Episode #62: Urban Parking Challenges

The parking garage that will support Phase 3 of The Banks is now under construction.

On the 62nd episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, TravisRandy, and John discuss some of the challenges related to parking that developers face when building in the urban core.

We discuss how parking requirements have impacted a variety of recent proposals including the Strietmann Biscuit Company building, Fifteenth & Vine, and LibertyElm, and we look back at suggestions UrbanCincy made in 2012 about how to deal with parking problems in Cincinnati.

Finally, we give a few updates on a few projects moving forward in the urban core, including the Ziegler Park/Cutter Playground renovation and Eighth and Sycamore.

Photo: The parking garage that will serve as the foundation for The Banks Phase 3 is under construction. Taken on February 22, 2016 by Travis Estell.

  • matimal

    I can park on a street in almost any area I like whenever I want in Cincinnati. Am I missing something? Until I can’t park in an area, I don’t accept that parking is an issue. How do we introduce market forces into parking so that owners and users are forced to analyze the costs and benefits of parking in the same way they analyze the rest of their developments? Cincinnati should have far less parking, not more. How can we justify parking requirements?

    • ED

      I only park onstreet because it’s almost always cheaper and closer. The problem with city parking requirements is that unsecured or leased spaces can’t be counted when they should be

    • matimal

      So, parking requirements have to go. They are the thing causing all of this. How did such an anti-property rights thing as parking minimums ever come to be?

    • ED

      Rare before WWII, automobile still new when American zoning began in 1916-NYC
      Attitudes towards parking in urban areas swung from widespread prohibition of garages to requirements for accessory off-street parking in most districts
      Authority derived from police power authorized by Euclid v. Ambler
      -Legal rationale: Mitigates “cruising” and therefore congestion
      1923, Columbus, OH, first multifamily requirement (1 space/apt)
      1939, Fresno, CA, first requirement for nonresidential uses (hotels and hospitals)
      Proliferated between 1946 and 1969
      -1947: 70 cities had requirements; 1972: 214 of 216 cities surveyed had requirements (Eno)

      Lowlights of 1966 APA PAS Report Conclusion:
      “Parking is not an isolated problem: it is intimately connected with…highway construction.”
      “A parking problem, whether potential or actual, exists in all residential areas.”

    • matimal

      That describes how local governments can have parking requirements. It doesn’t explain why some have them…and why some don’t.

  • Cincinnati’s data analytics office could be a great group to review the parking utilization in city owned garages and even the efficacy of parking requirements in the neighborhoods.

    • ED

      I don’t think the city or 3CDC has a grasp on the fact that people parking in garages tend to be long-term parkers going to work or an event, versus short-term parkers that don’t want to deal with the energy and time-cost of having to use a garage. And then the whole demand-based meter pricing was dropped for a marginal quadrant pricing scheme.

    • matimal

      If the real costs and real demand for parking are allowed to work, it won’t matter WHY people park where they do.

    • Terrific idea.

    • I would encourage Cincinnati to team up with the Center for Neighborhood Technology to develop a parking study for Cincinnati/Hamilton County that is similar to what has been conducted for Seattle and DC


      At the very least it would improve the basis for parking requirements based on Cincinnati/Hamilton County data rather than the ITE manual if they are going to be required for developments via zoning regulations.

  • Matt Jacob

    I agree that on-street spaces should all be charged the market rate and make it across the entire urban core. I think they should expand the parking kiosks throughout the entire area (and take out the old meters and the poles!). Once you accomplish this, there is plenty of opportunity to give out passes that exempt payment for select groups (be that residents, lower-income, business workers, vendors for loading, etc. The possibilities are endless and a matter of preference, but then you make people prove that they deserve an exemption when they go get each type of permit)

    This changes the status-quo that there is any free parking. It makes it known that everyone is going to have to pay somewhere, so just park where you can find a spot instead of circling the block or shirking the meters for that one free spot.

    Giving residents the option to use garages is also a good idea. (The Alms & Doepke garage us owned by the county it seems) It seems more logical to me than allowing them to park on-street where it’s more convenience for visitors.

    • ED

      Since the largest single land use in most cities is single-family residential, there’s nothing wrong with free unregulated onstreet parking. Not every “problem” needs a gov’t solution.

