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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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

Paid Parking Is Actually… Cheaper?

There are few things in cities that inspire more annoyance, resistance, or even outrage than paid parking. But as it turns out, certain kinds of paid parking can actually save people money, according to the San Francisco Examiner:

Since taking effect in April 2011, average hourly rates have dropped by 14 cents from $2.73 to $2.59 at the 7,000 SFpark meters. Overall, 17 percent of those meters offer hourly rates of $1 or less — prices that are significantly cheaper than the ones offered at The City’s 22,000 older meters. And 6 percent of SFpark meters go for as cheap as 25 cents an hour, according to data from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees parking policies in The City. The drop in prices for on-street parking meters coincides with a 20 percent rate decrease in SFMTA-run garages.

The new parking meters are using a system called “demand based parking” in which rates are periodically adjusted to account for demand. Rates at high-demand parking places can go considerably higher. The article also notes that the city is collecting more revenue from parking and less from parking tickets — meaning consumers of parking are probably happier because they’re choosing how to spend their money. Notably, the article also includes a list of “cheap blocks” where parking is very affordable.

Parking at Provo's commuter rail station. Why not charge for this parking based on demand?

Parking at Provo’s commuter rail station. Why not charge for this parking based on demand?

The entire program operates from the assumption that parking is already being charged, which isn’t the case in Provo. However, there’s no reason a city like Provo couldn’t implement a similar system where the lowest “price” for parking was free, or extremely cheap, while the highest demand parking cost a bit more. This idea could be implemented at transit stations as well, perhaps using time as a pricing variable.

And keep in mind that because parking costs governments money to build and maintain it is never really “free” to consumers. Instead, everyone foots the bill in the form of tax dollars. Demand-based parking merely shifts the burden to those who use the service the most.

Obviously, this idea would help raise money by charging for something expensive that the government is currently giving away for free. That should appeal to fiscal conservatives, of which there are many in Provo. But it would also de-incentivize driving, thus improving walkability, and perhaps even raise awareness about the abundance of parking in places like downtown. After the initial shock and annoyance wore off, it’d be a win-win situation.

Free parking in downtown Provo. In order to raise revenue and cut expenses, the city could begin charging for parking in places where demand is high.

Free parking in downtown Provo. In order to raise revenue and cut expenses, the city could begin charging for parking in places where demand is high.

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More on Salt Lake City Parking

Yesterday, an astute reader alerted me in a comment on this post about parking in Salt Lake City to a recent article in the Atlantic Cities about the same topic. I’m not sure how I missed the article, but it’s quite illuminative:

Fearing that their hometown is becoming a lake of asphalt, Salt Lake City councilors have outlawed the practice of knocking down buildings to create surface parking lots. Right now, Salt Lake has about 55 acres of blacktop carpeting the downtown area, a hefty 20 percent of its surface area. The new ordinance, which affects a central commercial district, is meant to prevent more gray slabs of blah from masquerading as urban blocks, […]

The article is based on this Salt Lake Tribune piece, in which councilman Stan Penfold expresses fears that parking is going to suck the life out of downtown. I’d argue that he’s too late; Salt Lake is a fun place but feels oddly dead and small as a result of the large swaths of pavement.

One of many big parking lots in downtown Salt Lake City.

One of many big parking lots in downtown Salt Lake City.

I’d also say the ordinance doesn’t go far enough; 32,000 spaces is plenty for a region the size of the Salt Lake Valley, and if those spots fill up it merely incentivizes more people to use alternate means, like public transit, to access downtown. For example, would fewer people come to the LDS Church’s general conference if there was less free parking? I doubt it because I think people believe more strongly in their faith than they do in their misplaced belief that parking should be abundant and easy to use. In any case, the point is that Salt Lake should be eliminating parking, not just outlawing the ugliest lots.

Another big parking lot in downtown Salt Lake City. I've seen this parking lot fuller than it appears here, but I've also seen it with a lot of empty spaces.

Another big parking lot in downtown Salt Lake City. I’ve seen this parking lot fuller than it appears here, but I’ve also seen it with a lot of empty spaces.

But while I’d ban all new parking if I were the king of Salt Lake, this new ordinance is still a positive move that offers lessons for other cities. For one, it points out that parking often has a negative impact on a downtown. As Penfold correctly points out, it can suck the life out of a place. Though obvious to some people, that’s a fairly radical shift in the car-centric West.

Yet another big sea-of-asphalt parking lot, just blocks from the lots in the first two pictures.

Yet another big sea-of-asphalt parking lot, just blocks from the lots in the first two pictures.

Salt Lake’s solution — requiring parking to be removed from the streets or tucked behind buildings — is also an improvement on the status quo. It’s an acknowledgment that a sea of asphalt should probably never abut a sidewalk or pedestrian zone. Now it just remains for Salt Lake, and Provo, to fix existing problem areas, of which there are many.

