More Developers Building “Convertible” Parking Garages

UrbanCincy readers may know that the 84.51° Center (formerly Dunnhumby Centre) in Downtown Cincinnati includes an above-ground parking garage that can be converted into office space at a later date. The building was designed this way because of anticipated future growth of the building’s namesake tenant.

An increasing number of parking garages across the country are now being designed in this way. That’s partially because developers are starting to understand that our urban real estate is better used for office space, residential, and retail as opposed to car storage. Developers also predict that the demand for urban parking garages will decline as self-driving cars start to appear in the coming decades — why park your car in an expensive garage downtown when you can send it back home after it drops you off at work?

From the Denver Post:

“It’s smart use of resources and space is a resource,” Cohen said. “If you’re designing a building and there’s space that potentially could become obsolete over time, that’s just a wasted opportunity.”

Building parking that has future life as something else requires particular thought to the garage’s floor-to-ceiling heights and slope of the floors, Fisher said.

“The typical sloped-ramp parking garage has about a 5 percent slope,” Fisher said. “You can’t work in that space.”

Instead, the floor plates need to be flat, with discrete ramps between the levels, Petersen said. At WTC Denver, the ramps are being designed so they can be removed someday, leaving a light-filled courtyard.

“It doesn’t take much more initial investment or cost,” he said. “It’s more just thinking creatively.”

City Hall Inching Forward With Overhaul of Cincinnati’s Zoning Code

Zoning. The word evokes a sense of bafflement from many people – often serving as a Rorschach test for those outside the urban planning profession. Even to experts, there are different ways to tackle the term; however, the term simply refers to the method of how municipalities regulate the usage of land and dimensional placement of buildings.

Almost every community has them, with the notable exception of Houston, and most two zoning codes are never the same.

In Cincinnati, the last time the city passed a zoning code was in the 1960’s. At that time shopping malls, office parks and subdivisions were all the rage, and the zoning code reflects it. Many zones called for large yards, two cars per dwelling unit, and large parking lots for commercial strip malls. The code was updated over time, with the last significant overhaul occurring more than a decade ago in 2004.

Since that last update, the city has undergone a renaissance that has focused on urban development in previously long-neglected neighborhoods. The current zoning code does not adequately address that change, nor does it address many emerging trends as they relate to sustainable development, bicycle infrastructure or even tiny homes.

In 2012, the City of Cincinnati undertook an effort to redesign the zoning code around the changing development patterns of the city. The code, which is referred to as the Land Development Code, is still in the early stages of drafting and review. The second draft was released in October 2014 and the Planning Department has been making changes and soliciting input in preparation for releasing the third revision.

“Incorporating public input into any draft revising the zoning code is a top priority, and we are making every effort to receive and incorporate public input prior to any draft being presented to the City Planning Commission or mayor and council,” explained Charles Graves III, Cincinnati’s Planning Director. “They will gather additional public feedback and ultimately have the final say on any changes to the Code.”

After looking through the draft code posted on the City’s website, the biggest difference is the visuals. There are plenty of diagrams and drawings that assist with interpreting the code. Aside from that, here is a breakdown of a few major issues the new Land Development Code could potentially address:

Lot Sizes
Lot sizes generally will remain the same for all residential zones; however, there are some proposed changes to mixed commercial zones and other zones. The Planning Department is considering the concept of tiny houses, something UrbanCincy hosted a forum on in 2014, and is a media partner on with to Bradley Cooper’s effort to construct Tiny Houses in Over-the-Rhine.

“There is the opportunity to write some language in the draft Code that would permit the newer concept of tiny house; however, we are seeking input from the public and developers,” Graves said.

Parking
Parking regulations have been revised after consultants made recommendations to the department, but planning staff decided to delve deeper into the issue as parking regulations can be a complex balance between the needs of developers, the surrounding community and other variables. The department has assembled a parking and zoning working group to study best practices from around the country and analyze what works best for the City to use in the update.

Bicycle Parking
Bicycle parking is already required in new private and city-owned parking garages, but it is not generally required for other development. The current draft code calls for a minimum number of bicycle parking spaces for multi-family residential development, commercial, industrial and public development, but Graves told UrbanCincy that his staff is reviewing and having discussions regarding bicycle parking as part of the working group.

Administrative Changes
One of the Planning Department’s main goals in this effort is to allow for an easier and more streamlined permitting process. A part of this is creating something called minor variances that can be approved by a newly created Zoning Administrator position. Minor variances would not need to go through the entire hearings examiner process, which would reduce the wait time for minor and non-controversial variances by weeks. Other initiatives have been proposed by the City Manager Harry Black, which could occur outside the code which could streamline the processes related to permitting and plan review.

Other things such as incorporating green development and sustainability practices into the code are being evaluated in the “light impact development” chapter; however, these items are still being discussed by the staff and their consultants. Planning staff has indicated that they do not have a set date for the release of the third review draft because it is still a work in progress.

“In order to ensure adequate and thorough input there will be plenty of time given for a third public review period once that point is reached,” Graves said.

Public comment is still welcome for review of the second draft code which is available on the City Planning Department website.

