Thursday, July 5, 2012

Anti-parking policy isn't all happy goodness.

With AB 904 defeated, @MarketUrbanism tweets, "This sucks...California's AB 904, which bans cities from requiring more than 1 pkg space/hsg unit near transit, is dead." It links to this very pro-904 account from LA Streetsblog saying the bill was pulled from a committee agenda July 3, forcing proponents to wait until next year.

"That sucks" is way, way too simple.

This California state bill, yes, would have prohibited local governments from requiring more than one parking space per unit in newly built market-rate housing in "transit-intensive areas". For subsidized and seniors' projects, the maximum parking space requirements would have been limited to only fractions of a space per unit.

The measure has some respected backers but it still reeks of the cheerful recurrent do-gooders' notion that you can force people into worthy behavior by pinching them in artificial shortages. We're seeing it in this parking thing, just like we're seeing it in that dreadfully benevolent food activist who wants to improve people's diets by blocking them from buying convenience foods with Food Stamps. As if choices weren't contingent. As if people walking into bad bargains didn't have their reasons.

Legislative details on AB 904 are available here. Much of the debate among planning and development groups is linked from this good blog entry, including links to energetic arguments for the bill from the California Infill Builders' Federation. The infill people's arguments cite multiple studies saying downtown housing is often "overbuilt." They also present a crimp on parking requirements as being good for affordable housing:
"Fact: California affordable housing advocates support AB 904 for reasons articulated in a 2004 Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing report: “Parking requirements drive up the cost of development, resulting in less units of housing. Needing to spend more on parking means less funds [are] available to provide housing. Some developments end up having more space for cars than for people.""
So, sure, I could see where excessive parking requirements might get used to discourage low-cost housing the way two-acre zoning does: require a big enough periphery and those pesky poor people just have to go elsewhere...

Except that, despite having published the study critical of parking requirements, the same Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing expressed a "neutral" and really pretty worried-sounding opinion on AB 904. The group expresses "concerns that AB 904 affordability linkages are insufficient to ensure ridership and reduced car trip benefits, will increase gentrification pressures in some markets, and, with the increased land values that come with transit investment, may weaken our ability to incentivize affordable housing near transit." There's also this comment: "Studies show that transit oriented development can lead to higher rents and reduced transit use, due to gentrification and increased auto ownership rates caused by higher income households moving into the transit area."

So it sounds like, while lower parking requirements make it logistically easier to stack more low-income people in carless apartment buildings near public transit, people who live with the inconveniences that follow from having low incomes might not want to live there. Because, practically speaking, the people who find it most convenient to rely steadily on public transit tend to have money.

Studies only show who in the aggregate can be successfully pressured to use transit. What if you don't represent the aggregate? What if you're a particular person whose particular job and household circumstances are not served by the existing public transit available? What if you can't afford to rent off-street parking? And why on earth, if you're in low-income housing, should you therefore be content with parking just three-quarters of a car?
If this thing passes at some point, maybe next season if not this one, then the next condo development that rises in your downtown neighborhood might provide nowhere near enough parking for the armored SUVs of the nervous urban-reflux condo buyers, and you, who already live there, would suddenly have that much more trouble parking on the street.

That's very nice if you're a perky, healthy, prosperous urbanist who bikes or rides the trolley to your conveniently located office and can have groceries or dinners delivered to the door when convenient, and can always use a car share service for that occasional drive to the mountains, and thinks everyone else should do no less. Of course, then, by your lights, someone who has trouble parking on the street will give in to the salutary pressure of improving policies and take the subway to work.

Not maybe so nice if, for example, you live in a "transit-intensive area" that's so labeled because there's a nice subway stop within half a mile of you... except it's on a subway line that doesn't go to your workplace... and your workplace demands a long commute to an awkward location, maybe at night... or you have children and groceries to drive around... or home care supplies to pick up and bring home for a disabled relative... or you have the relative, who uses a walker, to drive to medical appointments and day care... and you have to park on the street in your neighborhood because you can't afford to rent space in a private lot....

So what you end up doing is not happily taking that transit line to a place you have no reason to go, but miserably parking farther and farther from home, and dragging your groceries and medical supplies for greater distances along the street on foot, and paying more parking tickets for those moments when you give up and pull into a driveway or a red zone because you have to get near your home somehow...

...oh, for pity's sake, don't try to punish people into taking transit. Make the transit better.

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