At a recent meeting focused on raising the bar for transit-oriented development (TOD) in Greater Cleveland, good suggestions were made to improve conditions around transit stations for development.
Participants supported the notion that Cleveland focus effort on improving existing transit service. Some noted that the bus-rapid transit on Cleveland’s HealthLine seems to miss its on-time performance goal. A story was told about how someone at the city had turned off the sophisticated signal priority system on Euclid Avenue (a downtown developer noted that this was hurting the chances for more infill development in the sparsely populated Midtown area).
We recommended zoning and land-use changes that could prime the pump for the region’s top TOD opportunities.
NOACA, the region’s transportation planning agency, is looking to solidify the best sites and establish guidelines for TOD.
There have been previous efforts to pinpoint Cleveland’s best TOD sites, including the 2011 BUILT Ohio report, which identified University Circle, Public Square and W. 25th/Lorain in Ohio City as the region’s top three. The report suggested that the City of Cleveland update its zoning to clear a path for mixed-use development while leveraging its transit system for those commuting to and from the same location. Currently, mixed-use isn’t possible in Cleveland without seeking quite a few variances.
In addition, the report suggests that cities eliminate parking minimums around transit stations.
The initial reaction to removing parking minimums was a suggestion that ‘people can’t live without their cars.’ While true perhaps in very low density places, in denser cities, revising zoning that recognizes the presence of transit can reduce the need for car ownership. Studies have shown that parking minimums are an important decision effecting the outcome of TODs. In other words, parking minimums can thwart the goals of TODs such as walkability and affordability.
In order to improve conditions for transit-oriented development, it may be necessary for Cleveland to analyze its zoning and require less off-street parking than is currently required near high frequency transit stops.
Understandably, parking can be a political hot potato. But, the idea behind eliminating parking minimums is to enable the free market to decide its provision. Take, for example, the consensus that parking around Public Square sucks the liveliness out of the center of Cleveland. A conversation about a vibrant, walkable downtown usually begins and ends with the surface parking lots between Public Square and The Warehouse District.
The BUILT report suggests changing the economic calculus that has locked those surface lots in place for decades (through public intervention i.e. "subordinate financing").
For years, parking lot owners have said that they can make easy money off of parking—more than a development can bring. With more people taking an interest in living downtown, really good transit service and making the environment for walking undeniably great will make the case to the parking lot owners to finally see development, not parking, representing their long-term investment interest.
In this regard, the BUILT report offers an idea for the city to put in some safeguards. Already, Cleveland allows shared parking in its mixed-use zoning. The city could encourage a district approach to parking downtown by charging a developer an “in lieu of (building off-street parking)” fee which can be used to pay for a district/shared garage.
It may be instructive for Cleveland to see how some other cities have handled the elimination of parking minimums. Cities where parking requirements were loosened and places were built without parking also invest in the pedestrian environment and connections to transportation options such as transit, car hailing and car share service. In fact, there may be no better way to leverage the $17 million new train station at Little Italy or $30 million Public Square upgrade.
Transit oriented developments, like Uptown in Cleveland, which was recognized for building with TOD guidelines at its core, is a shift in the current development paradigm. The economics are already looking more favorable for TOD, even in slow markets like Cleveland. There are 17 acres of vacant and underutilized land near transit stops in University Circle and those closest to the new train station in Little Italy have seen housing values increase to an average of $200,000, according to the BUILT study.
It would be a mistake to allow parking minimums to undermine the value creation of Little Italy and University Circle—which is really an outcome of an early adoption of TOD principles and a transportation demand management plan to reduce traffic congestion. TOD that adheres to these principles requires the conversion of land that cars would occupy into more living space and better public spaces.