Last spring, several years after the Davis Downtown Parking Advisory Task Force recommended we go to paid parking, the Davis City Council finally took up the issue. After pushback from downtown businesses and some community members, the council backed off and ended up only adding paid parking to several surface lots – a lot like they have already successfully done with the E Street lot.
Despite this, a group of downtown businesses are circulating petitions they are calling “Freedom to Park.”
As the petition notes: “Sets a baseline of 1888 auto parking spaces and 1888 bicycle parking spaces in downtown, an increase of around 120 auto and 240 bike spaces. It bans paid parking throughout Davis…”
They reason: “We started with the normal bureaucratic process. We talked with council and city staff, attended committees and made our argument clear. In return we were ignored and dismissed, so we have turned to the democratic process to go around the blockage of city hall.”
They argue: “Because the city has so grossly mismanaged the parking situation. While everyone was grousing about the lack of parking downtown, the city removed over 120 spaces. This can happen because the city never set a baseline for parking. Then after they caused the parking shortage they wanted to come in and ‘fix’ it by adding parking meters without even considering putting those 120 spaces back.”
Where will the added spaces go?
“The initiative doesn’t tell the city where exactly to put them, just that they need to add 120 vehicle spaces and 240 bike spaces downtown. The vehicle number was chosen to match how many spaces they have removed to put in bulb-outs, bike parking in the street, expand restaurant seating, repave 3rd St, etc. The bike number was chosen to make the amount of bicycle parking equivalent to the amount of vehicle parking.”
One of the leaders of this movement, Dan Urazandi of Bizarro World, wrote in an op-ed in the Aggie that “the city was reducing parking until it caused a so-called parking crisis. It now proposes to ‘solve’ this crisis by making all the parking paid. But its plan doesn’t add any parking spaces. It is not increasing parking — just the cost of parking. The only way its plan provides any spaces for those who are willing to pay is by driving away those who aren’t — namely students, the elderly and other low-income drivers.”
There are several problems with this initiative that I will explain shortly – one is that it actually seems rather unnecessary. They believe that the city has proposed this as sort of a half-way measure and they will come back in the future to propose more paid parking. I think that’s probably more unlikely than not, and that after facing push back from downtown businesses, they put in a half-measure and it is unlikely the issue will re-surface in the next ten years – if ever.
Mr. Urazandi, targeting students, write, “More students are driving because they are priced out of living near campus, and now the city will price them out of visiting downtown as well.” In fact, the travel survey data show the exact opposite – fewer students are driving and the data that Don Gibson has presented show that even though they have fewer places to live, more students are simply packing into mini-dorms rather than moving out of town.
That point is neither here nor there.
The biggest problem with parking in the downtown is not addressed by this initiative. Most of the time there is in fact sufficient parking on the streets. However, to the extent that there is not is due to employees who, rather than parking in X-permit lots or on the periphery of downtown, are parking in spots that should be left for customers.
For the life of me, I don’t understand why businesses in the downtown, who rely on customers, would allow their employees to park and move. This was a point I made to a number of downtown businesses last spring – if you want the city to not require paid parking, do something about your employees parking and moving their cars every two hours.
The proponents of this initiative argue that “paid parking does not create additional parking spaces” but it does free up spaces, primarily because employees working in the downtown are less likely to want to pay for eight hours of parking when they can park and walk.
The businesses argue: “It merely frees up spaces from those who are unable or unwilling to pay for a parking space. People will not want to pay, so they won’t come downtown.”
Not only does their argument ignore the issue of employee parking, it also ignores the experience of Davis with the E Street parking lot – paid parking that is generally full – and the experience of countless downtowns everywhere which show that most people will pay for convenient and accessible parking if they have a destination that they are willing to go.
The cost of parking for even two hours is less than the cost of driving to Woodland or Dixon.
Finally, the solution is probably impractical. Removing bulb outs is costly. This is a city that is running an $8 million deficit each year. There is no funding mechanism attached to the proposal. Moreover, while complete street projects get grant funding, the city would be working against the tide.
In addition, one of the reasons that bulb outs are used is to install ADA-compliant pedestrian ramps on existing sidewalks. It is not clear that the city could remove them once in place without running afoul with ADA rules.
Second, there would be huge political fallback for the city of Davis passing an initiative requiring the city to remove bike spaces, bulb outs, and perhaps even bike lanes in the downtown.
Third, they suggest more angled parking, but I’m not sure where they think they can get more angled parking which requires space and is hazardous to bikes and other vehicles.
We will see where this goes – but I have real doubts as to whether the initiative is legal or feasible, and it is probably solving a problem – stopping paid parking – that is not a realistic threat for at least another decade, probably longer.
—David M. Greenwald reporting