Category Archives: parking

Milking Dead Spaces, Or, Adding Angled Parking in Neighborhoods

In a recent post I argued that cities should try to increase the amount of on-street parking they have available. In Provo, that would better take advantage of existing infrastructure and would allow some of the private parking — of which there is a sickening 12,744 spots in Joaquin alone — to be developed into family housing.

But Provo already allows street parking, so how can it add more?

One way would be to install angled parking:

Angled parking uses less linear curb length per parking space than traditional parallel parking so more spaces can be provided on the same block. In addition, angled parking acts as a traffic calming device because a passing driver is aware that a parked vehicle could back into the roadway at any moment.

People in Provo will be familiar with angled parking from Center Street, where it lines both sides of the street as well as the median. And though this type of parking is more common in commercial districts like downtown, the traffic calming effects would be a great addition to residential neighborhoods as well. Indeed if we’re not going to make our streets narrower, we can at least de-incentivize speeding and unsafe driving.

Here’s a crude sketch of how this might work in a residential neighborhood:

Angled parking on a residential street.

Angled parking on a residential street.

In the picture above, the green lines represent the new angled parking, the blue boxes represent parked cars and the yellow boxes represent moving cars. I know it’s pretty rough, but you get the idea: today’s dead space is turned into the parking space of tomorrow.

As I hope is apparent, there’s plenty of room for this solution on Provo’s residential streets. I’ve chosen to stagger and limit the amount of angled parking in this picture because I think it looks better and might be better for traffic flow (and to preempt people who don’t want too much more street parking). However, there’s more than enough room to put in angled parking everywhere if people really wanted to be efficient.

Also note how in the picture traffic is basically not impacted by the addition of more parking. Right now this is a two lane street and with angled parking it remains a two lane street. The only thing this changes is that suddenly we’re getting more value out of our infrastructure investment.

In addition to downtown, there are a few spots where this is already sort of happening in Provo:

A street just off of 9th East.

A street just off of 9th East.

Angled and parallel parking in a mixed residential-commerical area of downtown.

Angled and parallel parking in a mixed residential-commerical area of downtown.

This picture was taken just up the street from the last one. I think this house is technically zoned for commercial use, but there's no reason this parking strategy wouldn't work in purely residential areas.

This picture was taken just up the street from the last one. I think this house is technically zoned for commercial use, but there’s no reason this parking strategy wouldn’t work in purely residential areas.

I realize that some people in Provo really dislike on-street parking. While I don’t fully understand the logic behind that position, I recognize that a bunch of angled parking on residential streets probably doesn’t sound like a great idea to everyone.

But most of us can also probably agree that huge parking lots in residential neighborhoods are a problem. I’ve never met someone who likes them. Adding angled parking would allow us to significantly reduce the number and frequency of these parking lots. (In the best case scenario, people who wanted could even add four angled spots in front of their houses, then build a new home in their driveway and sell it for a quarter of a million dollars. We’d all get rich.)

In any case, even if you don’t care about efficiency and getting the most out of our infrastructure dollars this idea makes sense because it allows us to reserve less of our residential land for parking. The streets exist and, despite my calls to narrow them, I’ve been told that they’re probably going to stay more or less the same. If that’s the case, we need to figure out better ways to use them.

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Filed under Development, neighborhood, parking

Street Parking Is Wonderful

Imagine if every time you bought a gallon of milk, a law required you to pour the last third of it down the drain. It’d be pretty frustrating and completely pointless. Why throw away something that’s perfectly good and that you’ve already paid for?

But that’s exactly what we do when we tried to prevent or reduce street parking.

Take my parents neighborhood in Cedar Hills. Like many places, the neighborhood apparently has a law against parking overnight. Practically speaking that means a third of the time no one will be parked on the street. It also means that every home has to include enough parking for several cars.

A street in Cedar Hills.

A street in Cedar Hills.

Another view of that same street. Note how unnecessarily wide this street is as well.

Another view of that same street. Note how unnecessarily wide this street is as well.

However, the residents of Cedar Hills are already paying for the streets in the form of taxes and housing costs that include insane amounts of parking. As I write this, for example, there are five cars parked on my parents property and there’s still enough room to play basketball in the driveway. Each home literally includes a parking lot.

So in other words, the residents are paying for the streets but they aren’t allowed to actually use them. It’s like throwing away a third of the milk. Or, to use a more related metaphor, it’s like putting money into a parking meter but not being able to actually use the corresponding spot. It makes no sense.

