Parking Lot Rising
Parking Garage, photo by flickr user Jasonmp

Los Angeles Magazine has a great feature on Donald Shoup and the high cost of parking and parking regulations. It starts with a hilarious tale of how the Los Angeles Philharmonic exists to pay for parking garage the city mandated in the concert hall:

Yet before an auditorium could be raised on K, a six-floor subterranean garage capable of holding 2,188 cars needed to be sunk below it at a cost of $110 million—money raised from county bonds. Parking spaces can be amazingly expensive to fabricate. In aboveground structures they cost as much as $40,000 apiece. Belowground, all that excavating and shoring may run a developer $140,000 per space. The debt on Disney Hall’s garage would have to be paid off for decades to come, and as it turned out, a minimum schedule of 128 annual shows would be enough to cover the bill. The figure “128” was even written into the L.A. Philharmonic’s lease. In 2003, Esa-Pekka Salonen opened Frank Gehry’s masterpiece to a packed house with Mahler’sResurrection, and in the years since, concertgoers—who lay out $9 to enter the garage—have steadily funded performances that exist to cover the true price of their parking.

I recommend the entire thing. I also highly recommend Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking.

28 Replies to “The Cost of Parking Regulation”

  1. Good post. Always good to see all the costs of a national transportation system based on private automobiles. If we’re going to “run society like a business”, shareholders must above all be able to see an honest balance sheet.

    Interesting local comparison, whose facts should be relatively easy to obtain, would be to compare the costs of the parking facilities at Benaroya Hall with those of University Street tunnel station.

    Next comparison would be which facility presently most maximizes its own potential- though fairest assessment might be possible after LINK gets built service in remaining two directions.

    However, for transit’s own sake, it might be a good idea to see how we’re doing now, after over twenty years of DSTT’s existence. Like automobile transportation needs to be aware of its own costs, transit needs to know where it should be working better.

    Meantime, in these days of “resets” that fall heaviest on lower incomes, taxpayers definitely need to know if concert patrons are paying the real cost of their own parking. In Los Angeles at least, time was that the last thing anybody in the concert set wanted to be called was a cheapskate.

    Talk about “You’ll never eat lunch in this town again!”

    Mark Dublin

    Mark Dublin

  2. Another gem from the article:

    “Parking had never crossed Shoup’s mind when he left Yale for L.A. in 1968—his focus was public finance and land-value theory. In 1975, he stumbled onto a master’s thesis by two USC students who had worked their way through school parking cars for a man named Rex Link. “Link,” says Shoup, “was annoyed that county workers were offered free parking downtown when federal workers had to pay. ” Link’s student employees proposed a study. “They found that 72 percent of county workers drove to work alone,” says Shoup, “but 60 percent of federal employees carpooled, took public transportation, or even walked. These were workers in the same professions, driving to the same location.” When forced to pay a practical value for their parking, drivers were twice as likely to carpool—traffic congestion was halved, carbon emissions were halved.

    Great find, thank you.

  3. Building on/Combining Epark:

    With Performance Based Pricing for Onstreet Parking:

    How long until we have a citywide real time performance based parking system? Is what we are putting in place now able to scale to such a thing?

    It seems to me that the way forward is really maximize our existing parking infrastructure. Kudos to Dow Constantine for stepping in and suggesting that some of the Counties parking be used in lu of the spaces being taken up by the North Lot TOD project, considering it’s office building parking which is mostly only used during the day, whereas most Qwest Field events are during the weekend, you’d think it’d be a no brainer, but sadly no, it’s considered ground breaking. *rolleyes*

    “Construction is set to start next week on the North Lot project, which includes 400,000 square feet of offices, 35,000 square feet of retail space and 800 family-oriented homes, including 100 units affordable to people earning up to 70 percent of median income. It would be the largest transit-oriented development on the West Coast, putting homes near King Street train station and several major bus lines, along with urban amenities in Pioneer Square and the International District.”

    This is what you can do when you actually try to maximize existing structural parking infrastructure instead of adding more or letting lot parking blight our city core.

    1. Working in Pioneer Square near the North Lot, the time parking is most short is on weekday seahawks home games, which we happened to have two of in the course of two weeks (a Thursday game and a Monday game).

      1. I’ve been to the internet hub at the Westin Bldg … they even converted one of the elevator shafts into a wire conduit

        serious stuff there

  4. “In a trendy area like Melrose Avenue’s shopping district, where parking on side streets is forbidden to visitors, Shoup would open those residential blocks to market-priced meters, wooing home owners by guaranteeing that meter profits would be turned over to them in the form of property tax deductions.”

    Genius. The one way to get people to give up their “free” parking: pay them to do so.

    1. I’ve wondered about a similar solution for Metro’s downtown base employee garage. Many of us need parking since we arrive before transit service is available. Despite that, many of us ride bikes or are able to take transit so there is currently a surplus of parking. (Metro is looking into leasing the extra parking spaces)

      I’d be curious to see how things would shake out if all downtown base employees were given a bonus of some kind to cover the parking fees and then institute paid parking. On game days alone the premium those spots would generate would likely pay for the program. (Well, FC Sounder match days. Mariner’s games barely cause a blip in the prices above the typical “early bird” specials ;)

      1. I think that would work great. I think you’ll see parking drop to a small fraction of what it is now, and you can rent out more space.

    2. It’s a smart idea on paper, but it would literally take begging by the well-heeled residents before the City of LA would start something like that. Excess revenue from meters and citations (citations being the majority, including those on pref parking streets) goes into the general fund. Why would they give that up?

      1. Then instead of going directly back to the residents, promise that money back in terms of street and sidewalk improvements. I’d take that deal in a minute.

