t realise they were there. Safekids NZ says:

Every two weeks a child is hospitalised with serious injuries received from a vehicle driving on a private driveway in New Zealand. A further five children are killed annually, on average, in the same way. Most children injured in driveway incidents are toddlers, aged about two years old and when death does not occur, the injuries they receive are often severe. The driver is usually a close family member. The devastating impact of these events upon families cannot be overstated.

But the off street parking often creates additional problems with how our houses and streets are designed. Brent continues:

On top of the speeding, multiple garages mean that the house is set back deeply from the street, usually at least 6 metres with no (or at best small) porches, separating the house from any easy social interaction with the sidewalk. The setback and blocking garages (often referred to as “snout houses” if they pert rude closer to the street than the actual house) also mean there’s no “eyes on the street,” which makes the street less safe and social. Such houses even fail the “trick-or-treat test” at Halloween! Can you find the door bell, or is it hidden from street view? It can sometimes feel like there’s no house at all, or at best that it’s a house attached to a garage, rather than a garage attached to a house.

Actually the interaction with the sidewalk may be moot, as there likely isn’t a sidewalk anyway…that’s another thing the curb cut often replaces. No continuous sidewalk, no landscape green strip, and often most disappointing, no street trees! Add to these losses the previously discussed absence of on-street parking, which can actually play a valuable role as a buffer separating pedestrians from moving cars, and you have a significant impact on the quality of the walking experience, the walkability, of the neighbourhood. When the walking experience is less inviting, more people choose to drive, with all of the health, expense, environmental and social/quality-of-life implications that come with that choice.

In many things it’s often what seems like small insignificant issues that can end up causing massive problems. Off street parking in itself isn’t the only cause of auto-dependency but it certainly contributes towards it. Further as Brent points out these issues are ones that can get significantly worse with a greater density of housing unless the building/neighbourhood is well designed to deal with it.

Parking Curb Cuts - Stonefields

At the roads in Stonefields have been narrowed down

Back in Auckland the Unitary Plan will be setting the rules about parking and garages in the future. It’s generally an improvement over what exists now as the plan removes parking minimums from most Metropolitan, Town and local centres (some rural ones excluded), from the Terraced house and Apartment and Mixed Use zones and from the City Centre Fringe Overlay area. However they will still apply in single and both mixed housing zones which are the ones that make up the majority of Auckland. There are no controls proposed to deal with the issue of how off street parking interacts back with the street and the only requirements around garages is to try and reduce the visual dominance of them in dwellings.

ADM Parking issues

I’ll leave the last word to Brent

Obviously garages aren’t the only issue and challenge effecting our suburban street designs, or even the biggest. Outdated engineering street standards, designing for fire truck sizes, snow storage expectations in winter cities, and the whole underlying disconnectedness of typical subdivision design, all play huge roles in our history of car-dependant sprawl. But don’t underestimate the role that garages have played. As we strive to build smarter, more walkable suburbs, while undertaking “sprawl repair” on those we’ve already built, it’s time for a more candid and thoughtful discussion about the ripple effects of, and alternatives to, all those front drive garages. They matter a great deal to the design and enjoyment of our neighbourhoods, well beyond that garage door.