Thankfully Provo doesn’t have these same silly laws. Unfortunately, however, my impression is that many residents would like to get them. Based on conversations I’ve had over the years I get the sense that many people feel like there’s something wrong with street parking. And I suppose there is if your agenda includes wasting as much money as possible.

In any case, our goal should be to maximize our investment in streets, which means getting as much use out of them as possible. One way to do that would be to add several more lanes for traffic — the streets are wide enough after all — though of course that would utterly destroy the neighborhoods themselves.

A better way to maximize our investment would be to add uses to the streets that would cut down on loud, dangerous traffic. One great way to do that would be to add housing.

But another, easier thing to add, is street parking. Parked cars typically make no noise and don’t hit anyone, and their presence tends to slow moving vehicles thereby improving safety. They also provide a safety barrier between moving vehicles and pedestrians.

In a coming post I’ll suggest one way to add street parking and create safer, quieter streets. But for now let’s all just try to get over the idea that parking on the street is somehow bad, or low class, or ugly. It’s not. Rather it just means that we’re trying to milk our investment for all it’s worth.

Parking cars on wide streets takes advantage of a resource we’ve already paid for. Impeding street parking on wide streets is simply wasteful.

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Filed under driving, parking

Parking Structures Don’t Have to be Hideous

Just a quick post today about parking. I’m sure we’ve all see parking structures that looked like huge concrete boxes. They’re boring at best and spatial black holes at worst.

But over the weekend I was up at the University of Utah Hospital and saw the structure in the picture below. As a parking structure, it’s still an under performing piece of real estate.

But it’s also not bad looking. It just goes to show that as is the case with other kinds of buildings, parking structures can be well-designed or not.

20130122-092911.jpg

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Provo Needs More Housing Without Parking

In my recent post on converting malls to housing I mentioned the need for more nice-but-affordable housing in Provo. I used loft style housing as my example because that’s popular right now, but really Provo just needs better housing of any kind that is appealing and not geared to either established families or students.

And one really great way to make housing affordable is to cut parking.

As is the case in many cities, it’s standard in Provo to include parking in new development. I recently attended a meeeting about a proposed development in the Joaquin Neighborhood — one of the more walkable places in Utah — that proposed two parking spaces per unit. It’s insanity because parking induces demand for parking.

But even most historic housing in Provo has parking; though there are really old homes here and there that lack garages, they’re the exceptions rather than the rules. The problem, then, is that even people who want to ditch their cars are forced to pay higher housing costs that include parking.

But up in Salt Lake City there are some buildings that don’t include parking. Take this listing, for example:

a condo w/out parking

Screen shot 2013-01-06 at 10.37.06 PMThe link includes additional pictures of this apartment, but really its quite an impressive place. And it has no parking. The result is that the $182,000 price tag buys more home for someone willing to take advantage of the walkable surroundings.

When I asked what people with cars do, I was told that “there’s plenty of parking on the street or you can buy a pass for a city lot.”

Here’s another parking-free listing for a very cheap but very cool place not far from the Gateway and Pioneer Park:

Screen shot 2013-01-16 at 7.37.00 PM

Note the extremely low price of this condo. There are some financing issues that contribute to that price, but comparably sized apartments with parking in downtown Salt Lake City go for $40,000-$100,000 more.

The point is that a city with aspirations of greatness and walkability needs housing like this. It doesn’t destroy the city, create nightmarish congestion, or generally ruin the world. Indeed it makes the city more diverse and affordable for the professionals and small families who choose these places. In many cases, these places also end up being some of the coolest, most valuable spots in the city.

And as I’ve mentioned before, there’s nothing like this in Provo.

Provo isn’t ready to eliminate all parking and that isn’t a realistic possibility anyway. But it is ready for some housing for people who choose not to drive, or who would rather not have their parking costs rolled into their housing costs. That type of housing is a reality in many other cities and given Provo’s age it’s surprising there isn’t more of it already. But until that changes, Provo will continue to be at a disadvantage in the competition for talent and growth.

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Narrow Streets Are Already Working in Provo

I’ve argued in the past that Provo desperately needs narrower streets. Wide streets encourage speeding, cost tax payers more money, waste land that could be housing for families, and just look kind of ugly. This was a major idea in my proposal to build housing in Provo’s streets.

But would they really work? Could Provo drivers cope with less space on the road?

Actually, they could, and quite easily.

