How to repurpose parking garages that are becoming increasingly obsolete

There are far more parking spaces in America than there are cars. The total is so high, in fact, that there are even more than double the number of parking spaces in America than there are people. There is a parking glut, not a shortage, and this problem is getting worse as more and more people are choosing not to drive at all or at the very least drive less.

What this means is that parking garages need to be designed in a way that will allow them to be repurposed for other uses. In Cincinnati, this is playing out at the new dunnhumbyUSA Centre where its garage is being designed so that office space can be built in its place in the future. All parking garages, however, should be designed in such a way. More from NextCity about how leaders in Atlanta are working toward just that:

On Wednesday the school unveiled SCADpad, a series of three micro-housing units in a parking garage near its Midtown Atlanta campus. The idea is a novel yet simple one: Repurpose underused parking garages — about 40,000 parking structures in the U.S. operate at half capacity, according to the Urban Land Institute — for housing in dense areas that need it. The 135-square-foot micro-apartments each take up one parking space, with an additional space for use as a “terrace” (seriously!), and were designed by 75 current SCAD students, 37 alumni and 12 professors. A dozen students will move into the apartments on April 15.

“Think about it,” Sottile said. “Many of these 20th-century parking structures are on their way toward obsolescence, and we’re asking questions about how those can be reinvented for neighborhoods. There’s also a historic preservation side of this. And we want to see how can we get them back into higher usage.”

EDITORIAL: Eight-Point Plan for Fixing Cincinnati’s Broken Parking System

Cincinnati Parking Meter

Broken and malfunctioning meters plague Cincinnati’s parking system. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

We are continuing to look at opportunities inside City Hall that could help alleviate Cincinnati’s budget and pension liabilities, while also maintaining and improving service delivery.

In addition to the waste collection reforms that include a shift to a Pay As You Throw system, we will be making other specific policy recommendations that we feel will improve the quality of service delivery while also improving the City’s finances – ultimately working toward a long-term, structurally balanced budget.

Back in June 2010, UrbanCincy examined the finances of the city’s parking system. In this analysis, and comparison with cities from around the country, we discovered a broken system that was not performing the functions it needed to perform, and was not financially solvent.

As a result, we recommended a seven-year lease of all 5,700 of the city’s on-street parking meters. We estimated that such a deal could yield just over $3 million in annual payments, while also ridding the city of the associated financial liabilities. We did not estimate what an upfront payment could be due to the infinite number of variables that could affect that.

While much has changed politically since that time, the facts remain the same. Cincinnati’s parking system is broken, and is in need of immediate upgrades and reforms.

One of the first actions by the newly elected Mayor John Cranley (D), however, was to halt the signed Parking Lease & Modernization agreement, executed by former City Manager Milton Dohoney, which was structured to solve these exact problems. Under that deal the City would have leased four parking garages, one parking lot and all of the City’s on-street parking meters to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.

The Port then agreed to work with Xerox to manage the system and implement comprehensive upgrades to the deteriorating and outdated system. This would have included electronic parking meters that accept credit cards, real-time parking availability data systems and the rehabilitation of existing lots and garages.

The deal would have also provided the City of Cincinnati with an upfront payment of $85 million, generated approximately $3 million in annual installment payments over the life of the agreement, and guaranteed approximately $98 million in capital investments into the system. For better or worse, that agreement has been jeopardized and we are essentially back at square one.

So where and what exactly is square one?

The City has been experiencing declining revenues from its parking assets for several years now. Revenue collections peaked years ago, but have been declining recently due to inadequate enforcement and the parking system’s poor state of repair. These assets require constant and expensive maintenance and upgrades, so virtually all of the money generated by the Parking System is spent maintaining the Parking System.

This is important. The Parking System does not generate any excess revenue for the city to use on other basic services.

In most years the Parking System is revenue neutral, meaning that the revenues it generates cover its expenses. This is acceptable, unless you are deferring maintenance costs in order to make the numbers match. This has been the case in Cincinnati for years, and has left the Parking System in terrible condition.

The situation has gotten worse in recent years as council has worked to balance the budget without laying off employees. In both 2010 and 2011, the city spent considerably more on the Parking System than it collected in an effort to keep it up to snuff. We are talking $3.6 million more in 2010 and $1.1 million more in 2011. This stopped in 2012 when the city cut its annual investments in the Parking System by several million dollars.

