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The Downside of Park and Ride

Flicking back through older Atlantic Cities posts led to one from last year about Park and Ride catching my eye. It’s a fairly well reasoned cautionary tale which highlights the pitfalls and potential perverse outcomes from something that would appear to be a good thing that encourages public transport use.

On paper, park-and-ride facilities seem like the ultimate transport compromise. Free or cheap parking near transit stations should, if the theory holds, make partial transit riders of metro area residents who used to drive the whole way into work. The system acts like a nicotine gum for daily commutes — weaning people slowly off the single-occupancy car.

The ‘nicotine gum’ analogy is not a bad one actually. Park & ride can be a useful “entry point” to public transport for those who are very much used to driving. This does, in theory at least, make them an important part of achieving ‘modal shift’ away from driving and towards public transport. So what are the pitfalls?

In reality, some transport experts wonder whether park-and-ride does more harm than good. A study of park-and-ride facilities from the early 1990s found they don’t necessarily ease congestion because they unleash latent demand for road space. Other research has come out similarly skeptical that park-and-ride reduces car use, though much of it has centered on bus-based transit.

A new study of park-and-ride at rail-based transit stations doesn’t offer much in the way of encouragement. In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Transport Geography, Dutch researcher Giuliano Mingardo reports that park-and-ride facilities in two major metro areas create four measurable “unintended effects” that not only limit the benefits of transit but may even increase vehicle travel in the metro area.

Mingardo surveyed more than 700 travelers at nine rail-based park-and-rides around the Rotterdam and The Hague a couple years back — ranging in size from 15 parking spaces to 730. His questionnaires, given to people at afternoon rush, focused on what riders would do in the absence of the park-and-ride facility. Mingardo also conducted concurrent field observations of various stations.

Across both metro areas he found evidence for four unintended effects of park-and-ride facilities — two of which (asterisked) had never been documented:

  • Abstraction from transit. People who had once made the entire commute by transit now drove to the transit station.
  • *Abstraction from bike. People who had once made some or all of the commute on their bicycle now drove to the station.
  • Trip generation. People made more trips in general because the overall cost of transportation was lower.
  • *Park and walk. People parked at the station but walked somewhere nearby and didn’t use transit at all — potentially displacing transit riders and disrupting the area parking market.

In Rotterdam, Mingardo found that only about a quarter of park-and-ride users said they would use a car for their entire commute in the absence of the facility — which is the desired effect. The rest fell into one of the above categories. As a result, Mingardo calculates that there’s a net addition of 1,272 vehicle kilometers traveled, as well as an increase in carbon emissions.

All park and rides did not perform equally though – with some having more obvious positive impacts than others.

The situation wasn’t universally flawed. “Remote” stations — meaning park-and-ride facilities deep into the suburbs that captured city commuters early into the trip — performed well. And in The Hague, Mingardo did find a slight net reduction in vehicle travel and emissions. Still, even there, the presence of unintended effects seemed to mute most benefits of park-and-ride.

Generally speaking, in accordance with previous research, he believes that park-and-ride facilities “do present a net increase in traffic volume rather than a reduction”:

Indeed, the number of car-km saved from the P&R site to the inner city is usually more than compensated by the increase in car-km travelled to reach the P&R site by those users who switched from public transport services and bikes, those that were previously not travelling and (possibly) the Park and walk users.

Despite the findings, the takeaway here is not necessarily that park-and-ride doesn’t work. These facilities should certainly be monitored by cities to make sure they’re meeting policy goals — especially if that goal is traffic reduction. Additionally, it seems clear that suburban or “remote” park-and-rides fulfill more of that goal than those closer to the city center.

There are no huge surprises here. Park and rides “further out” are likely to serve areas where feeder buses, walking and cycling to access rapid transit are less viable options – both in terms of attractiveness and cost-effectiveness in their provision. But in more inner areas the benefits become decidedly dodgier – most likely because feeder buses, walking and cycling would work as alternatives to park and ride.

