CNU’s take on the proposed parking ordinance changes
The following statement concerning the proposed changes to the City of Houston’s Parking Reg’s was posted at CNU-Houston.org today. I helped write the statement, so I thought I’d share it with this audience as well. Feel free to leave comments or questions and I’ll respond (on behalf of myself, not CNU) as much as I can!
The Congress for the New Urbanism is the nation’s leading advocate for walkability and urban revitalization. Concerning the proposed changes to the parking ordinance, the CNU-Houston offers the following observations:
Overall we find the subcommittee recommendations are sound, with two specific exceptions.1. Bicycle Parking
The rationale and intent expressed in the subcommittee recommendations on bicycle parking are laudable, however the recommended provision is inadequate.
First, the recommended exemption for properties under 5000 square feet is counter-productive. Properties under 5000 square feet represent the vast majority of our urban neighborhoods, which are the places with the highest amount of bicycle use. These are the small scale neighborhood businesses that are the safest and most appealing to bike to, and are frequently places where the majority of car parking is on-street. Providing bicycle parking in neighborhood-oriented businesses has the greatest potential to reduce on-street car parking generated by these businesses.Second, the proposed requirement seems arbitrary and too low. Rather than a one-size fits all requirement, it would be more logical to base the bicycle parking requirement on a percentage of the car parking requirement. Above a small minimum, it would be even better to allow additional bike parking to be used as an offset for a percentage of the car parking requirement.
Providing bike parking is affordable and space efficient. For example, a single standard 9×18 car parking space can hold approximately 12 bicycles. For this reason, and because of the opportunity for improved public health and decreased reliance on on-street car parking for neighborhood businesses, the city should look to adopt stronger standards for bicycles as part of it’s new parking ordinance.
2. Restaurant / Bar Parking
The proposed changes to the bar and restaurant parking requirements are a reaction to the perceived abuse of free on-street parking by restaurants and bars in urban neighborhoods. These businesses often struggle to meet current parking regulations due to the small parcel size, very expensive land, and highly fragmented ownership pattern that is the norm in urban areas.The proposed response does not fix the existing problem, but primarily will act to eliminate the continued development of much loved urban places like Lower Westheimer or Washington Ave, and to ensure that no new places like them can be built.
Instead of this small business inhibiting new requirement, we believe the city should look to emulate a new program developed in San Francisco, called SF Park. In this approach parking meters are added to any street where over-consumption of on-street parking is creating adverse impacts, and prices are adjusted monthly to ensure that supply and demand of on-street parking are in balance. This approach eliminates the worst abuses of on-street parking: patrons parking several blocks into a residential area and walking to the bar to avoid paying for parking, and valet services providing parking for an establishment by parking cars on residential streets for free. Further, establishing the expectation that free parking is not available in very high demand areas makes it feasible for property owners to create structured parking that would not be feasible without charging users a fair rate for the parking.
In high-demand, high-value, fine-grained urban places the city’s lot by lot approach to regulating parking creates a major encumbrance on redevelopment without adequately providing for parking needs. In extremely complex and dynamic places it makes more sense for the city to step out of the off-street parking equation altogether, and to focus instead on using pricing to keep on-street parking in check. We happen to have a great precedent for this pattern: Houston’s thriving downtown district operates exactly this way.A final benefit: as many other cities have done, Houston could use revenue generated by parking meters for local infrastructure improvements. Among other examples, Portland paid for its streetcar system in this way.
We encourage the City of Houston to reconsider these two aspects of the proposed parking ordinance changes. More generally, we encourage the city to step back and think about the role and ramification of parking requirements throughout our city. We should use the parking regulation revision process as an opportunity to decrease barriers to walkable urban development in our city, not to increase them.