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.
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 here, here 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.