Cincinnati's Broken Parking System

For reference, investments in the Parking System today are approximately 38% lower than they were when the City invested $13.3 million into the Parking System in 2010. Over that same period, the parking fund balance has dropped from $12.5 million to $7.8 million.

Simply put: revenues are down, maintenance is being deferred and the parking fund is being depleted. This is not sustainable.

The recent proposal from the Cranley Administration, which was immediately and thoroughly rejected by just about everyone except five council members, does not address what the problems are, and therefore does not propose appropriate solutions for those problems.

The situation and trajectory is dire and UrbanCincy recommends that the City of Cincinnati move forward with upgrades to its Parking System immediately. Absent the previously agreed upon Parking Lease & Modernization deal or some other public-private partnership; here is how we suggest doing so:

  1. Issue bonds to upgrade all parking meters in the city to use the latest electronic payment collection and occupancy tracking technology. This would include pay-by-phone capabilities.
  2. Utilize the new technology to implement variable pricing structures that reflect real-time market demand. If there is a Bengals game downtown and meters near the stadium are packed, then the rates on those meters would increase, while meters further away would maintain lower rates. In neighborhood business districts the same would be true. When demand is high so should be prices. When demand is low, prices should drop accordingly to make it a more attractive option for those visiting our neighborhood business districts.
  3. Release a new application, website and text alert system that notifies drivers of parking space availability and informs them of the associated rates.
  4. Sell the city-owned parking lot at Third Street and Central Avenue so that it can be repurposed into a tax-producing property.
  5. Create a special lease agreement for city-owned parking garages and lots, so that the separate authority could manage advertising at these locations. The Ohio Revised Code currently does not grant cities authority to sell advertising in such a manner, but not allowing for advertisements is unnecessarily cutting off much-needed revenue. Let’s get creative so that we can maximize revenues without burdening our residents, businesses or visitors.
  6. Tear down the Garfield Garage, which is in greatest need of repair, and market the site to developers interested in building on it. Such a development agreement could include the provision of the same or greater number of parking spaces to be replaced – similar to the deal signed for the new residential tower to be built at Fourth and Race Streets in the place of the Pogue’s Garage. This will free the city from a major capital expense that would further deplete the parking fund in the near future.
  7. Tear down the Seventh & Sycamore Garage, which is the only thing blocking the construction of a $14.2 million, 115-room hotel and 725-space garage from being built in its place. The existing 450-space garage is also in poor condition and its removal would be another major liability coming off the City’s books.
  8. Conduct a citywide study to determine appropriate adjustments to the hours of operation for on-street parking meters on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood level.

Following through on these eight recommendations will allow the city to maintain ownership and control of its Parking System while also allowing it to make the necessary upgrades and improve the balance sheets for this portion of the budget. These changes will make the Parking System a revenue generating asset not just in rhetoric, but in reality.

The increased revenues will allow for the City to replenish the parking fund, make its upgrades and take additional revenue and use it to support other essential but non-revenue generating public services.

Month in Review – August 2013

During the month of August, UrbanCincy covered several new developments and events in the city’s urban core. We also published two editorials that generated much response from our readers and the local community. Our  top 5 most popular stories for August 2013 were:

    1. Final Designs Revealed for $125M Dunnhumby Centre Tower
      The long-awaited renderings for the Dunnhumby Centre at Fifth and Race have been released.
    2. It’s Time to Consolidate Local Governments in Hamilton County
      This editorial by Randy Simes has generated over 100 comments on UrbanCincy. Randy was also invited onto 700 WLW to discuss the idea with Scott Sloan, and the Cincinnati Business Courier also provided their own analysis of the idea.
    3. Over-the-Rhine Impresses More Than 30,000 Spectators for LumenoCity
      Paige Malott and John Yung provide photos from the event that attracted over 30,000 visitors to Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.
    4. Cincinnati Eliminates Center City Parking Requirements, Neighborhoods Next
      Randy Simes analyses the city’s move to deregulate parking within the urban core.
    5. Greg Landsman: Riding the Cincinnati Streetcar to Success
      In this editorial, City Council candidate Greg Landsman explains why he supports the Streetcar and why it should be extended to Uptown.


