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Is Northeast Ohio hurt by too much parking (and what it can do about it)?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/24/14 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Transform

Last week, a handful of students from Kent State University’s Landscape Design program plunked down a strip of fake grass and an old, white exercise bike over a street parking spot in front of the Peter B. Lewis Building at Case. The students were participating in Park(ing) Day, a decade-long experiment where people thinking about how much pavement parking creates do something creative to raise awarness— at least, until the meter runs out.

In Cleveland, an amazingly easy place to park a car, a few passersby smile and nod knowingly at the Kent students. Would they take stronger measures if the garage at the end of their commute suddenly disappeared?

<br /><br />Transit-oriented development<br />Case Parking Lot 45 on Mayfield Road is the site of a future mixed use development that includes 200 apartments and a 700 space parking garage.<br /><br />Rapidly improving<br />The Little Italy / Mayfield Road Rapid Station is going to make transit-oriented development a reality in University Circle.<br /><br /><br />

“Part of the challenge is the cost of operating a car,” says John Utech, sustainability director at the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s cheaper to park in most places."

A contributing factor is the Clinic subsidy of its employees’ parking. Recently, Utech says, the healthcare giant, which employs 9,000 people at its main campus, has had conversations about the $8 million a year operating loss it incurs by lowering the cost for parking.

“Should we stop the subsidy?” Utech asks. “We haven’t done that yet because it would be very unpopular.”

Utech feels that regulations—in particular, zoning that requires every new development to offer a minimum of parking—incentivizes more parking (and solo driving) than is necessary on its campus.

The invisible hand pushing for more parking is not the private market? Parking structures have been estimated to cost $20,000 per space; some of those costs are passed along to the future tenant.

“Our CEO is not interested in building more parking garages,” Utech says.

Replacing one type of parking (surface) with another (garage) on paper sounds like a net gain—going vertical should shrink the footprint dedicated to cars. But, in practice zoning codes are unwittingly producing developments that have more parking than necessary.

Traditional, “Euclidian” zoning that is the law in most communities in Northeast Ohio can also be frustratingly behind the times.

Take, for example, the 700-space garage that is being attached to a transit-oriented development of offices and a 200-apartment building in University Circle. Or the mixed-use Robert Stark-led development in the Gateway District. Both will be built over acres of surface parking lots. Cause for celebration, right?

But, if Cleveland and the development community are unwilling to address the status quo, parking garages will be built along the sidewalk instead of tucked away behind other buildings—sure to result in a pedestrian dead zone—and will likely be much larger than if their transit-efficient locations were factored in. Not to pick on the Intesa development, but the micro-suites that will be part of the residential phase one could be nearly the same size and cost per square foot as their parking spots.

Parking doesn’t have to loom so large. Or contribute to higher land prices and rents that price out a market interested in living in the city.

Kristin Hopkins, AICP, a planner at CT Consultants worked on zoning updates with cities of Euclid and Lakewood recently that reduced parking requirements in their downtowns and traditional (read: walkable, transit-rich) commercial districts. She says transit-connected places with high Walk Scores have shown that they can make it just fine without adding parking—even when a less busy store is replaced by a hot, new one.

“In Euclid, we wrote specific (parking) reductions into the code,” she says. “If you’re based on a transit line, that could reduce parking minimum by 10%. If your business provides a number of bike spaces, that will reduce it by 10%. And if you have formal arrangement with other businesses for shared parking, that will reduce it by 10%.”

In University Circle’s development—located right next to an RTA Rapid Station under construction on Mayfield Road—rents will top out at $3,000 a month. For the city interested in equity and inclusion—two goals of Cleveland’s Citywide 2020 Plan—smart parking policy might lower costs by emphasizing transit access and or access to a bike lane on Euclid Avenue.

The city will take up the parking question soon, promises Cleveland Planning Director, Fred Collier. Cleveland will likely follow the lead of Cincinnati which studied a solution known as form-based code— a zoning reform that rethinks the effects of parking while emphasizing the inherent density of Ohio’s older cities.

According to the Form-Based Code Institute, FBCs replace the general “use” categories (i.e. residential) in city codes with a more “context” sensitive (i.e. main street) approach.

The Form-Based Code allows us to protect the existing urban form in our neighborhoods as well as ensure that new buildings will conform to those same standards while also being flexible to various types of uses,” says Cincinnati Senior Planner, Alex Peppers.

Cincinnati categorized walkable urban neighborhoods into different community types, and outlined and mapped them with a 5 minute walk. It introduced important components of walkable urban places, such as building types, frontage types, and civic space types, with the intent that they would be further reinforced within the Form-Based Code. In parallel, the city has developed a Complete Streets Manual to re-redesign streets as more pleasing places for walking and biking.

“Form-Based code was a game changer when I was head of downtown redevelopment of Nashua, New Hampshire,” John Mitterholzer of Gund Foundation said at last week’s sustainability summit. “Your basic code is very dense. (FBC) is like a picture book. It shows you the percent of all walls that have windows or that parking is in the back.”