As it turns out Provo gets dramatically narrower streets every time there is a big snow storm:

20130102-184836.jpg

Most people don’t routinely drive on the snow in these pictures, meaning that after a snow storm the streets are effectively half as wide.

The picture above shows that narrower streets do not immediately cause horrible traffic jams. They don’t reduce safety (though unplowed ice certainly does). And they don’t generally create many problems. In fact, in the background a van is visible and it still has a lot of space; even if the sidewalks were extended to where the snow currently ends there would still be some room for street parking. Indeed, narrower streets offer ample space for moving and parked cars in many cities all over the world.

I wish Provo would just cut all its wide streets in half. If nothing else that would mean less wasted money on things like snow plowing and repaving.

But I realize that that’s unlikely to happen. What this picture realistically shows, however, is there there is considerable wasted space on the street that no one actually needs. So, why not convert it to something more useful, like parking? Parking issues remain a major complaint in Provo, and based on this image it’d be possible to simply install diagonal parking on every residential street. The cost of doing so would be minimal compared to other infrastructure changes and and it would reduce (or eliminate) the need for much of the residential parking that’s currently required. That, in turn, would allow for more houses to be built as infill.

In other words, Provo could significantly grow it’s housing stock by encouraging more street parking and aggressively pushing development of current off-street parking. Population, taxes, diversity and economic strength would likely follow.

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Buy Low Closes, Surprises No One

Buy Low, a grocery store near Movies 8, is closing, according to an article by my former colleague Genelle Pugmire. Honestly I was surprised to hear it hadn’t closed already.

The article states that the store never had the support it needed.

“There was not enough business to support the store,” Afsari said. Buy Low managers also had complained about losing business by not being open on Sunday when other grocery stores in the area were open seven days a week.

“It was also kind of hard to support it in Utah,” Afsari added. The Provo Buy Low was the only one in Utah. The Buy Low chain has 25 stores in Southern California and Nevada.

What’s odd is that the owners attribute the difficulties to the store’s hours of operation when really it was in just about the worst spot imaginable for a grocery store, or for anything at all:

The Buy Low grocery store was surrounded by a massive parking lot.

The Buy Low grocery store was surrounded by a massive parking lot.

Even by conventional suburban standards this isn’t a good location for a grocery store. It’s not located near any residences and, more importantly, it’s not visible from the street:

Incredibly, Google Street view is actually available inside the Buy Low parking lot. This is the view from the most distant parking spaces.

Incredibly, Google Street view is actually available inside the Buy Low parking lot. This is the view from the most distant parking spaces.

And this is the view from the street, where the potential customers are passing.

And this is the view from the street, where the potential customers are passing.

By more human-oriented standards this location is even worse, with its massive — and massively underused — parking lot that feels less like a sea than a desert of pavement. It’s ugly, uncalled for, and clearly a bad spot. The fact that Buy Low corporate honchos chose it suggests that they probably just looked at demographic information and never really understood the situation on the street.

I occasionally visited this store and its predecessors while waiting for movies to start. Tellingly, it felt like a very long walk from the theater — just out of view in the top left of the first picture — to the Buy Low. In other words, it wasn’t even easy to walk from one side of the parking lot to the other; the environment is so antagonistic it’s no surprise people generally don’t go there.

As Genelle’s article points out, this situation has doomed several other businesses:

Buy Low, located at 2250 N. University Parkway, is one of a number of grocery stores that have gone in and out of business over the past decade at the location, including Food 4 Less and Reams.

After three failed grocery stores it seems like it’s time to address the structural problems with this location rather than throwing money at it and futilely hoping it’ll work. Or at least, that’s what I’d do if I owned this spot and wanted to attract a tenant. Ultimately landlocked Provo can’t afford to have these huge, wasted spaces that underperform at best and more often drive businesses to ruin.

But in any case, this is a perfect example of poor design costing business owners, property owners and the city money. Or said another way, building or allowing these types of environments impoverishes a city.

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Filed under Development, economics, parking

The Salt Lake Temple Hasn’t Revitalized Salt Lake City

A few days ago I read this post from Provo Buzz expressing excitement about the city’s development. I share that excitement and I love reading blogs like Provo Buzz that write intelligently about the city. But after reading I thought it might be time to revisit the economic impacts of the LDS Church’s Provo Tabernacle Temple — aka the “City Center Temple” — which may not be as significant as most people expect.

First, there isn’t a major precedent for the temple to revitalize downtown. Most LDS temples are located in suburban areas where commercial revitalization isn’t an issue. The fact that these temples have failed to spur adjacent commercial development should itself be a warning sign. And the handful of urban temples went into places that were already comparatively well-developed, even thriving.