    • Matt Jacob

      I agree that in most parts of the city the demand isn’t there to charge anything for parking on-street, but in the CBD and OTR that’s not the case.

      I think if you can set up a system like this across the core then it also opens up the ability to do dynamic parking per block and vary rates as the system recognizes how many spots are taken. Dynamic parking tends to reduce rates in areas with low demand and raise rates when demand suddenly comes to an area. As a result, it should work well for the influx of visitors that come to the area and spread the demand for parking to underutilized sections.

    • Cincinnati has many more neighborhoods that aren’t single family residential than most American cities; therefore, I would contend, the parking situation here is far more complex than most other American cities. Of course there is OTR, CBD, West End, but also Clifton Heights, Fairview, University Heights, Corryville, Lower Price Hill, Clifton, Northside, Camp Washington, Mt. Adams, Walnut Hills, Mt. Auburn and swaths of Avondale, East Price Hill and East Walnut Hills that are all not your typical American single family residential neighborhoods.

    • I agree that on-street meters should be set at market rates, and moving to true dynamic pricing is key. Including variable rates for different hours. For example, Vine St. sees a lot higher demand during the 6-9 evening hours than Main St. And why meters cost the same on Sunday is beyond me.

      I disagree with Mayor Cranley (and Randy, it seems) that residential permits should be charged at market. One of the stated goals for OTR has been to maintain a mix of incomes in the neighborhood. The currently proposed residential permit program more/less allows that, with low-income exemptions, affordable permit prices ($108/yr) for middle-income folks, and the idea that high-income folks would park in garages. If permit prices are set at “market”–or worse, per Cranley’s suggestion, be allowed to compete on a revenue basis with meters–I fear the standard pricing could become too high for the middle-income renters in OTR.

      On a different note, I briefly started counting the number of working meters north of Liberty on our walking tour today. I recall seeing two. It’s definitely time for parking kiosks.

    • Instead of subsidizing parking spots for people, why not take that money and invest it into our transit system?

      I do not accept the notion that Cincinnatians need to own a car in order to live a successful life. By heavily subsidizing parking like this, we are only enabling that mentality.

    • Cincinnati has arguably the worst transit of any top-50 metro in the country. Personally, I would love to give up my car. But it would mean not being able to see certain friends or family. It would mean having to change jobs and – likely – careers. There’s this concept that people who live in downtown/OTR are never supposed to leave downtown/OTR, and parking costs/accessibility is one of just many reasons young professionals are slowly leaving the neighborhood.

    • Matt Jacob

      It’s kind of ironic because I think that making OTR accessible to the largest demographic of Cincinnati (people that already own cars) through 3CDC’s parking structures has been one of the drivers of the renaissance. It made this area that was primed for redevelopment for decades finally viable to do so.

      But now that so many of this demographic have come to the neighborhood and brought their cars with them, it’s making OTR inaccessible again (via rising parking costs and lack of alternatives) for those who are still required to commute to jobs in the exburbs or surrounding neighborhoods.

    • Matt Jacob

      We’ve already attempted to invest parking money into transit in OTR/CBD with the meters funding a third of the streetcar operations. Because there wasn’t a permit system to go along with it, we’ve seen the meters being beheaded more frequently, lower-income residents being squeezed as they are forced into paying meters, and visitors fighting along side residents for the remaining free spaces. From the pain that’s resulted, I think there’s now a consensus locally that a permit system is needed in some fashion and that in itself is a huge step in the right direction for our city.

      After the increased meter rates and times have been implemented, I think the pain is already being felt by the lower and middle income residents, because as Zach points out, Cincinnati is still tough to live in without a car for most. That’s just the reality of today. It would be pretty impractical to rip the band aid off so to speak and go from fully subsidized to fully unsubsidized. Even cities like Portland took decades to shift the mentality away from auto dependence as they built-out alternative transportation to make it more practical to do so.

      The beauty of the system that I proposed is the flexibility of the exemptions. They could be changed over time and for many different sub-groups to shift the demand from needing a car to not needing one over a drawn out period. We’re only at a point where we’re bringing our first real piece of permanent transit online in September, so this should start the march towards getting off parking subsidies over the long run. As we continue to reinvest this money from the parking system into alternative transit and expand our transit system, the permit belt should continue to tighten to encourage ridership and get people away from auto-usage in the urban core.