Mitterholzer notes that a 30-day “fast track” on building permits sweetened the deal and blunted any concerns about a new regulatory framework. Cincinnati is also using fast track approval of building permits as an incentive where FBCs exist.

In Euclid, changes to zoning have also streamlined the review process, Hopkins says, adding that Lakewood is considering removing parking minimums for infill development in certain parts of town.

The shift to rethink parking minimums comes out of a recognition that parking codes are based on single-use (i.e. big box) buildings rather than how commercial districts with smaller side-by-side stores operate, Hopkins says.

“We tried to expand the flexibility to the individual store owner. So, now they can look at parking within a reasonable walking distance. Or shared-use parking within a district, because a movie theater and bookstore might have customers coming at different times.

“Previously, cities didn’t do that analysis (of context and use)," she adds. "Now, we’ll analyze transit options and density around that node. Cities are getting more sophisticated.”

Cleveland is “rebranding” its planning efforts, says Collier, to emphasize health, equity and sustainability. Part of this, Collier reports, is a City Planning-led dialogue with Urban Land Institute about form-based measures such as right-sized parking.

“We need to mature our understanding of form-based code,” Collier said, “Important steps have to be taken to create the space.”

Across the U.S., cities are doing more to let the market choose how much parking they want to build and take valuable urban land off the market for tax producing uses. Boulder and Boston are introducing a district approach, and Nashville served as a model for Cincinnati for the way it right sized parking and roads to accommodate greener forms of transportation.

Boulder, for example, formed a transportation management association (TMA) that consolidated half of the city’s downtown parking into fewer “district” or shared parking garages. Free transit passes for all downtown employees are then given away.

In Boston, large businesses working downtown are required by state law to join A Better City TMA. It promotes alternatives to driving through events and incentives like a guaranteed ride home for transit and bike commuters.

University Circle, Inc. is also getting a better understanding of the district’s parking supply, ostensibly, to offer alternatives to driving. Clearly, Case, University Hospital and the Clinic collaborating to change the lead question from how big do we build the parking structure (next to the train station) to something more aligned with its and the city’s goals will require new thinking about the costs and impact of driving, and perhaps a citywide reform of the parking status quo.

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6 years ago

LOL. My mistake. I meant to say: How does an employee living in *Independence* use public transit to get to his or her job at the Natural History Museum?

Angie Schmitt
6 years ago

Interesting. Lakewood and Euclid could probably remove minimum parking requirements altogether with no problems -- and it would be a badly needed development incentive. These developers really don't need to be encouraged to build parking.

6 years ago

It's great that the Fed and RTA are investing money in the RedLine rapid stops pictured, but I think that that will do little to make people leave their cars at home -- or, in most cases, at a park-n-ride -- when traveling to University Circle for two reasons: (1) the RedLine doesn't cut through University Circle; instead it is on the edge; and (2) we don't have a region-wide transit system (for example, how does the employee living in University Circle use transit to get to his or her job at the Natural History Museum?). Perhaps if parking was more expensive, it would make a difference in people's choices, but for many folks using transit to get to University Circle just isn't viable.

Tim Kovach
6 years ago

Thanks for raising the issues of mandatory parking minimums and employer parking subsidies. Both of these are little discussed but highly consequential for a city like Cleveland.

On the issue of parking minimums affecting development patterns and housing costs, there can be little question of this. In 1964, Brian Bertha examined the consequences of Oakland's introduction of such minimum parking requirements in 1961. He found that construction costs increased by 18%, housing unit density fell 30%, and land values dropped by one-third. Developers responded to these market signals and ended up building larger, more expensive housing units, which negatively affected low-income residents. Moreover, Michael Manville found that condos without parking spaces in LA cost $31,000, on average, less than those with parking spaces. Clearly, there is no such thing as "free" parking, as the costs simply get shifted from the end user to another user - the renter, in this case - regardless of whether or not that person has a car.

On the employer parking subsidy, Donald Shoup has done a lot of good work in this area. In 1997, he estimated that if a parking space that cost $124 per month was provided for free, the parking subsidy provided per mile driven was $0.27 per mile. In contrast, AAA estimated that the total cost of operating a car per mile was just $0.092 per mile. Accordingly, the subsidy provided by free parking is roughly 2.9 times greater than the cost of driving to work. This finding left Shoup to brand such policies "a fertility drug for cars."

It's true that people in Northeast Ohio seem to view free parking as a birthright, and they will go great lengths to protect it. I will be the first to admit that I have gone to some lengths avoid paying for parking, so I'm not innocent in this matter. That said, if we are too afraid of the consequences to ever even acknowledge, forthrightly, that this is a serious issue creating a number of externalities for the health and well-being of our region, the status quo will simply become even further ingrained and more difficult to upend.

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