Miami developers are turning away from cars, can Cincinnati be next?

Cincinnati has seen a wealth of private real estate investment over the past decade. The problem, however, is that almost all of that investment is oriented toward those residents and workers using cars to get there. But in Miami, a city known for its flashy cars, a new development is looking to change that mindset. More from The Atlantic:

Miami and cars. They go together like piña and colada, right? Well, maybe so. But one new luxury condo in the heart of downtown is making what is, for this Florida city, a bold move. The building in many ways fits the profile of recent development in Miami’s reviving core: It has 36 stories, 352 units, and 10-foot ceilings.

But as for parking? Zero of that. Not for private motor vehicles, anyway. The Centro, as it’s called, will have a five-car Car2Go auto share station featuring the city-backed service’s distinctive, blue-and-white Smart cars; covered bike parking; and, if Miami gets bike share, maybe one of those stations as well.

The project breaks ground this fall, and the parking-garage-free tower was made possible by city zoning that allows no parking garages in buildings that are close to transit in densely developed areas.

Industry Experts Believe a ‘Parking Revolution’ is Sweeping America

In April of this year, members of the International Parking Institute, the world’s largest association representing the parking industry, surveyed parking professionals to determine trends and gain input on parking and related topics.

The survey results found that a “parking revolution” is taking place in the United States, and that the industry is beginning to embrace a variety of new parking solutions.

“The industry is embracing a variety of new technologies that make it easier for people to find and pay for parking, and for parking authorities to better manage it,” the report stated.

Cities identified as leaders in the movement included San Francisco, Portland, New York City, Seattle, Miami, Houston, Boston, Denver, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., and Tampa.

Emerging Parking Trends

Cincinnati’s recently approved Parking Modernization & Lease Program appears to apply these top trends by moving toward technologies that improve access control, payment automation, and real-time communication of pricing and availability to user’s mobile devices.

These kinds of features are the new standard being implemented around the country, and are provided by Cincinnati’s lease agreement.

Parking professionals were also asked to identify the ten most progressive municipal parking programs in the United States, with San Francisco’s SFpark named most innovative.

“The SFpark pilot project provides real-time information on parking availability and cost; reduces double parking, circling, and congestion; and improves parking ease and convenience,” the report stated. “A high-caliber data management tool allows the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to make rate-change recommendations, supply real-time data, maintain optimum operational and contractual control, and rigorously evaluate the pilot’s various components.”

Respondents also said that SFpark was particularly bold in requiring city and government employees to pay for parking in order to bolster the program’s credibility before asking voters to consider sweeping changes in parking management.

Of particular interest is SFpark’s on-street rate adjustment policy.

Prior to the changes, rate adjustments were made during the budget-planning process. The goal with the pilot program is to take a demand-based approach in order to achieve parking availability targets in a consistent, simple and transparent manner.

Prior to the program, rates in downtown were $3.50/hour, $3.00/hour in the downtown periphery and $2.00/hour in neighborhood commercial districts, and were operational mostly from 7am to 6pm or 9am to 6pm Monday through Saturday. As part of the pilot program, demand responsive time-of-day pricing is split into three distinct rate periods: 9am to 12pm, 12pm to 3pm, and 3pm to 6pm for 9am to 6pm spaces.

These demand-responsive rate changes are made gradually, no more than once per month, and periodically near the first of the month based on occupancy in the previous month.

In order to maintain at least one parking space per block, 80% space occupancy is desired with rates increased when occupancy is greater than 80%, held constant at 60% to 80% and decreased with less than 60% occupancy on a per-block basis to more effectively redistribute parking demand.

In order to help users from having to cut trips short or risk parking tickets, time limits in the pilot areas were lengthened from 30 minutes/two hours to four hours/no limit.

Cincinnati’s program, meanwhile, will provide for public rate control and expanded hours of operation from 8am to 9pm in the Central Business District and 7am to 9pm in neighborhoods. The plan will also allow for limited $0.25 incremental rate increases, but there does not appear to be provisions for demand responsive time of day pricing, a target on-street block occupancy amount, or lengthened or eliminated time limits.

In addition to new technologies, the report indicates that parking is becoming more than just a place to store cars, and is instead moving towards more integrated forms of transportation planning – something that has also taken place locally through new bicycle parking provisions and parking requirement restructuring.