What’s not outlined in the Atlantic Cities post, but is also a clear potential disbenefit of park & ride in more inner areas, is the effect on land-use. One of the main purposes of high quality public transport is to shape the urban form and encourage the development of successful “transit oriented development” around train (and busway) stations. A sea of asphalt around the stations to provide park and ride is pretty much the antithesis of achieving successful land-use transport integration and transit oriented developments. This is important as one study I’ve seen (but can’t find right now) found that if the land used to provide parking was otherwise used to provide dwellings or employment for an equivalent number of people that you can get greater patronage gains. That provides a useful trigger point as to when we should be developing P&R sites and places like Orakei and Devonport surely fall into this category.

Fortunately, Auckland Transport’s Regional Public Transport Plan seems quite aware of the ‘balancing act’ in its policies on park & ride and only suggests that they be located in “selected peripheral locations to extend the catchment area of the public transport network and encourage patronage growth”. In saying that there are obviously some park n rides close to the city in the form of the ferry terminals and Orakei train station. How Auckland transitions away from these will be interesting to watch. They are also still planning for a huge amount of new parking to be built and are aiming to add around 10,000 carparks to the PT network for a minimum cost of $100 million.

AT Park n Ride plan

Should Auckland Transport get out of the parking business?

This is a question that Councillor Chris Darby asked on Facebook last week:
chris-darbyIt is a valid question, especially considering the white elephant that has been the Ronwood Ave carpark in Manukau. But if we look a bit closer at the city centre, it seems like some pretty key sites – worth quite a lot of money – are wrapped up in parking. Let’s just look at the Downtown and Victoria Street carparks.

The Downtown carpark has nearly 1,900 spaces, occupies a prime site pretty much on the waterfront and is a key location in terms of linking together the city with the viaduct and Wynyard Quarter areas, as well as to the growing Victoria Quarter. The site has a capital value of $65 million, of which around half is the value of the land it occupies:

downtown-carparkThe Victoria Street carpark is about half the size (just under 900 spaces) and once again is located in a pretty prime spot in the city centre – right next to Albert Park and with a bit of elevation overlooking the Queen Street valley. It’s worth $45 million, of which just over $20 million is the value of the land itself.

victoria-st-carpark

I wonder what sort of rate of return the Council is getting on these pretty expensive assets. Looking at the pricing structure of parking in these buildings it seems as though prices are about the same (for early bird) or cheaper (for casual parking) than they were a decade ago. The Draft Annual Plan suggests a fairly modest $2.7 million profit from the entirety of the Council’s off-street parking business – on revenue of $28.6 million. While some expenditure will be on free parking areas in smaller centres, it does appear as though the rate of return on the city centre parking buildings (let alone the Ronwood Ave white elephant) is fairly dismal.

Councillor Darby seems keen to have the conversation around whether off-street parking buildings should be something Council (through Auckland Transport) gets involved in. Considering that in the city centre, owning parking buildings and probably subsidising the cost of parking (through the very low rate of return) goes against all policies to boost public transport use and unclog the city centre of cars, it’s a damn good conversation to have. Another one is whether Council should sell the buildings in their current use or redevelop them into something else themselves (as suggested for the Downtown carpark in the City Centre Master Plan).

What if we really were doing “social engineering”?

An article on Planetizen a few months back highlights an issue often missed in the debates over roads versus public transport or sprawl versus intensification – the fact that for the last century most government spending and policy has supported car use and lower density development. Yet this is seemingly often ignored by those moaning about how planners are supposedly  ’forcing’ people into dense living environments while transport planners are supposedly ‘forcing’ people onto public transport.

Michael Lewyn, the post’s author, asks an interesting hypothetical question to set up his argument that really public investment and policy (essentially public sector intervention) has for an incredibly long time been tilted towards urban form and transport outcomes epitomised by car dependent urban sprawl:

After reading yet more blather about the “war on cars” or “density-pushing planners” I recently had a thought: what if government really did favor transit and compact development as aggressively as they had favored sprawl in the 20th century?  How different would planning and transportation rules be?…

For example, in the first half of the 20th century, government at all levels spent public money on roads for automobiles, while giving limited or no support to streetcars (which at first were private).  As transit providers began to lose money, government took them over, and the federal government started to support public transit in the 1960s.  Today, the federal government spends about four times as much on highways as on public transit.   As a result of these policies, many cities have weak public transit systems, while many people and jobs have moved to suburbs served by highways.