  5. Is there a feasible way to get the sinking ship turned into something useful? Eminent domain that piece of crud.

      1. Ooh. That might make a good West Seattle Gondola site. Close to both the ferries and Link. Retail on the ground floor, apartments above, gondola on top with a fast elevator to the street.

      2. That’s about the same span as the Peak 2 Peak at Whistler which sags 1,000 feet. Are you proposing a gondola ride across Elliott Bay?

      3. Close. Over Harbor Island, so we can put in towers. I’m currently thinking about something like this.

      4. Maybe, I was thinking that Harbor Island would be the only possibility. Still have to think about clearing the shipping channels. What is the clearance that was required for the high span West Seattle Bridge? Towers would have to be above that to allow for the cable drop. Other than that too many stations on the West Seattle side. A simple tram from an elevator transfer floor in the Columbia Tower to West Seattle would move a lot more people that the hole in the water Water Taxi for less money and provide better service.

      5. You’re thinking tower-less? Assuming the structure can handle it (that’s a big lever arm), that would be awesome. But I’m not sure the elevators could handle the flow of people.

        Yeah, I assume we’ll need some tall towers for the Harbor Island run. We don’t want to come close to getting in the way of port operations – that’s just too valuable. Though we might only need a single tower at the NE corner and do a single span west of that. Those stations are certainly too close together on the W Seattle side – they’re more place holders until I can decide where to put them.

      6. Part of the reason I was thinking tram like at Jackson Hole or Snowbird. I would think a 60 person or so tram that departs on the 10’s would be ample capacity and not overload the buildings lobby and elevator space. There are some examples of “lifts” like this from buildings but I can’t remember where off the top of my head.

      7. Nah. If we’re going to build this, we might as well not limit ourselves on capacity. How about this: Carry on right through the Columbia Tower, right up Columbia to Sweedish. This would remove most of the lever arm issue, and give a high-capacity exit right near Seattle U and the First Hill streetcar.

      8. If that all lines up it would be a great connection. I’m still more of a fan of trams for several reasons. A couple of trams passing every ten minutes is picturesque whereas a string of gondoobbies not so much. Easier to keep clean and maintain. Much easier loading and ADA compliant. The equivalent of a full bus every ten minutes seems like plenty of capacity. It would be more than the water taxi and 3X as frequent (well, more like 2X with the extension to Pill Hill pushing it out to every 15 minutes). That’s probably all the building infrastructure can support. If it turns out to be a victim of it’s own success then there will be a clamor to build more aerial trams to connect other parts of the city. There are trams that carry 121 and 200 people but that would likely be overkill the vast majority of the time.

      9. But you’re adding an average of 5 minute wait time for no reason. You need larger stations (and other equipment) with trams, and rather than a constant flow of people to the elevators you get large slugs of people. There are no ADA issues with gondolas. We could always start with fewer gondolas and add more as demand ramps up. Also, a tram wouldn’t work if we have more than one stop unless they’re equidistant.

        I think Portland made a mistake when they went with a tram rather than gondolas.

    1. It’s the worst monstrosity in the city. Must come down and a re-created Seattle Hotel built in its place.

  6. I sort of understand these things from personal experience. The one reason I come downtown these days is to go to Benaroya Hall. Sometimes I take my car in and fork over the $10 to park. Lately I’ve been experimenting with transit. Initially I would park in Kent Station and take the Sounder in on one of the two evening reverse trains and then take the 150 back. Then I switched to parking at Tukwila and taking LINK.

    In both instances I was glad to have free parking. I felt it necessary as a bridge to drive to these stations because in the case of LINK there is no viable way that I found to get from International Station to Kent (well, almost to anywhere!) and the bus service from Kent Station becomes sketchy late at night and even when working can result in very long wait times at the station.

    Going home from Benaroya, obviously LINK runs more frequently, though I sometimes did not feel especially safe as I got to the more remote stations (recent crimes have proven that fear justified). The 150 has a long wait time from the city and also takes a horrendously long time to snake around through Southcenter, doing the 20 miles to Kent in about an hour…or one third the speed of a car.

    If I had to pay for parking at either of these venue, I would simply drive in and pay the $10. In fact, since I’m increasingly displeased with downtown, I have thought about canceling my subscription after six years. I think having Benaroya in its current location actually hurts the symphony and it would get more listeners if it were more like a suburban sports arena with lots of free parking in a safer area.

    So, this is another case where Transitistas are all too willing to penalize and berate the citizen without giving him any reasonable alternative that is truly viable.

    1. Recent crime. Singular. And it was a simple grab-and-run. Violating and vile, yes, but not exactly violent. Be aware of your surroundings and your belongings and you’ll be fine.

      If you really want your stuff stolen, though, a “suburban sports arena with lots of free parking” is the best place for that to happen. Acres and acres of cars with their inhabitants reliably gone for hours and nothing or no one else around. And then you’ll have to clean up the broken glass, too.

      Regardless, John, you didn’t really engage with the topic of the post, which was expensively-subsidized urban parking structures. No one here disputes that, thanks to decades of sprawling development of the very kind you advocate, somewhat subsidized parking in Tukwila — the truly “remote” location, funny how you attempted to twist that word — is now a necessary evil.

      1. Admittedly, downtown Seattle manifests a very strange dissonance: viscerally sketchy yet statistically safe.

        It’s a spacial problem (cavernous streets that inhibit pedestrian critical mass at all but the busiest times), a use problem (most general-populace-attracting uses shutter at 6pm), and a transit problem (evening transit is directed at the lowest common denominator, so that’s who dominates 3rd and Pine).

        But Benaroya Hall literally has an elevator directly from the swanky lobby to the subway mezzanine — almost as if it’s been custom-designed for the terrified suburbanite who’d rather not set foot outside after dark. So I don’t know what our resident terrified suburbanite John is complaining about.

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