Episode #46: 2014 in Review

New Parking MetersOn the 46th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Randy, John, and Travis take a look back at 2014. We discuss our top posts of the year, including the renaissance beginning to take place in the Northern Liberties and new transportation options including Uber, Lyft, and Red Bike. We also make some predictions about what’s the come in 2015, including the expansion of Red Bike into other Cincinnati neighborhoods and Northern Kentucky, new residential developments opening in 2015, and new potential uses for the Riverfront Transit Center. Finally, we discuss the new parking meters and expanded enforcement hours that went into effect on January 1st for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine.

EXCLUSIVE: Donald Shoup Talks Parking Policy, OTR Permit Fees With UrbanCincy

Donald ShoupIn advance of his lecture Tuesday at the Mercantile Library, UrbanCincy was able to get an exclusive interview with Dr. Donald Shoup to discuss a variety of issues ranging from Cincinnati’s own parking management efforts, the controversial OTR Parking Permit proposal and how parking reform is changing with the emergence of ride sharing services.

The digital interview took place on Thursday, October 23 and included the following discussion.

John Yung: Last year the City of Cincinnati almost committed to leasing its parking meters and some garages to a private corporation (Xerox) for a lump sum payment and yearly revenue for 40 years. What are your thoughts on cities attempting to lease or sell their parking assets to generate revenue?

Donald Shoup: Like burning all the furniture to stay warm on a cold night, selling a city’s parking meters for an upfront payment to cover current operating expenses is a bad idea. Some cities are considering more farsighted parking contracts that share the annual revenue rather than maximize the upfront payment. A contract with a professional operator who meets performance pricing goals and shares the resulting revenue with the city can give the city two big advantages: a well-managed parking system and a perpetual stream of income.

For example, a city can require its private contractor to set meter rates that keep the curb occupancy rate between 75% and 95% on every block for at least a certain number of hours every day, with penalty payments for failure to meet the occupancy goal. If professional operators can manage parking more effectively and at lower cost than cities can, private contracts with performance goals can be a good deal for almost everyone.

Xerox already manages the prices for on-street parking in downtown Los Angeles, and the program is a great success. Charging the right prices for curb parking produced some surprising benefits. The Express Park program showed that many meters had been overpriced, especially in the morning. During the program’s first year, 59% of the meter prices decreased and only 29% increased. Average meter prices fell by 11% and average parking occupancy increased by 17%. Total meter revenue increased by 2.5%. Parking reform is working well in Los Angeles.

Yung: Cincinnati political leadership is currently looking at increasing meter rates, hours and implementing a residential parking plan for Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood that is next to the central business district. The residential permits are proposed to be $300 a year, which will be the highest permit price for on-street parking permits in the country if implemented. The neighborhood is very walkable; however, many employment centers and retail destinations are not very accessible by transit therefore many residents of OTR still have to drive.

Do you think that this is a fair market price for a neighborhood in a city like Cincinnati where approximately 10% of the population utilize some form of alternative transportation?

Shoup: The proposed price of $300 a year for a residential parking permit seems chosen to generate revenue rather than to manage parking. It is less than $1 a day, but an on-street parking permit may not be worth even that low price to some residents. I would instead aim for the fair market price, which means the price at which demand equals the available supply.

Yung: The city is currently in the midst of a zoning code rewrite and the topic of parking requirements is up for debate. Last year the city eliminated parking requirements in the CBD and OTR; however, there is little appetite from city leaders and planners to expand the effort to other areas.

In discussions, some developers advocated for parking requirements as a way to protect on-street parking impacts around the University of Cincinnati and other high-traffic commuter areas. They argue that there are not enough parking options in the area and other developers, eager to cut costs by cutting out parking if the requirement is eliminated, would incidentally create more demand for scarce on-street spots for students and visitors.This is similar to a debate in Portland regarding high-density apartments. What would your response to this be? Are there instances where you think parking requirements would need to be preserved?

Shoup: If Cincinnati uses fair market prices to manage on-street parking – the lowest prices that will leave on or two open spaces on every block at every time of the day – it won’t have to require off-street parking spaces for every land use. If the government regulated any other aspect of our lives as precisely as it regulates the number of off-street parking spaces everywhere, everyone would join the Tea Party.

Yung: Futurist seems to be talking about driverless cars as a way to streamline commutes for suburbanites however there is also some discussion on utilizing them as a automated taxi service in cities. What are your thoughts on driverless cars and what do you think their impacts will be on cities and parking reform?

Shoup: I don’t think driverless cars will have a big impact on cities during my lifetime. I do think that Uber, Lyft, Zipcar and the like are already having a big impact.

Yung: Can you elaborate on how car sharing services are impacting the parking demand market in cities?

Shoup: Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar reduce parking demand because they can substitute for a second car or even a first car for some families. Several studies of carsharing services like Zipcar have found that each shared car replaces between 9 and 13 privately owned cars because carshare members reduce the number of cars they own or avoid buying a car as a result of joining. Here is the link to a recent article about how carsharing reduces vehicle ownership and thus parking demand. And here is the link to another article about how dedicating an on-street parking space for a shared car reduces the demand for car ownership and thus parking demand.