This cartoon from Andy Singer springs to mind (he has a heap of other great cartoons on many of the issues we talk about on the blog)

Public Investment - Wasteful Subsidy

Some examples are then outlined to give us a bit of an idea about how extremely pro public transport and urban intensification policies would need to go in order to truly counter-balance what has existed for around a century in the USA (and in New Zealand). For transport funding:

So if government completely reversed course in the 21st century, it would reverse funding ratios: that is, spend half a century spending several times as much on public transit as on highways, and then spent another half century completely defunding highways (much as it ignored transit in the early and mid-20th century). 

For how mortgages for greenfield development were subsidised:

In the 1950s, government heavily subsidized suburbia, through Federal Housing Administration (FHA) lending criteria that favored suburbs.  For example, FHA refused to subsidize mortgages in racially diverse urban neighborhoods, and favored new single-family homes (which tended to be in suburbs) over renovating existing homes- a policy that encouraged middle-class homeowners to move to suburbs.  So to completely reverse course, the FHA would have to spend a couple of decades refusing to insure mortgages in any neighborhood built after the New Deal, while subsidizing mortgages in older neighborhoods. 

For density controls:

Since the 1920s, most American zoning codes have mandated that huge swaths of land be limited to low-density residential use, ensuring that many Americans do not live within walking distance of public transit.  To truly reverse this policy, government would have to spend the 21st century mandating that new development be at densities sufficient to support transit, and would require a mix of residential and commercial uses to the extent possible.

And how about parking?

Since the 1950s, most zoning codes have also required that commercial landowners and multifamily dwellings provide visitors with parking lots and garages, thus effectively subsidizing driving by making parking more abundant.  And because zoning codes also required buildings to be set back from the street, these parking lots were usually in front of buildings, thus ensuring that pedestrians must waste time walking through ugly parking lots in order to reach their destinations.  To reverse this policy over the next 60 years, government would have to establish maximum parking requirements (as a few cities have in fact done) and require buildings to be in front of sidewalks so pedestrians could reach them more easily.

Of course this is just a series of hypothetical questions, which highlight that many of the changes to land-use and transport planning that we promote on this blog: things like removing parking minimums, removing/lessening controls that limit development density and promoting a better balance between public transport and road spending are really pretty mild and attempt to shift planning policy and transport spending back much more towards a ‘neutral’ situation. If we really were promoting bias towards intensification instead of sprawl, public transport instead of road spending, that was to the same extent (but opposite direction of course) as what has happened in the past century – we’d have to be WAY more extreme.

New carpark for the CBD

Another of Auckland’s long standing empty holes is going to be developed after resource consent was issued by a council commissioner. But unlike the massive tower planned for Elliott/Victoria/Albert Streets this one will be a lot smaller and dedicated to one thing, parking. The site is 28 Shortland St which is the former home to the Auckland Start building and also backs on to Fort St where the access to the current at grade carpark is located.

28 Shortland St

You can read the resource consent decision here. The proposal is listed as:

Land use consent to construct a new three level car parking building that will include both non-ancillary commuter parking and short-term visitor parking. There will be a café/coffee shop constructed within the site’s south-eastern corner fronting onto Shortland Street, while the ground level units along Fort Street will be utilised for retail purposes and provide vehicular access to the parking building. A walkway will run through the middle of the site and will provide a pedestrian link between Shortland Street and Fort Street.

I’m not sure what’s planned for the Fort St retail side but my understanding is the café/coffee shop in the south-eastern corner is basically the coffee shack that is already on the site. The rest of the Shortland St side will basically be a blank façade which will likely block off any views of the harbour. From memory with previous proposals the council was keen on retaining a view shaft through the site

At three storeys it’s definitely not on the scale of other carparks and is only expected to have 147 spaces (by comparison the Downtown carpark has 1,890). Of the 147 spaces the consent only allows 18 to be used for commuter parking. The remaining 129 are required to be short term parking only. This is one of the reasons it was approved with the commissioner saying

The intensity and scale of the car parking operation is considered appropriate given the location of the site with frontages to collector roads and the clear sightlines that are evident to the east and west as vehicles leave the site. The car park is designed primarily for short-term visitor parking, where high demand will be outside the morning and evening peak hours. As a result, the parking arrangement will have a reduced impact on traffic congestion in the central city and the surrounding road network.

