Commentary: Beyond Paid Parking Debacle, We have Failed to See the Future

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Vanguard Commentary: Troubling Vote on ParkingAs we argued in yesterday’s column, the other solutions to parking were not going to work without paid parking.  As we argued yesterday, one of the things we have heard from the start is that the recommendations will not work in isolation.  And the paid parking component is critical to at least three parts of the other recommendations.

First, if you believe part of the parking problem is that employees of downtown businesses are using street side parking and moving their cars every two hours, there is no effective way to get them away from that practice without paid parking.

Second, if you believe that the parking problem is a distribution rather than a supply problem, then you end up needing paid parking to encourage long-term parkers to move their cars to the garages rather than the street.

Finally, even if you believe that the problem is one of supply, without paid parking there is no funding mechanism for a new parking garage.

In today’s column, Rich Rifkin reached a similar conclusion.

He writes, “City staff and the Downtown Parking Task Force put together a tour de force presentation in favor of a package of 19 recommendations. Their ideas rested on a plan to install ‘smart’ parking meters in the section of our core area where demand often exceeds supply.”

He continues, “They clearly made the case that, if the council wanted to solve the problem, it needed to understand that the task force’s ideas all worked as one. Their logic was not impromptu. They had been working on this for months.”

“The anti-meter side,” he writes, “showed up at the City Council last week. All of their arguments against paid parking fell short on logic and originality. They failed to offer any realistic solution.”

He adds, “Importantly, they did not comprehend how smart meters offer the chance to help downtown merchants by freeing up prime spots near their businesses for paying customers.”

“Despite the best efforts of Councilman Lee and support from Mayor Joe Krovoza, the judges in this case awarded the trophy to the wrong side. The council severed the task force’s package. They rejected smart meters,” he continued.

“The best suggestion they accepted is to try to get some downtown workers to park in underutilized off-street garages. That won’t solve the problem. But it might help a wee bit,” he writes.  “What anyone who understands introductory economics can tell you is that if you have a scarce resource and you don’t allow the price to rise when demand exceeds supply, you will have a shortage.”

The other part of that is that, without meters, there is no way to compel employees to change their current parking habits.

But I want to also move past this point because for some time I have been thinking of a downtown beyond parking.

First, I think that any plan that keeps parking in the middle sections of downtown is doomed.  I have often supported the idea of a peripheral parking location (peripheral to the downtown) such as the Olive Street access where we can keep vehicles from crossing the Richards underpass and put people on their feet, onto bikes, and for those who do not move as well, onto trolleys.

But, more broadly, we continue to plan an auto-centric vision of the downtown in a world that is rapidly changing.

We have often discussed here the need to move to a multimodal society and yet the downtown is really poorly set up for anything other than automobiles and, in fact, is not well set up even for automobiles.  Driving through the downtown during the middle of the day is a challenge, where we have four-way-stop intersections that are poorly equipped to handle the convergence of cars, bikes, and peds.

We have limited bike access on Second Street and poor bike access across Fifth Street, which is the primary east-west arterial that feeds the downtown.  The result is the highly polarizing Fifth Street redesign, which will reduce vehicle lanes in an effort to improve the flow and to make it safer for bikes and peds.

Nevertheless, many are convinced that the changes to Fifth Street will doom the downtown.

At the same time, we are through private means spending a bundle to fix the Richard Blvd. entrance to the city.  The underpass is poorly designed and has required fixing for some time.  The light sequence is nonsensical.

The entrance itself is extremely narrow with a single lane feeding traffic from two directions of I-80 as well as the traffic coming from south Davis.  While there was an effort to widen the underpass that was defeated in the late 1990s, that wouldn’t have fixed the problem either.

Instead, it would have dumped a huge volume of traffic onto city streets in the core that are not set up to handle volumes of traffic.

The solution might be relatively simple: there are two flows of traffic that predominate – those going to the core and those going to the university.  The university can fix part of the problem by establishing the UC Davis Exit further to the west as the primary entrance to campus.  The city can fix part of the problem by creating a parking structure off of Olive that allows the traffic to bypass using the underpass.

But there is a final point, which we will discuss in greater detail later, between needs to reduce carbon emissions and changes in driving behavior.  We need to focus more on non-automobile access to the downtown.

Studies have found found that the so-called millennial generation – those who were born between 1980 and 1996 have expressed little-to-no interest in owning a car.  New vehicles sold to 18- to 34-year-olds has significantly dropped over the past few years.

Some have speculated a weak economy, and college loans have played a role.  However, industry leaders note that owning a smartphone and other mobile devices come with payments that are comparable to purchasing a car.

As one article notes, “What auto manufacturers, along with much of corporate America are missing here is that the vehicles to freedom and personal identity have changed for this generation. The sooner brands get a grip on this reality the sooner they can make adjustments in how they market to and communicate with this core group, which is essential to their long-term success.”

