Monday, May 2, 2011

PRICEY PARKING, Pt. 4: Communities struggle with Columbia's parking consultant

Final part of our series about Columbia's new parking consultant
COLUMBIA, 5/2/11  (Beat Byte) --  From escalating costs that robbed money from a library in Eugene, Oregon to legal battles in Spokane, Washington, Walker Parking Consultants (WPC) has both confronted and engendered various travails with its one-size-fits-all, more-parking-is-better philosophy. 
First hired in 2009 to design Columbia's eight story downtown garage on 5th and Walnut, Elgin, Illinois-based WPC was tapped again for $503,000 to design a second garage on Short Street.  
The 5th and Walnut garage has already emerged as an over-lighted eyesore.  If history is any guide, the Short Street garage may not fair any better. 
In Eugene, "costly delays" that instigated mediation caused a WPC-supervised project to "fall far behind schedule," the Eugene Register-Guard reported.   Adding insult to injury, part of the money to pay for that city's parking garage came from a library fund. 
The city of Spokane found itself wrapped in protracted litigation over WPC parking revenue estimates that proved "$2 million too high," the Spokesman-Review reported in 2004.  "Since it opened in 1999, the River Park Square parking garage has been unable to generate enough make bond payments and cover expenses.  Eventually, bondholders sued the city, developers, and consultants." 
"Downtown parking fixes may make things worse," reads the headline of a 2009 Santa Monica Daily Press story about WPC proposals in that city "that will eventually make it much more expensive to park — despite record unemployment and a recession." 
The Santa Monica playbook is a mirror image of Columbia's looming approach:  raise hourly rates and expand meter operation hours.  The rate increases Santa Monica saw were startling:  daily maximum rate jumping to $9 from $7;  evening rate going up nearly 70%;  monthly rates jumping 40%, from to $82.50 to $121. 
"City Council seems to ignore the fact that parking expense is a factor when deciding where to dine, see a movie or shop," author Bill Bauer wrote, in a summary that equally applies to Columbia.  "There's also the pressure to stop spending and depart quickly to avoid extra parking fees, which also reduces revenues." 
With the exception of a single Council member, who predicted higher parking would discourage downtown business, Santa Monica's City Council used "convoluted logic" to justify WPC's recommendations, Bauer reported.   To "stop downtown employees who hog spaces,"  for instance, the Council "raised rates for thousands of minimum wage employees."
"Underpriced parking is subsidizing driving and increasing traffic," said one Santa Monica Councilman in justification, similar to the nonsense we've heard here. 
If discouraging autos played any role, what in the world are all those downtown parking garages doing in Columbia?   How can you make the argument that higher parking rates discourage automobile traffic, while at the same time building for more and more of it?    
All photos depict parking garages currently located in downtown Columbia (with another on the way!) 

No comments:

Post a Comment