  • thebillshark

    Sounds like you guys talked about several of the issues I address in this blog post about Phase 3 of the Banks project. The developers need to work with Hamilton County to utilize the parking spaces available in the Central Riverfront Garage so we’re not stuck in this completely absurd situation of building parking garages on top of parking garages. Meanwhile, the taxpayers need to realize a higher return on their investment by packing as many residents and businesses as possible into the highly desirable remaining land at the Banks.


  • Calvin Cassady

    I consider myself very lucky that my 3/buildings in OTR are covered by the downtown parking overlay and due to their size require 0 off-street parking. But this is a very timely discussion as we are reaching the critical mass of transit options, development, amenities, and residents downtown where cars are becoming a luxury as opposed to a necessity. I love the point about coordinating parking at Washington Park with office uses where the demand for parking never overlaps.

  • I am generally in favor of eliminating parking minimums. But when the city debated parking requirements during the form-based code charettes, I heard a convincing argument FOR parking minimums, and it has to do with the Tragedy of the Commons concept. Take, for example, the recent UrbanCincy post on Mercer Commons. 3CDC over-built the garage with the idea that future developments could utilize both it and Washington Park Garage. But what if private developers, having no requirements to build parking, overutilized common parking? Parking in both garages is public, and (as of now) if minimums didn’t exist there is nothing that would restrict this scenario from happening. The idea is that, if parking minimums didn’t exist, each individual developer would build as needed to supply their own developments. But as long as common parking exists this TotC scenario is fully possible.

    In fact, I would argue this TotC scenario is ALREADY happening around the University of Cincinnati. UC has been able to continue their building boom while being under-built on parking (or at least, gouging their rates to the point that it encourages others to park in the neighborhoods). U Square was forced to over-build its parking to try to fill the demand gap, and the developers for the Verge at McMillan and West Clifton were pressured by the community to increase their parking to serve the demand as well. Thus if parking minimums are removed completely, I think it’s important there is still some mechanism to prevent developers from – essentially – stealing others’ parking.

    • Matt Jacob

      I wonder how the streetcar might impact the “Commons” once it becomes operational. On one hand you now have a larger supply of common parking at the Banks and throughout the rest of downtown to draw from theoretically, which could dampen the impact on OTR if less common parking is developed there through reduced minimums. On the other hand you also have a larger demand on OTR parking now when it’s accessible for event and even office parkers that may ride it down. It’ll be interesting to watch and see how the dynamics play out.

      Personally I think it could make sense to encourage the type of parking bank that happened at the aptly-named Mercer Commons on the few larger sites that don’t require demolition of historic structures to fit within the neighborhood. I think once enough parking is banked you can justify no parking minimums pretty easily when coupled with expanded permanent public transportation. It seems to already be happening with Ziegler Park and what’s proposed at both Grammer’s and Elm/Liberty. As development heads north and the market demands it, I could also see additional parking banks under the Findlay Market surface lot coupled with development on top or even under Grant Park.

      I guess the ultimate question is how much Commons is really needed to redevelop the neighborhood. The Commons belongs to everyone though, so even though it may be perceived as “stealing” by those who have claimed it for their own in their heads, it’ll always be up-for-grabs by whoever really values it the most. No doubt this will also add pressure as people are forced to decide between their cars and the place.

  • matt

    You guys should do a special on the tax rates faced by multifamily operators within Urban Cincinnati. The tax code has been blatantly out of sorts for MF residential, dictating on paper a far higher level of tax per unit than other competitive cities on the same scale. On average the amount of tax as percentage of gross income stemming from a unit nationwide accounts for 14-18% of income. In Cinci this variable is more often in the low 20%s, far higher than the queen city’s peers. This causes many MF players to take one look at cincy and then look elsewhere. The truth of the matter is that each successful MF building has some level of city offered tax abatement. The rookwood tower in mount adams was built in 1968 for christs sake and is still receiving abatements to the normal level of tax (14%). This broken system not only discourages investment, but gives the city immense power with their sole leniency to issue and re-issue these abatements. Operate slightly outside their per-view? they will sink your deal next tax negotiation. Something needs to change and ASAP.