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Parking Space for Time: Navigating Urban Mobility Challenges

The Essence of Parking

I have been in the parking business for 43 years. I never really thought of myself as being in the Mobility business. Even though we could consider ourselves a part of the widely associated Transportation or Mobility Network, our focus is parking. As parking operators, whether it be university, airport, commercial, medical, municipal, or event, our role, all of us, is to Provide a Parking Space for Time, account for that time, set an appropriate rate, charge the correct rate, plan our space requirements, and try to get all the money in the bank for the owners.

Providing Essential Spaces

We Provide a Parking Space for Time because there are generators, universities with buildings, hospitals with buildings, airports with planes, commercial office buildings where people work and come to conduct business, and government buildings where people work or visit for a number of reasons. In our society, now and for the next 50 years, the customer cannot get there unless we, those of us in the parking business, Provide a Parking Space for Time.

The Myth of Eliminating POVs

There are a few people out there that seem to think we must and can eliminate the POV. I’m sorry but bicycles, scooters, and a few buses and trains are not going to make it. To change 300 years of building roadways for single family house and buggy to a new Tesla will take 30 to 50 years and a lot more than just labeling our company as Mobility.

Houston's Parking Challenge

I live in Houston, where (and I am making up the numbers here) we have 150,000 parking spaces downtown and need about 120,000 to get through each day’s peak demand. If we build five new office buildings with 3 million square feet of space total over the next 5 years and with normal projected growth of 3 percent annually, in 5 years we will be at a peak demand of 148,113 or 99 percent capacity. In the parking world, for planning purposes, we generally say that at 90 percent you are technically full and have to start looking for more space. Now let’s go out using those same numbers at 10 years and 15 years. In ten years, the demand number becomes 170,270 or 114 percent of capacity, and in 15 years the number is an impossible 195,956 or 131 percent of capacity. We as a community, Houston cannot let that happen, so we do what good business practices dictate.

Addressing Demand

• The parking operators start building more surface lots and a few garages.

• The building owners at the direction of the parking operators start raising the rates in the garages under the building to move more people out to the surface lots created by the parking operator.

• Cities create public-private partnerships to build more parking or just directly address the problem and add parking space.

• The medical center has no choice but to build more parking to get their patients to the front door, and so on, business by business.

The Reality of Car Usage

According to Dale Denda, 87 percent of people use a car to move around and that number has been relatively consistent for over 50 years. It varies a little city-to-city but 87 percent is the planning number. Five to 6 percent of people take public transportation and another 4 percent walk or bike. The 87 percent number actually jumps to about 89 percent when you include the important fact that around half of the 6 percent that take public transportation have to use a car to get to and from the bus or train station.

First and Last Mile Reality

Now the last mile promoters will jump in and claim victory. However, I am an on-the-streets parking background person, so I always go look. I have two park and ride locations, one about two miles north of my house and another about 2.5 miles south. I don’t just make claims about first and last mile, I go visit to see what I can see. So far, no one ever walks up, and no one rides a bike, so first mile last mile is not a solution. If we only have the infrastructure to provide mass transit for 5 or 6 percent of the population, at some point you have to look in the mirror and ask the question, how long will it take to go from 5 percent to 15 percent or increasing our current public transportation infrastructure by 300 percent. I am not qualified to answer that question, but I think we can all agree it will cost more money than we currently have since, as a country we are $32 trillion in debt. In the parking business, we must deal with today, and next year, and five years from now.

Meeting Parking Needs Today

Everyone who has a business in Houston requires that we have streets and parking to accommodate the 87 percent. If we only have enough parking to cover 86 percent, then the revenue supporting downtown businesses drops by 1 percent because 1 percent of customers can’t get to the shopping mall, attorney’s office, court to pay a fine, or restaurant for lunch, or retail store. Keeping up with the parking requirements does put more cars on the street. That means we have a choice. Put more cars on the street and we in the parking business continue providing a place to put them and keep our downtowns in business.

Infrastructure Challenges

Or, work on the tremendous infrastructure problem of building and providing more public transportation that will require 50 plus years to catch up. Just trying to keep up with the 89 percent infrastructure requirement is pushing most cities and states to the max. If even then and at the same time we continue to work on the also long-range problem of improving the environment. Before we promote more magazine articles and convention speeches on adding bicycles, buses, and trains we should take some time to study the infrastructure requirements and time required to build buses and trains, and study their ability to reduce the 89 percent number and at the same time keep up with the increased growth.

The Reality of Bike Lanes

Speaking of magazine and convention speeches about the glories of bicycle lanes let’s look at the pictures below. Bicycle lanes are being promoted across the country as the answer to removing cars and reducing the carbon footprint. The people who promote this are just anti POV pretending to be concerned about the environment. There are four very important points to be observed and learned about the bike lane pictures. The pictures are in order; Santa Monica, Houston, Austin, Los Angeles.

  1. There are no bikes in the bike lanes.

  2. The bike lanes take up a total of 10 feet of roadway for two directions so one row of on-street parking or one lane of traffic.

  3. Municipal leaders are being told that cars circling looking for a place to park are polluting and increasing our carbon footprint. Looking at the pictures we see the exact opposite. There are no cars in the bike lanes and never will be any significant number and to create the bike lane we removed hundreds and possibly even a thousand on-street parking spaces. So, instead of reducing the number of cars circling looking for a parking space, we have significantly increased the number of cars circling because we removed on-street spaces.

  4. On certain streets, instead of taking up on-street spaces, the bike lane reduced the number of driving lanes from three to two lanes. Reducing the number of lanes slows the movement of vehicles thus requiring them to spend more time idling and pouring carbon all over the city.

Infrastructure Investments

Four cities, four bike lanes, no bikes and I have hours of video to prove the point. We have hours of video showing millions of infrastructure dollars wasted, increasing pollution in a program advertised as decreasing pollution. We have 89 percent of people driving, we have no way to get the infrastructure dollars required to solve the domicile problem with the American city suburb, but we have European and some U.S. transportation professors talking about eliminating the POV.

The Core Mission of Parking

The infrastructure requirements and the domicile problem make it almost impossible to even move the 89 percent needle even a small amount, yet we have people in the parking industry pushing reducing POVs instead of focusing on the job we have right now and for the next 50 years: “Providing a Parking Space for Time”. We have absolutely lost our way.

Focusing on Our Strengths

This is a very simplified article to present an extremely important and difficult problem. Our hope and plan is to continue using articles and presentations to promote our core of providing a Parking Space for Time while also pushing to improve our understanding of the infrastructure requirements so we can make the correct long-term decisions.

The Critical Role of Parking

Those of us in the parking business provide a very important Parking Space for Time, and if we don’t the city fails. Mobility is a part of an extremely complex requirement of moving people around. Mobility is the infrastructure of roads and public transportation and parking that a city requires. Most cities in our nation are behind on the public roadway infrastructure, but we are also 30 to 50 years behind on the probability of public transportation taking up the slack in moving people around and getting them to their destination.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

At this point, we in the parking business are the only infrastructure group that is not behind. However, we are going to be behind if we continue to pretend we are in the business of reducing the number of parking spaces needed and we keep writing magazine articles about the ever-increasing demand for bicycles.

Future Directions

We in the parking business need to continue to see magazine articles and conventions directed at teaching and providing direction on how to stay ahead of the demand curve. We can be a part of the public that tries to put people in office that are capable of planning 30 to 50 years into the future. Right now, we are a little short.

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