This is Not Density, Or, Lying About Parking Ratios

Some recent news about Provo is bad, and on a whole bunch of levels.

Basically, an article describes how developers want to build two “high rise” apartment buildings — at six and seven stories each they’re really only mid-rise buildings — in the Joaquin neighborhood.

I have nothing against big apartment buildings, and indeed I often like them.

But the problems here are legion. The biggest among them is that the developers want to add a massive amount of parking while residents are — in what seems like a bizarro act of post modern performance art — arguing that even more parking is needed:

Two proposed high-rise apartment complexes have some Joaquin neighborhood residents and property owners concerned that too many cars and not enough parking places will cause more parking and safety issues in an already beleaguered area.

There’s a lot I could potentially say about this project, but I’ll focus on density and parking because the situation shows how some people are basically lying about parking ratios.

Provo's Joaquin Neighborhood.

Provo’s Joaquin Neighborhood.

The article mentions that there will be “seven parking spots for every 10 beds.” That sounds great because it comes across as less than a 1:1 parking to unit ratio — one spot for each unit — which would be fairly progressive; though some cities have worked to limit their parking Provo has historically been mired in parking minimums (also, click herehere and here for more info on parking minimums).

In other words, those of us who want fewer parking lots in our neighborhoods hear “seven to ten” and think, “great, we’re moving in the right direction.”

But that’s not actually what is going on here. In a strange rhetorical maneuver, parking in Provo is usually discussed in terms of beds, not units. So, if each unit in these developments includes four beds — as is fairly typical for BYU student housing — 10 units will actually have 28 parking spots. That’s a nearly 3:1 parking-to-unit ratio and practically it means big seas of asphalt.

This is a perplexing way to discuss parking. I read about this topic daily and I’ve never come across any other place that matches parking spots to beds. To me, it doesn’t really makes sense  — why not base parking on couches, showers or the number of forks in an apartment — but ultimately that doesn’t even matter.

What matters is that it’s non-standard; it’s like posting a speed limit and then after someone gets pulled over having the cop say, “Oh, sorry, it was actually 120 kilometers per hour. You didn’t know that? Too bad.”

The point is that it obfuscates the issue and makes it seem as though Provo is on par with other cities when in fact it’s doing much, much worse with this issue. And while a 3:1 parking ratio is really bad anywhere, it especially doesn’t make sense in a walkable, growing, landlocked city that has Bus Rapid Transit on the horizon.

Ironically, this type of development also means very little change in overall density. After all, if developers cram a bunch of people into a small space but then surround that space with empty land for cars, the average density doesn’t really go up much. Calling it density gives real density a bad name.

And more fundamentally it’s just a lie. This isn’t 1:1 parking or less. It’s 2.8:1 and that is utterly inexcusable today.

So in sum, these developments are not dense. They have nearly three spots for each unit. And worst of all, no one is apparently talking about that. Instead, a boneheaded conversation based on misleading figures and  incorrect terminology is what has emerged.

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6 Comments

Filed under construction, Development

6 responses to “This is Not Density, Or, Lying About Parking Ratios

  1. I’m just waiting for a new development to be proposed where the cars sleep inside on beds and the people lay outside on the asphalt. An investment plan that saves up for your cars’ college and retirement fund. Greeting cards wishing cars a happy birthday, to get well, and anniversaries.

  2. Pingback: More on Campus Drive | (pro(vo)cation)

  3. Rob

    I think new apartment complexes (and new byu buildings) should have underground parking. This will reduce the need to park on the street. Now, at some points during the day it is really hard for people to find parking(I have a motorcycle so I don’t worry too much) but they end up driving around longer wasting time and gas and causing unneeded traffic. Provo is pretty packed with so many students. A new complex like this probably bases their ratio of beds to cars as 7/10 because they probably assume that single students coming from all over the world will probably have several separate cars( I know I have 4 unrelated roommates, and I am the only one without my own car because they all work and go to school different places at different times.) underground parking would go a long way to fix a lot of these problems.

    • Underground parking is great. The problem is that it is extremely expensive (tens of thousands of dollars per space). So many developers can’t even afford to build it and the ones who can pass those costs along to students.

  4. I understand that you are looking forward to a more “green” city in Provo, but the fact of the matter is that often times, single college students and families need cars. How else can they get to home and back to school on long weekends? How else do they cart the things they need from home to school? I myself drove across the country to get here. It would have been to expensive to fly here and buy everything I needed brand new. Even if students don’t drive while in Provo, they need to get here somehow, and they need a legal (and safe) place to park. When you have towing companies that prey on students every chance they get, news like a 2.8:1 ratio is a welcome sight in the eyes of many people.

    Furthermore, you speak of bus rapid transit, but it’s still not here yet. When it does get here, it’s pretty much only going to service University Avenue and University Parkway. It won’t reach the secondary roads for quite a while. This is a problem because when the buses don’t run often enough to be convenient (many routes run once or twice per hour, when they need to run every 15 minutes). Add that to the high cost of riding the bus ($2.35 to ride the bus a couple of blocks, or a MONTHLY pass cost of $78.50), and you realize why people are not taking the bus in the first place. Quite simply, the infrastructure is not here yet to allow for this green dream of yours no matter how noble it is. Furthermore, incentive to have that infrastructure will not be around until Provo has more of a demand (read: is too dense to allow for any more traffic). This is due to the cost of having a great public transportation system (as opposed to the mediocre one that Provo boasts). Some may argue that Portland is an example of how it does not have to be this way, however you are talking of a completely different culture, and when it’s practically impossible to ride a bike during the winters here, you are very unlikely to get anyone to give up their cars any time soon.

    The good news is that many new apartment complexes are incorporating parking underneath the existing building, which certainly lowers the asphalt footprint (and looks a lot more attractive in my opinion). Please don’t get me wrong, I would love a more green community as well, but no matter how you look at it, that is a goal that is simply not possible at the moment.

    • I agree that we’re not there yet. But the problem is that we’re also not implementing policies to encourage it. We need more density, for example, but have an array of policies that discourage density. I include parking in those policies; though there are growing pains when it comes to change, we’ll never get there if we hold on to policies that make driving easy. There are ample case studies from other cities that illuminate this idea. And as far as students and cars, there are many residential schools that make driving considerably more difficult and consequently have a lower percentage of drivers. In fact, nearly every comparable school I can think of does this and has a more positive impact on its community than BYU. In other words, the city and the school could easily create a situation in which fewer students needed cars. And as far as biking, many people bike year round in Provo. Interestingly, Minneapolis is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the US but also has more severe winters than Provo. With most of these issues it’s a lack of will power on the part of various leaders to create progressive incentives/disincentives that would actually be beneficial.

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