As 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