Monday, April 18, 2011

PRICEY PARKING, Part 3: PedNet leader criticizes new downtown garage plan

Consultants fail to justify Short Street garage, Ian Thomas finds
COLUMBIA, 4/18/11  (Beat Byte) --  In a logical and eloquent analysis of a December 2010 City of Columbia parking study conducted by Walker Parking Consultants (WPC), Pednet director Ian Thomas cited several flaws and inconsistencies, urging City Council members to reconsider data presented by the firm to justify a second parking garage on Short Streeet. 
Few people understand the ins and outs of Columbia's unique transportation needs like Thomas, who provided the analysis at the request of Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.  He forwarded a copy of it -- and the Short Street garage parking study -- to the Columbia Heart Beat as part of a response to our pricey parking series (see Readers Rite below). 
"I believe there are some serious problems with parking studies in general, and with these two parking studies in particular," Thomas told Hoppe, referencing the WPC study and an earlier report from TransSystems Corporation.   Ultimately, WPC's newest data do not support the Short Street garage, he found.  "Committing funding to more off-street supply is not going to solve the problems of a lack of on-street supply and associated traffic congestion." 
Conflicting Interests
First hired in 2009 to design Columbia's much-maligned eight story downtown garage on 5th and Walnut, WPC was tapped again for $503,000 to design a second garage on Short Street.  
But the WPC study in support of that garage presents an obvious conflict of interest, Thomas explained, because the firm that finds the problem also gets to design the solution.   "How independent and objective was this parking study, when Walker Parking Consultants had the incentive of a large public contract if a high level of unmet parking demand were estimated?" Thomas wrote. 
A WPC move to tie its own recommendations to H3 Studios' 2010 Downtown Urban Design Charrette Thomas also found "unjustified."   Charrette participants emphasized "livability and esthetics, and enhancement of bicycle, pedestrian, and transit options," he noted, only to have WPC wrongly co-opt that discussion, "as if the Short Street Garage is a natural consequence of the Charrette," Thomas wrote.  "The H3 Charrette report never discusses automobile parking," instead emphasizing alternatives such as public transportation. 
Planning for Peak
A central premise of the WPC study and its TransSystems predecessor -- building more parking for peak demand during activities such as the True/False Film Festival, Roots 'N Blues 'N BBQ, and home football games -- is also wrong-headed, Thomas notes. 

"Planning for Peak is never employed in the private sector because it does not make economic sense," he explained.   "No restaurant designs its square-footage to ensure customers get a table immediately on the peak day, because large numbers of tables would stand empty most of the year.  No store routinely carries enough inventory or brings in enough sales staff for its peak shopping day all the time -- that would be terribly inefficient."
Instead, "the sensible economic approach is to plan for some kind of average or median demand, and accept that peak demand cannot be met absolutely," he notes.  "And yet every parking study I have reviewed designs for peak parking -- with the result that parking efficiency is extremely poor for most of the year." 
Internal contradictions
Internal contradictions in the WPC parking study also suggest the firm has not done its homework.  Calculations of "walking distance" from the new garage, for instance, do not account for people with disabilities.  "Clearly, it is important to consider downtown visitors who have less mobility than others (senior citizens, those with disabilities, mothers with babies, etc.) when designing parking supply," Thomas explained.

The study also neglects the critical difference between demand for on-street and off-street (garage) parking.  
Though on-street parking spaces were virtually full, just five months ago both Pednet and WPC found "more than 700 empty spaces throughout two typical working days in the existing downtown garages, BEFORE the opening of the Fifth/Walnut garage," Thomas notes.  Walker's increased demand numbers "fail to address the difference between drivers' willingness to park on-street versus off-street." 
Blueprint for Peak
Ultimately, WPC's data fail to support the Short Street garage, Thomas concludes.  In a bizarre irony, the WPC report itself says as much, showing it to be merely a blueprint for peak -- not overall -- parking demand.   
Although "several blocks experience a level of demand that indicates a parking shortage during peak periods...the overall demand does not in itself indicate a parking shortage," the WPC study claims on page 7

NEXT:  Other communities struggle with Walker Parking Consultants
Parts 1 and 2 of our series:
READERS WRITE:   Pricey parking in Columbia 
With reference to your comments about Walker Parking Consultants, I am pasting in below an analysis I conducted of their December 2010 Parking Study, which Councilwoman Hoppe requested.  I have also attached the study itself.
While I agree with you that the practice of conducting Parking Studies is filled with spin in order to convince public bodies to build lots of parking, I disagree with your assessment that increasing parking fees is unnecessary or is simply an example of someone fleecing the "parking public." 
The fact is that owning and operating motor vehicles is much more costly than people realize and much of this excess cost is hidden in public subsidies most people are unaware of.  Parking and street maintenance are great examples.   If people realized how much it really costs us all to conduct virtually all of our transportation needs by an immensely inefficient system, we might choose alternative modes such as public
transportation or non-motorized modes for many journeys.-- Ian Thomas, PhD, Executive Director, PedNet Coalition, Columbia

1 comment:

  1. I believe people do realize that there's lots of cash flow being used to conduct virtually all of our transportation needs and it's a matter of opinion as to what's deemed as an efficient or inefficient system.
    For instance is it more efficient to use $25 million dollars for bicycle initiatives, or use it towards more
    non-polluting electric trolleys or develop partnerships with major employers for user-friendly park and ride locations and car-pooling initiatives? Heck, even churches could get their congregations involved with transportation initiatives.
    As of now, all I know is that I really hate driving my convertible behind a smelly smoke-spewing city bus and I'm not even allowed to honk at slow moving cyclists riding three abreast when they legally can ride on the sidewalk instead of over those countless numbers of bicycle logo tattoos painted all over our city roads. Once upon a time, a sign stating "Bicycle Route" was all we really ever needed.
    I'm telling ya. It's certainly going to be a challenge driving around this town this summer. Especially with all those ugly "temporarily permanent" PVC post lane dividers being placed on College Avenue, or Clark Lane near 63/70 and on Broadway near Walgreens.
    And don't even get me started on those tiny roundabouts. My other vehicle is a Ford Truck and I can barely get through those small roundabouts without going less than idle speed. (Are city buses jumping the curb to get through those?)
    And how about them Tigers?