Perhaps there is a small silver lining though, those short term parks are obviously intended as a way for people to be able to drive to the city in the middle of the day for the likes of shopping so the creation of those carparks could allow the council to be bolder in simultaneously removing them from High St. In fact it would probably be worthwhile the council looking at other areas where on street parking in the area could be scaled back as a result in return for better pedestrian amenity.

It’s surprising that the owners of the site haven’t been able to (or don’t want to) justify a commercial tower on the site. My understanding is that high quality office space is in short supply in Auckland at the moment and the site is big enough to be able to provide a building on similar scale to the likes of the Vero Centre or even the recent Deloitte building.

The Auckland Star building was demolished in May 1989. Here’s what it used to look like from Shortland St in 1910

Auckland Star building, Shortland Street, Auckland. Auckland Star :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-002917-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23200225

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.

The Politics of Our Incomplete Streets

Here are some shots I took while walking along one side of the River Nervión in Bilbao, Spain, on an autumnal Monday afternoon last month. The banks of the Nervión are Bilbao’s waterfront, but until recently this river had the unenviable reputation of being the most polluted in Europe. This was because until its stunning place-centred reinvention Bilbao was an extremely grim centre of little beside post-industrial decline and environmental damage. Unlovely and unvisited, although with great bones Bilbao, used to be known to the local Basques as ‘El Botxo’: The Hole.

Not anymore.

Bilbao_7251

Bilbao city has a population of around 370,000 but serves a wider area of about 1 million people. The latter metric is more comparable to the full Auckland Council region.

Bilbao_7337

Yes, there in the background is the thing you all know about Bilbao: Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. The success of the Guggenheim in putting Bilbao on the world map is undeniable but it isn’t what makes this city, and the other Basque metropolitan areas, simply the most civilised urban places I have ever visited.

Bilbao_7049

There are a whole lot of factors that contribute to the success of these urban places such as the natural environment, the architecture, the density of the habitation, the focus on quality public space, the efficient transit systems, and of course, the food, and I will cover these in other posts. But here I just want to look at the treatment of one city route.

All through northern Spain I was struck by the routine and seemingly effortless way that the public realm is built for all users. There are plenty of shared spaces in these cities too but this an important connecting road that demands throughput as well as place quality; it needs to support reasonable speed for all vehicles; trucks, cars, buses, and bikes while it is also a lovely riverside place to linger. These contradictory needs are met well through separation.

This route displays the classic deliniation of modes as defined by speed and mass into three zones each of increasing vulnerability and decreasing speed: Vehicles>Bikes>Pedestrians. I love the way that the bike lane has no elaborate and expensive barrier between it and the traffic lanes. There’s no need, and such a structure would only hem in both areas as well as block pedestrians from crossing randomly where and when possible.

Bilbao_7045

Everyone catered for, the cycle lane is high enough quality [not intermittent] for the sporty as well as the slow riders, but also accommodates roller-bladers and joggers. Which means these faster moving humans are not bothering the slower walkers, families, or slumberers on the footpath, and nor are they holding up the traffic nor risking life and limb by having to mix it with those more lethal machines. Space is made for trees and benches, signage is unobtrusive:

Bilbao_7284

Here is a perfect example of safety clearly being the first priority of the local authority and it being delivered efficiently through environmental design. This is a Complete Street. Looks easy doesn’t it?

Bilbao_7256

Walking along here I found myself thinking about our streets and specifically our waterfront, Tamaki Drive in Auckland, and the enormous difficulty there seems to be to get that flagship place into a safe and efficient shape for everyone. Tamaki Drive has had recent improvements since a number of high profile tragedies there but these are fitful and have been very hard won. I think it is worth trying to unpack why civilising our streets in general is so difficult.