I’ve expressed these concerns before (also, here), but the one big exception is the Salt Lake temple. It’s urban, historic, and a major destination in the city. The comparison to Provo makes sense, which is probably why people keep making it.

But the funny thing is that Salt Lake, particularly around Temple Square, isn’t all that thriving.

Consider first the high percentage of parking in downtown Salt Lake City. As mentioned in this post, 20 percent of downtown Salt Lake is paved for parking lots. That only happens when demand for real estate is low enough to make structures economically unattractive. In other words, there is surprisingly little demand for real estate in downtown Salt Lake City.

This problem is particularly apparent in the area immediately surrounding Temple Square, where massive parking lots abound.

This picture is pretty typical of downtown Salt Lake City, where tall buildings are generally surrounded with huge parking lots. In this picture, the lot is on the right and is larger than the picture really conveys.

This picture is pretty typical of downtown Salt Lake City, where tall buildings are generally surrounded by huge parking lots. Here, the lot is on the right and is larger than the picture really conveys.

It’s ugly, of course, but most importantly shows that the land immediately surrounding the temple is barely performing, economically speaking. That’s a situation at odds with our image of a lively temple with lots of temple-goers-cum-consumers in the area. But either way, if the temple was generating significant investment, people would be snatching up this land for development.

Yet another big, flat, underperforming piece of land in downtown Salt Lake City.

Yet another big, flat, underperforming piece of land in downtown Salt Lake City.

So based on Salt Lake City, the biggest change we should expect to see in downtown Provo when the temple is completed is more parking lots.

Next, consider who is investing in Salt Lake City: the LDS Church. I applaud the church’s efforts to revitalize downtown (even as I criticize its methods) but again, this suggests that there’s a conspicuous lack of demand for space downtown.*

If the temple in Salt Lake was spurring adjacent development there should already have been a lively retail sector before City Creek existed. Instead, the temple's owners — the church — had to step in and do it themselves.

If the temple in Salt Lake was spurring adjacent development there should already have been a lively retail sector before City Creek existed. Instead, the temple’s owners — the church — had to step in and do it themselves.

If existing buildings, including the temple, were really generating investment the church wouldn’t have needed to build its own mall; investors would have lined up to do it for them. If demand had been high enough — and it should have been — the church could even have dictated the type of environment it wanted the way it did with City Creek. None of that happened so the church had to foot the massive bill on its own.

The type of development that surrounds Temple Square is also curious. There are mediocre hotels, a ratty looking JB’s restaurant, etc. Other than Church-owned property — which is in great condition — it’s surprisingly run down. Within a block or two there are major vacancies and blight. It’s pretty dire and in some cases worse than the situation in Provo, though the gleaming towers in the mix make it seem more thriving than anywhere in Utah County.

This JB's restaurant is directly across from Temple Square. The fact that it's a old, single-story building suggests to me that the Temple is not creating significant demand for space or investment opportunities.

This JB’s restaurant is directly across from Temple Square. These kinds of building suggests to me that the temple is not creating significant demand for space or investment opportunities.

There’s no doubt that Salt Lake City is on the rise and downtown in particular is improving. But it’s being buoyed up by the same economic and demographic factors that are benefiting Provo, not by the presence of an LDS temple. Indeed the temple has existed for generations, but that didn’t stop Salt Lake from experiencing the disinvestment and decline that the car-centric mid twentieth century brought to many cities. And that was still going on very recently; when I moved to Utah a decade ago downtown Salt Lake was even less desirable. During those last 10 years the temple is one of the few things that hasn’t changed.

I like the Salt Lake Temple and I like the area surrounding it. But in terms of economics and revitalization it’s really a case study in the surprisingly minimal economic benefits a temple brings to surrounding consumer businesses. Sure any infusion of people helps and when the temple in downtown Provo opens nearby restaurants are likely to get a few more walk-ins.  But if Salt Lake City offers any clues about the future of Provo, we all have reason to worry.

*Some people will argue that the area surrounding Temple Square has been developed (or paved) by the LDS Church because the church wants to protect the environment around its headquarters. Or in other words, that economics aren’t a factor. That may be true to some extent, but many of the parking lots are privately owned, conditions generally get worse moving away from Temple Square, and the retail centers that aren’t insulated from the market — namely Trolley Square and now the Gateway — are struggling.

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Filed under Mormon, parking, Provo Tabernacle