“Today, parking is about so much more than storing cars,” concluded Shawn Conrad, executive director for the International Parking Institute. “It’s central to the creation of livable, walkable communities. It’s about cars, bikes, mass transit, mobility, and connecting people to places.”

REVIEW: ‘Walkable City’ Offers Clear Guidance on How to Improve Cities

Walkable CitiesIn his 2012 book, Walkable City, Jeff Speck, coauthor of Suburban Nation and The Smart Growth Manual, branches out on his own to nail down a comprehensive guide to walkability.

He contends that a great deal of money and muscle have gone into streetscape improvements, but how important are these in convincing people to walk? The book is rooted in Speck’s ‘General Theory of Walkability’, that for walking to be favored, it must be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting.

  1. Useful: Most aspects of daily life close at hand and well-organized
  2. Safe: Streets that are designed to be safe and also feel safe to pedestrians
  3. Comfortable: Urban streets as outdoor living rooms
  4. Interesting: Sidewalks lined by unique buildings with friendly faces

Speck then prefaces his ten steps to walkability with some notable cases studies proving the economic advantage of walkable places, real estate premiums of walkable urbanism versus drivable suburbansism, the personal and health benefits those in walkable places gain, the environmental impacts of driving, and one’s risk of dying in a traffic crash versus murder by a stranger.

“It is the places shaped around automobiles that seem most effective at smashing them into each other.”

The book is a useful read for those looking to better understand urban design and transportation policy practices, and how they influence our behaviors in cities. Here is a summary of Speck’s analysis and thoughts on working towards a more walkable community using his ‘Ten Steps of Walkability.’

Step 1: Put cars in their place
Speck acknowledges that the auto will remain a fixture of our communities given the Federal Government’s historic and current interest, with some nudging from the “Road Gang” lobby, in road building and the inverse relationship between highway investment and property values.

He argues that traffic studies are “bullshit” by nature and that all transportation decisions should be made in light of induced demand, the phenomenon rooted in the economic theory of supply and demand where demand from drivers tends to quickly overwhelm new supply.

He goes on to attack state DOTs and their involvement, or lack thereof, in the new American Main Street – the state road running right through town. He is against pedestrian zones, for congestion pricing, and notes how the automobile has not moved us any faster, just further.

Step 2: Mix the uses
Speck notes the historical impetus for Euclidean Zoning and that it now undermines the success of cities.

Humans can no longer work, shop, eat, drink, learn, recreate, convene, worship, heal, visit, celebrate, and sleep all within downtown, and the primary inadequacy of housing prevents all other activities from thriving. However, the housing inadequacy should not be made up with more affordable housing, as cities have too much of it, but affordable housing should come through inclusionary zoning and accessory dwelling units.

Step 3: Get the parking right
The author also points out something we’re all affected by on a daily basis but rarely think about, the amount of off-street parking that exists and how its cost in all forms is “diffused everywhere in the economy.”

Speck notes that employer-subsidized parking and minimum parking requirements undermine urbanism and instead advocates for in-lieu fees to fund shared municipal parking and parking cash out programs for employees of large companies.

Speck also carefully addresses the more exact science of on-street parking using parking guru Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking. Speck summarizes this discussion with a comparison between the Chicago parking meter lease where profit for Morgan Stanley (now CPM) bears no relation to parking occupancy, and San Francisco’s managed congestion-pricing regime that seeks goal occupancy of 80%, meaning rates ranging from $0.25/hour to $6.00/hour throughout eight neighborhoods.

Step 4: Let transit work
“With rare exceptions, every transit trip begins and ends with a walk. As a result, while walkability benefits from good transit, good transit relies absolutely on walkability.”

Speck is an advocate of well-planned modern streetcars. He points to the failures of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system “where parking is as ubiquitous as it is cheap, the only significant constraint to driving is the very congestion that DART hopes to relieve.”

Metro Buses
Speck strongly supports the expansion of bus service to provide greater accessibility and mode choices. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

He contends streetcars should not be means of reducing traffic, but should act as pedestrian accelerators that make the most sense when a large area of vacant or underutilized land sits just beyond walking distance from a walkable downtown, and that private parties should want to help pay for it. For the rare routes where other transit can offer a superior experience to driving, there must be urbanity, route clarity, frequency and pleasure; and traditional buses have a hard time being efficient and pleasurable.