I have followed the advocacy of the Local Board for Tamaki Drive [see their plans on the AT website here and here] and the tireless work of our sister group Cycle Action Auckland here. Great work, but is there any sense we will ever see these changes along the whole route? Here is a visual from the Local Board doc:

Tamaki Drive Masterplan

This looks simple enough to achieve.

Except there is an expensive problem concealed in this graphic. As shown here this is no cheap and easy lick of paint but an expensive extension of the seawall on the right of the picture would be required to supply enough width for the missing Active spaces as well as the current vehicle ones. Major cost and an unwanted change to a functioning and complete sea wall.

But looking closer at the shots above and it is clear that pretty much the only difference between the Bilbao treatment  and Tamaki Drive is that in Bilbao they have clearly used what would automatically be an on-street parking lane in Auckland for other modes. We are constantly told that there is very little budget for cycling. But really this is a road corridor safety issue not just a cycling one. To create competent Complete Streets we need to grow out of this narrow mode specific focus. Below, only the lower outcome can be quick and affordable:

Tamaki Drive corridor

 

On so many Auckland streets already existing space that could cheaply become bike and/or bus lanes or better pedestrian space are currently reserved for either on-street parking or painted medians. Yet there seems to be a default idea that the addition of the missing amenity can only ever occur without any reduction in these uses. This explains why when we do add the missing lanes they stop and start so much and why it seems to take for ever and costs so much to get any change. Yet pace of change and low cost are vital; as shown in this great explanation of this process from NYC.

The lesson from these other cities is that it is the priority given to the additional parking and turning space for vehicles that makes the completion of our streets so difficult and expensive. It is this culture that is the blockage in the way of completing our streets. And that this extra vehicle amenity should properly be considered secondary to competent safe road design for all users.

Of course I understand the desire for parking, especially free or rather publicly funded parking and of course it should be provided where possible but I think it is important to be clear what the costs of prioritising it over basic road safety design are. Both in terms of death and injury, and in infrastructure dollars and pace of improvement. The clear way forward for this and other Auckland roads is to fix the safety issue first, from road corridor budgets and existing space, and then address the community’s desire and willingness to pay for additional amenity like free waterfront parking as the extra ‘nice to have’ that it is. Here again is a visual from the local board document showing how quickly these streets can be fixed:

Tamaki Drive_Kohi

It seems to me that a very simple change in thinking needs to occur here. But we need clear leadership from senior people within AT and AC, from the Mayor, and especially from the AT board and chief executive, about what constitutes the priorities for competent street design, and the cost of any additional amenity, say like parking, be clearly expressed and not done on the cheap by failing to provide the basic safe and Complete Streets for all users.

A congested road with no transit priority or cycle lanes is a sign of technical incompetence and political failure.

-Enrique Peñalosa

And of course it’s not just waterside routes that need thinking about safety and parking supply to be more sophisticated than is currently the case; here is a look at Ponsonby Rd. 

 

 

Is the Unitary Plan encouraging drink driving?

While in most areas it seems like the notified version of the Unitary Plan was a disappointingly watered down version of the March draft plan, in the area of parking it actually seems like the notified plan might generally be an improvement. Two important changes are:

  • In the Mixed Housing Urban zone the minimum is only one space per unit, whereas 2 spaces per unit were required for anything of two or more bedrooms in the March draft’s Mixed Housing zone.
  • In the Mixed Housing Suburban zone the “two spaces per unit” requirement only kicks in for dwellings or three or more bedrooms, rather than two or more bedrooms.

In the Mixed Housing Urban zone maximums have also been applied, which is potentially quite useful although not as important as simply the removal of minimums.

However, throughout the parking controls section of the Unitary Plan there are still some weirdly precise controls over parking requirements – especially for business activities in areas outside centres zones. An example below:

parking-minimums-unitaryplan

 

What particularly caught my attention was the requirement for Taverns to provide at least one space per 20 square metres of floor area. Of course many Taverns will be located in centres and therefore subject to a maximum parking restriction rather than a minimum, but I’m sure many will end up in the zones where minimums apply (zones other than centres, THAB and Mixed Use zone).