Yung: SFpark has been widely discussed as a success in national urban blogs. Do you think this system is the ideal model for ensuring demand driven market pricing for parking in cities? Are there any suggestions that you would make to change or improve this system?

Shoup: SFpark, San Francisco’s new pricing program, aims to solve the problems created by charging too much or too little for curb parking. If the price is too high and many curb spaces remain open, nearby stores lose customers, employees lose jobs, and governments lose tax revenue. If the price is too low and no curb spaces are open, drivers who cruise to find an open space waste time and fuel, congest traffic, and pollute the air. SFpark bases the price adjustments purely on observed occupancy.

Planners cannot reliably predict the right price for parking on every block at every time of day, but they can use a simple trial-and-error process to adjust prices in response to occupancy rates. This process of adjusting prices based on occupancy is often called performance pricing. Beyond managing the on-street supply, SFpark helps to depoliticize parking by setting a clear pricing policy.

San Francisco charges the lowest prices possible without creating a parking shortage. Transparent, data-based pricing rules can bypass the usual politics of parking. Because demand dictates the prices, politicians cannot simply raise them to gain more revenue. Here is the link to a short article that explains SFpark.

Immediately after conducting this interview with Dr. Shoup, it was revealed that many recently constructed parking garages in Portland, as required by law, are now sitting mostly empty.

Dr. Donald Shoup’s lecture at the Mercantile Library will take place tomorrow at 6pm. The Mercantile Library is located less than a block south of Government Square and is accessible by a plethora of Metro Bus routes. It is also located near the Fountain Square Cincy Red Bike station.

Parking Guru Donald Shoup to Speak at Mercantile Library Next Tuesday

Donald Shoup, world renowned economist and researcher, will be speaking at the Mercantile Library on October 28.

For those unfamiliar with his work, he is a forerunner in examining the effects of parking policy on urban economics, which he presented in his 2005 book The High Cost of Free Parking. The book was preceded by an article of the same name, which Shoup wrote in 1997.

Mandated parking requirements, it seemed, was an issue that many planners felt ill-equipped to tackle. It had not been lectured on in their classes, and textbooks were often silent on the matter. And according to the American Planning Association, planners requested information on this topic more than any other.

Mandated minimum parking requirements have been a zoning code staple since the widespread adoption of the automobile. For example, a zoning code may require that apartment buildings supply one parking space per unit, or that a restaurant provide one parking space for every 300 square feet of space used by patrons. While parking minimums are typically set by the use of a property, they vary based on what kind of zoning district the property is found in – for example, a low density, auto-oriented district will require more spaces than a dense area that is more walkable.

As planners wrote their zoning codes, they had few tools at their disposal to discern where they should set their parking minimums, which led to the common practice of borrowing numbers used by other cities that often did not account for local conditions. And as Shoup found, even if planners could observe capacities and usage for, say an office building, not every office building was created equal. An office building that allowed employees their own offices instead of cubicles would have fewer employees per square foot and therefore should conversely be assigned a lower parking spot minimum.

And since minimums were based on the maximum capacity for a particular use, an additional quandary arose from requiring parking that would very certainly sit unused most of the time.

Upon examination of the issue, the numbers used to set minimum parking requirements were considered arbitrary – a best guess, and applied with broad brushstrokes. Therefore, Shoup set out to examine where and how the cost of this imposition on property development was being absorbed.

Analyses were able to estimate how much development costs increase due to parking minimums, and the results bred a new understanding of how parking requirements can increase the cost of real estate, particularly in urban areas. A portion of these costs are presumably passed on to tenants and patrons, regardless of whether they own a car and utilize a parking space.

When applied to denser historic districts built before the automobile, lots frequently are not large enough to provide the amount of spaces that a zoning code may require for parking. The result is a tangible barrier to redevelopment, revitalization and the adaptive reuse of buildings.

Brian Bertha, a researcher in California, analyzed project costs before and after the establishment of parking minimums in 1961 in Oakland. He found that after the requirements were put in place, construction costs per dwelling unit increased 18%, housing density fell by 30%, and land values decreased by 33%.

In Shoup’s research he speculates that if “emancipated from minimum parking requirements, land and capital will shift from parking to uses that employ more workers and pay more taxes.”

Instead he advocates making parking a pay-per use amenity, and thus encourage greater use of public and active transportation. Furthermore, he believes that revenues generated from on-street parking be utilized within neighborhood improvement districts in order to provide more amenities in those districts.

Just as we are taught in economics class that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” Shoup uses his skill for economic analysis to illustrate that there’s no such thing as a free parking space.

Driving is still necessary for ease of accessing employment in most American cities, but Shoup’s analysis allows policy makers to think critically about the interconnectedness of these policies, and the role that a thoughtful approach can play in reducing congestion, decreasing auto-dependence, and removing barriers to investment.

If you would like to attend Dr. Shoup’s lecture, he will be speaking downtown at 6pm at the Mercantile Library at 414 Walnut Street. Tickets can be purchased online for $10 for members and $15 for non-members.