Step 5: Protect the pedestrian
“Will potential walkers feel adequately protected against being run over, enough so that they make the choice to walk?”

Speck first advocates small block lengths with many blocks per square mile providing route options and shorter distances between destinations. Next, he addresses design speed and how four lanes roads can encourage weaving and how effective road diets can be when they include left turn lanes. He advocates for the historic lane width of 10 feet, rather than 12 feet which is the standard for cars going 70mph and how pedestrians are much more likely to survive being hit at 20mph than 45mph.

He then addresses the psychology of intersections and risk homeostasis, naked streets and shared spaces saying, “nobody drove dangerously through this intersection, precisely because the intersection felt dangerous.”

Speck does not believe one-way streets are appropriate for downtowns, especially retail areas where traffic is distributed unevenly and cross-street visibility is reduced and also addresses bike lanes, trolleys and curb cuts impact on pedestrians.

“What makes a sidewalk safe is not its width, but whether it is protected by a line of parked cars that form a barrier of steel between the pedestrian and the roadway.”

Step 6: Welcome bikes
“A street with bikes, once the drivers get used to them, is a place where cars proceed more cautiously.”

Streets with bicycle infrastructure have proven safer for pedestrians and drivers, with the biggest factors in establishing a biking city being urbanism and infrastructure. Portland increased the population of people biking to work from 1% to 8% in 15 years with only $50 million or 1% of their transportation funding.

He goes on to point out the obvious dangers of cycling, especially vehicular cycling, and how bike lanes can be used as part of road diets but should not replace curbside parking or be and impediment in retail areas.

Step 7: Shape the spaces
“If a team of planners was asked to radically reduce the life between buildings, they could not find a more effective method than using modernist planning principles”- Jan Gehl.

Speck hits on one of the more well-known urban design tenets – that pedestrians enjoy a sense of enclosure and need it to feel comfortable. The trouble is, however, that the typical American urban experience is a profound lack of spatial enclosure, “a checkerboard city devoid of two-sided streets,” and that figural space (the public realm) is in a battle with the figural object of modernist architects.

Main Street
Planting street trees and creating a buffer between pedestrians, like along Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, Speck says is critical for success. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

He goes on to state that tall buildings are not necessarily needed to create this enclosure, or density, and can actually be a detriment to downtown development.

Step 8: Plant trees
Trees can also create a cathedral-like enclosure over streets and have other environmental, health, safety and economic benefits. Street trees provide an obvious buffer between sidewalks and automobiles, though DOT’s and county engineers have seemingly chosen the safety of drivers over that of pedestrians by categorizing street trees as “fixed hazardous objects.”

Trees close to the roadway also capture CO2 and rain more effectively and should be part of the solution to combined sewer overflows. The author goes on to mock how little it takes to achieve the Tree City USA designation, the return on investment trees can provide, and varying species block-by-block to guard against disease.

Step 9: Make friendly and unique faces
Pedestrians demand almost constant stimulation, and parking lots, windowless storefronts, and landscapes fail to do this. Where there is parking, surface lots can be hidden from view by mere one-story buildings, and parking structures should be hidden from view by liner buildings or at least have upper floors that appear to be inhabited.

Cities need active, open and lively building edges with transparent building facades and features that add depth such as awnings, deep window sills and columns. Facade geometries should also be oriented vertically and limited in width to provide the appearance of a shorter walk and building variety.

He is critical of modernist architect’s disinterest in pedestrian activity and singles out Frank Gehry, but goes on to bail modernism, but not brutalism, out by stating “what matters is not whether the details were crafted by a stone carver or a cold extruder, but whether they exist at all.”

Lastly, he reiterates that the greening of the city in an untraditional manner should be avoided as open spaces can encourage people to take walks, but do not cause people to embrace walking as a practical form of transportation.

Step 10: Pick your winners
Finally, Speck acknowledges there is a finite supply of financial resources to create walkability and therefore it should be spent where the most difference can be made- where there’s already an accommodating private realm with comfort and interest to support an improved public realm.

Speck then uses this logic to create his urban triage plan for walkability that steers financial resources to the identified network. He states that though it may not be viewed as equitable, that this plan should happen first in downtowns as they are shared places and are important to the city image and attracting investment.