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New principles for parking could be applied in University Circle

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/02/14 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Transportation choices

University Circle is studying how to reduce the impact of cars as it gets more urban in its development. The conclusions from the first phase of a landmark study were discussed this week by the major institutions that have the most at stake.

The transportation demand management study conducted by the firm NelsonNygaard is looking at where and how the district’s current 30,000 parking spots are being used before moving on to look at how to promote alternatives to driving.

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Perhaps the biggest finding from the first phase is University Circle currently has enough parking to meet the needs of its visitors and residents. NelsonNygaard concluded that 72% of the parking is used by employees and residents.

It bodes well for the next two phases of the study—which will look at recommendations and implementation—since most parking is 1. used at varying times of day and 2. is used by a group that might exchange a parking spot for the right incentives. It raises the odds that University Circle might think outside of the 9 X 18 foot box.

Alternatives to building more parking could include a shared garage or a mixed-use parking/living/office space—served by a more robust shuttle service and bike share. Smartphone technology could also aid in finding a spot (a parking app with realtime information on available spots).

We caught up with NelsonNygaard Principal, David Fields, to unpack the arcane lingo behind transportation demand management—what is it, and if University Circle adopts its principles, where it might lead the city’s second hottest market?

“Transportation doesn’t function on its own,” Fields starts. “It’s intrinsically linked to land use. If things are proximate enough and comfortable enough to walk, then it takes care of a lot of issues.”

Walkability trumps any single metric, he says. More than good transit service, or how many bike lanes will be painted.

“Even transit is less important than walkability,” he adds, “because if you can’t get your district to the point where it’s great for walking then you won’t get transit to work or the bike-able streets that you want.”

Fields applies what he calls his “grandmother test” to whether a district is walkable.

“If my grandmother feels like she can walk across the street, than we’re doing our job,” he says.

Standing in granny’s path may be zoning codes conceived for suburban shopping malls but also used by most cities, Fields says. So-called Parking Minimums in zoning have had the unintentional result of flooding the market with more parking than necessary, Fields says, and putting it just where people want to walk.

Developments like University Circle’s Uptown, though, demonstrate a new willingness to rethink parking. And to consider pedestrian comfort by placing the buildings with “zero setbacks” or right along the sidewalk. It feels more inviting to walk in Uptown and, even if you’ve driven there, you’re more likely to park once and walk to multiple locations.

The new study will try to build on Uptown’s inherent walkability and transit connection.

“Cleveland has a transit system that would be the envy of a lot of cities that I work in,” he concludes. “With your rail lines plus the best BRT system in the country. I feel comfortable walking from the museums to a bus stop. It’s entirely intuitive.”

NelsonNygaard has helped other cities “right size” their parking by looking at the “context” of where it’s going. For example, in University Circle, residential density is increasing and so is commuting by other “modes” including transit and biking. The TDM study could lead to a recommendation on parking so it does not interfere with progress.

“You take a hard look at parking requirements, whether they account for local factors like transit access, and ask, ‘do we need them?’” Fields explains.

The benefits of right sizing parking for an entire district before it ramps up residential development also translates into cost savings, Fields says, which can then be passed along to tenants. The results will be more affordable living spaces in University Circle.

“Parking is a sunk cost. It means, you can’t build it and say, ‘no one is using it, so we won’t pay for it.’ Immediately it tacks on a cost to residential.”

It’s a common TDM practice to “de-couple” parking from the cost of the apartment lease, he adds, and allow the market to choose—do you want two, one or no parking spaces?—and discount the rent accordingly.

“So I have the cost of my unit and the cost of my parking, and if I don’t want my parking the developer will build as little as possible,” he explains. “The comparable is dessert. If it automatically comes with the meal, you’ll eat it. If it has a price, you might go without it.”

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