But if the industry needs to come to grips with this, shouldn’t city planners also?  After all, we are looking at economic development of tech start ups that will attract the very people from this generation in the coming years.

More importantly, with the issue of global warming becoming more clearly defined, it seems likely that auto sales are not going to rebound as the next generation ages, and that those of us just on the north side of that generation may be willing to follow suit if we have viable alternatives to automobiles.

I am not arguing that we can ignore parking and automobile traffic, but I am arguing that we need to think more multimodal.  We also need to think about where people who would work in these new start ups are likely to live and how they are likely to get to work.

So, while I think the city missed some boats on the need for paid parking, I also think that the city missed an opportunity to bring in younger voices to study the issue of the downtown and how to serve current and future needs.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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7 thoughts on “Commentary: Beyond Paid Parking Debacle, We have Failed to See the Future”

  1. Tia Will

    Using the experience of my own children, and their friends I strongly agree with your concern that we are looking at the parking issue through older eyes that tend to cling to the models with which we were raised. My daughter while owning a car and using it on occasion does not like to drive and sees it as transportation only, not a symbol of freedom and independence. My son, now 22 has never owned a car, never applied for a driver’s license, never expressed a desire to learn to drive and organizes his life ( work and school ) accordingly.

    Many in our community, including our business community, call for changes in our town. I agree that change is necessary. And I do not believe that this change will be effective if those of us who are active in the community either through exchange of ideas or as actual decision makers insist on clinging to old models of progress and prosperity. We must be amenable to considering the preferred visions of the younger members of our community and the trends that they are setting in motion.

    A related question. With regard to the recent survey on city finances, do we have a demographic breakdown by age of respondent ? If not, I think any future polls or surveys should include this information.

  2. Davis Progressive

    i’m one of those who believes that planning for an automotive future is a huge mistake. you’re planning for now, not the future.

  3. Fremontia

    You are missing quite a few important issues. While you talk about how the young get around you seem to fail to recognize that Davis has a large senior population that can easily age in place here in flatland. Many of these people have mobility issues that cars solve.

    Second you are not leading by example. Don’t you drive to your office?

    Third, while the task force examined the policy the council must also weigh the politics. Where the task force reached consensus the community is divided.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Actually I did miss the mobility issue or the car issue. The mobility issue is handled through the parking garage, trolly. For years I didn’t drive. When I worked in DC, I didn’t need a car. In Davis for years I biked. If we had a better transportation system, it’s possible I wouldn’t need to drive.

      “Third, while the task force examined the policy the council must also weigh the politics. Where the task force reached consensus the community is divided.”

      Agreed, but the problem is that the solutions that the task force proposed needed the paid parking component to work. Otherwise, how do you get people to do what the other parts of the plan suggest?

      1. Fremontia

        We actually have a pretty good public transportation system. Perhaps its where you live that is the issue or perhaps its convenience. Trolleys? Dude what are you talking about. Perhaps we could build a parking lot on the periphery somewhere and have a shuttle but it hasn’t worked.

        By the way I thought some of the stuff the task force came up with was shockingly stupid like metered parking for more than two hours that would allow students to park in the city and walk or bike to class. This whole reinventing the wheel thing sometimes gets so silly. That is the reason we have shorter time limits closer to the university today is to prevent exactly what this would allow unless you priced parking in downtown to be competitive with the university. You do that and you will kill the downtown at least for me.

  4. Tia Will

    “If we had a better transportation system, it’s possible I wouldn’t need to drive.”

    I think that this is a key point. With a good public transportation system perhaps backed up by shuttle services offered by many communities for those of very limited mobility including our growing number of seniors ( of which I am one) we could further reduce the number of individual vehicles used. For my entire life, the private automobile has been seen as the answer to almost every transportation need in our society. What has frequently been minimized is the downsides to this strategy in terms of health and well being.

    The children of my generation are not wedded to the idea of the private automobile as the first go to for transportation needs and if they are successful in chainging this perspective, the results will be less degradation of the environment, less need for costly road maintenance and a healthier environment and population overall.

  5. Frankly

    There are quite a few people in this town that have an extreme negative position on the automobile. I think maybe if they were to dig deep into their own reasoning, they would recognize that their position is largely irrational… based on some biases and “isms” that are not actually helpful in the scheme of things. We have to strike a balance for transportation… convenience is a primary consideration. So making auto travel more difficult only to force more people to other less-convenient modes of transportation is a recipe for more pissed off people. It is quite frankly a stupid approach.

    When I consider biking versus driving to work there are a number of considerations and values I consider. I very much value the exercise I get. I also value the reduced carbon emissions. But mostly I consider the time I have and if I have any other appointments I need to travel to or any shopping I need to do where I must have room to transport anything that will not fit in my bike panier.

    Instead of making auto travel more difficult (for example, paid parking), we should instead be focusing on making biking or public transportation more convenient. But in the end, we need to develop some rational position on auto use. It is not the devil that some people seem to believe.

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