It’s also worth noting that Minneapolis, which struggles with a similar problem, has devised an even more novel plan to improve its downtown: taxing land at a higher rate than buildings:

The conventional property tax, which taxes land and buildings at the same rate, is essentially backwards when it comes to the behaviors it incentivizes. It penalizes property owners for building or making improvements to their structures, while rewarding speculators and absentee landlords who would rather allow their properties to decay than make expensive (and annually taxable) improvements. Taxing land and buildings at the same rate means that as long as you don’t put any buildings on your land, your tax bill is going to remain relatively cheap.

The new plan would tax land at it’s “development potential,” thus creating incentives for people to actually do something with it rather than wait for someone to come along and pay a “‘pie-in-the-sky’ price” for it.

One effect of these types of lots is that they make Salt Lake seem less like a city and more like a strip mall. They stretch spaces out, particularly for pedestrians, and make the things seem farther away than they really are. The result is a space that feels huge but simultaneously lacks the "bigness" — conveyed through buildings, etc. — often associated with cities.

One effect of these types of lots is that they make Salt Lake seem less like a city and more like a strip mall. They stretch spaces out, particularly for pedestrians, and make things seem farther away than they really are. The result is a space that feels huge but simultaneously lacks the “bigness” — conveyed through buildings, etc. — often associated with cities.

Unlike stores, offices, homes, and other destinations, parking lots also don't general much street life; people park and leave, without lingering. The result is comparative dead zones, which also make Salt Lake seem overly spacious, quiet, and un-city-like.

Unlike stores, offices, homes, and other destinations, parking lots also don’t generate much street life; people park and leave, without lingering. The result is comparative dead zones, which also makes Salt Lake seem overly spacious, quiet, and un-city-like. Also, note what looks like a five-story red brick building in the background. I think that’s actually a parking structure.

This is another parking structure masquerading as a large building. As parking structures go, this one isn't so ugly. But it still occupies (what should be) valuable land that could otherwise house businesses or people.

This is another parking structure masquerading as a large building. As parking structures go, this one isn’t so ugly. But it still occupies (what should be) valuable land that could otherwise house businesses or people. These buildings pose a slightly different problem for Salt Lake City, but they’re also astonishingly abundant.

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Parking in downtown SLC vs. Provo

Between Thanksgiving activities, the Frontrunner free ride day, and a couple of job interviews, I’ve recently spent a considerable amount of time wandering around downtown Salt Lake City. And I’ve been astounded at how much parking there is. It seems like every time I look up I’m staring at a high rise parking structure.

Curious to know more, I eventually found the Salt Lake Tourist and Visitors Center website and learned that “there are over 32,000 parking spaces in downtown Salt Lake City.” That’s incredible.

By comparison, I’ve been told that Provo has between 3,000-4,000 parking spaces in downtown. (The mayor’s blog includes some parking information, but the only source I could find was this mapquest page for the convention center. That’s not very authoritative, but 3,000 spaces is a fairly common number I’ve heard mentioned around the city.)

A parking lot in downtown Provo.

It’s helpful to put these numbers in context. The 2011 population of Salt Lake City was (a surprisingly small) 189,899. That means that with more than 32,000 parking spaces there is essentially one spot for every six people in the city.

By contrast, Provo’s population was 115,321* in 2011. If downtown Provo has 4,000 spaces, that means there is roughly one spot for every 29 people.

Some shop owners may look at these figures and see a need to add more parking to downtown Provo. If there was more parking, the reasoning goes, there would be more people.

But I strongly disagree.

What I see in these figures is a massive amount of wasted space in Salt Lake that will hamstring that city’s long-term vitality. Consider, for example, that every parking space occupies land that could otherwise be housing, offices, or retail, all of which generate various forms of tax revenue. Higher density also increases the number of consumers in an area — as well as a city’s productivity — while parking inherently decreases density by using space that could have been occupied by people. In other words, much as a previous post argued, shop owners should want more buildings for people and few parking spaces.

And apparently, that’s what Provo has. This document from Wasatch Choice 2040 also explains that putting parking in structures — as is the case in downtown Salt Lake City — dramatically increases the cost of development. That means a smaller and more homogenous demographic ends up living in downtown. So again, less parking per person in Provo turns out to be an advantage.

Back in June, I argued that having empty parking spaces is like leaving the lights on in an empty room; it wastes space and costs everyone money. Salt Lake is a perfect example of this phenomenon. According to the census, the average household size in Utah is only 3.10 people. That means there is roughly one downtown space for every two households in Salt Lake City. What are the odds that 50 percent of the Salt Lake City’s households will suddenly and simultaneously drive into downtown? That simply will never happen and even taking into account tourism and the larger metro area, there is still too much parking.

The same is probably true in Provo, but on a vastly smaller scale. New housing projects are also going to be using existing parking, meaning Provo will continue to capitalize on this advantage.

Walking through these two cities its apparent that Provo still needs to harness its potential. But long term, I think less parking and more buildings (or potential for buildings) will be an advantage.

*Sometimes I think we forget that the difference in population between Salt Lake City and Provo is actually not as big as it seems.

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