One of the reasons why we tend to dislike parking minimums is that they provide a significant subsidy to those who choose to drive. Parking is a cost to provide (because it uses up space that could be used for something else plus the physical costs of construction) but it isn’t paid for by the people who use it – it’s paid for by everyone who buys something from the Tavern. This effectively means that people who drive to the Tavern are being subsidised by those who don’t – a pretty weird outcome.

In previous discussions about parking minimums for Taverns it has been pointed out that the parking might be more for staff, rather than for customers. However, the rules above require a greater amount of parking per square metre for Taverns (1:20 m2) than for other kinds of retail – including other food and beverage retail activities (1: 25m2). In other words, a 500 m2 Tavern will be required to provide 25 carparks while a 500 m2 restaurant next door would only need to provide 20 spaces.

This all leaves me with two questions:

  1. Where on earth do these numbers come from and why are they so illogical?
  2. Why is the Unitary Plan effectively encouraging people to drive to Taverns to drink by requiring the provision of so much parking?

Even more weirdly, in areas where parking maximums apply they are more restrictive for Taverns than for other retail activities.

Parking in Ponsonby

In the Ponsonby Rd Masterplan, here and here, there are proposals for much improved cycling and walking amenity along this important road as well as small tweaks that should lift the performance and appeal of the buses serving the area. The better of these proposals do reduce the number of onstreet parks by a few spaces so I thought it would be useful to look at other changes to the availability of parking on the strip.

Recent Addition:
Ponsonby Central

Ponsonby Central

Here’s the newly expanded at grade park for about 60 cars behind Ponsonby Central.

Under Construction:

Lot 3, 134 Ponsonby Rd, a mixed use retail and commercial development on the old petrol station site. Most recently the site of the Mini Garage. 100+ new carparks over 2 subterranean levels.

134 Ponsonby Rd_parking floors

134 Ponsonby Rd_parking floors

On The Way:
Vinegar Lane

Vinegar Lane

Vinegar Lane. Last I heard there are to be some 650+ new spaces here:

Parking Hole

Parking Hole

And let’s not forget its former glory for the sentimentalists out there:

Pollen St

Pollen St

Ponsonby Rd is getting some 800 additional carparks. Of course these are all coming with new projects that will increase demand for all ways of getting around the area. The danger here is that if we only build more car parking but fail to improve quality of the alternatives to driving then Ponsonby Rd and the surrounding streets will become ever more clogged with vehicles getting to and from these parks as people use the only fully supported transport system available; driving. So if we don’t find ways to improve the quality, speed, and frequency of the bus services in the area, and persist in keeping cycling a dangerous and unappealing proposition then Ponsonby Rd is likely to become as exciting as an edge city shopping mall on a Tuesday morning:

BOTANY

Botany Town Centre

Ponsonby residents and especially Ponsonby retailers and business people ought to be very mindful of the need to enhance the area’s characteristics and competitive edge. Easy parking and driving is something that places like Botany and Flatbush beat Ponsonby hands down on. These suburban conveniences aren’t Ponsonby’s soul or selling point; character and forward thinking are.

I am not suggesting anything very radical here, simply that it would be a huge mistake to not grasp the opportunities as expressed in the Masterplan to upgrade the urban design and quality of place for pedestrians, and the expanded appeal to attract people by bike or on the buses. This is a great opportunity to keep Ponsonby up with international trends, attractive to younger people, and ahead of other centres in the city.

There are however other parking issues that I do think need attention and which would be more useful for retailers and others wishing to attract and retain customers. Anyone local knows that because so much of the road side parking spaces in the area are not controlled that they are very attractive to informal park-n-riders. People that drive to the limit of paid parking to use free on-street parking and a short Transit trip in order to get to work. A single zone bus fare is a bargain compared to paid parking in the city.  These spaces therefore do nothing for the cafes and shops on the strip because they are locked up all day by hide-n-riders. Here is an example:

Summer St, just off Ponsonby Rd

This is the very top of Summer St, a wonderfully narrow Victorian street, with absolutely no parking restrictions, even outside the few commercial buildings at the top. This shot was taken at 5:30pm on Monday. What is remarkable about this scene is the almost total absence of cars [except an inevitable Audi]. The Hide-n-Riders have ridden the Link bus up Ponsonby Rd and driven back to their outer suburb homes. This street will fill up again in the morning. It is always full all week by all day parkers. Contrast this with the top of Vermont where there are always parks because there is an hour limit.

PONSONBY_0279

Same spot at 11am this morning. And the same cars were still there when I came by again, although that was only half an hour later:

PONSONBY_0290

Instead of fighting to prevent improved cycling, walking, and bus amenity on Ponsonby Rd because a few parking spaces will be removed, local business operators should be appealing for timed parking, at least during business hours, on these streets, or parts of these streets near Ponsonby Rd. Hide-n-riders are unlikely to be great spenders here being more intent on getting to work or home as they pass through. And of course their car being stored for free on the publicly owned street does nothing for the businesses in the area nor the local residents.

Local business owners should also remember that getting people out of their cars and walking is the best way to get them into the bar, cafe, shop, or business. Parking right outside a destination is not always the best outcome for the commercial area as a whole; the opportunity for chancing upon something that the shopper wasn’t looking for  is an important function of street and place appeal. And we know that people actually prefer a walk from a car park if the area has other attractors, as described in this NZTA study:

The study also identified that retailers generally overestimate the importance of on-street parking outside shops. Shoppers value high-quality pedestrian and urban design features in shopping areas more than they value parking and those who drive are willing to walk to the shopping precinct from other locally available parking areas.

And that cyclists, walkers, and Transit users are good spenders:

The data shows that sustainable transport users account for 40% of the total spend in the shopping areas and account for 37% of all shoppers who completed the survey. The data indicates the pedestrians and cyclists contribute a higher economic spend proportionately to the modal share and are important to the economic viability of local shopping areas.

Ponsonby Rd needs to stay ahead of the pack, and adding more car parking just won’t do it. Ponsonby Rd risks becoming unappealingly car-choked through the constant addition of more car parking so is in desperate need of improvements for all other modes. Now.

PONSONBY_0282

A start: The new bike park on Ponsonby Rd also this morning, 11-ish, five bikes instead of one car, and with room for five more. Connect this up to real bike lanes and it will become a real customer fountain for the surrounding businesses. And without clogging the surrounding streets. It would be especially good if the staff in the cafes around here used this mode instead of filling the residential streets for the length of their shifts. Full bike lanes are the way to encourage that.

 

The price of a parking in the CBD

Thank goodness we don’t have minimum parking requirements in the CBD. An article in the herald this morning highlights just how expensive carparks are in the CBD.

Central Auckland carparks are on the market for as much as $75,000 – a price one expert says could prove a bit of a bargain in the long run.

A park beneath the Quay West hotel/apartment building at 8 Albert St, near the Customs St East intersection, is leased for $320 a month.

“This is a simple one,” said Barfoot & Thompson agent Jason Buckwell, who is advertising the tiny space.

“A central city carpark. A strip of concrete plus two lines of paint, currently leased for $320 per month.”

The CBD is one of the only places in the city (if not the only one) to currently have no minimum parking requirements. While $75,000 isn’t the construction price, it does show just how much impact there might be if we required every apartment in the area to have one or more carparks – adding thousands on to the cost of dwellings making them less affordable. Instead the market is deciding just how much a carpark is worth, yet even then spaces are probably undervalued thanks to a lot of free/cheap parking on the city fringes. This is partially picked up upon in the article.

He provided an international comparison which showed Auckland CBD parking was cheap compared to other major cities. Wellington was more expensive.

The article notes that there has been a focus on improving PT in recent years however the price of parking in the central city is probably being held artificially low by none other than Auckland Transport. AT are one of the biggest carpark owners with thousands of spaces across their various parking sites and while they have goals to increase PT usage, they also have goals to achieve high occupancy rates and good financial returns from their parking operations. For casual parking AT is by far the cheapest operator in town and any price rises have the potential to attract political pressure, something the private operators don’t feel. You have to wonder what would happen to parking prices if they weren’t involved. 

parking lot_01