Los Angeles Magazine, NYT take long looks at parking — and all those spaces sitting idle

I don’t know what my life is coming to. Friends sent me two lengthy and interesting pieces about parking today — and I read them both in their entirety.

From Between the Lines in LA Mag, which focuses largely on the work of Donald Shoup and begins with his critique of the huge underground parking complex at Disney Hall:

Yet before an auditorium could be raised on K [the parcel of land where it was built], 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’s Resurrection, 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.

Donald Shoup, a Yale-trained economist and former chair of UCLA’s Department of Urban Planning, loves telling this story. Gehry’s auditorium may be wonderful, says Shoup, but it is also a fine example of poor planning. The garage—designed to serve the public good—instantly made the Metro immaterial to concertgoers, placed several thousand cars on the road every week, and pumped a few hundred tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Like any parking lot entrance, the one on Bunker Hill sucked air from street life. “L.A.,” says Shoup, “required 50 times more parking under Disney Hall than San Francisco would allow at their own hall.” Downtown already had an oversupply of garages and lots where music fans could leave their cars. “After a concert in San Francisco,” says Shoup, “the streets are full of people walking to their cars, eating in restaurants, stopping into bars and bookstores. In L.A.? The bar next door at Patina is a ghost town.” Receipts that should have gone to the philharmonic’s endowment instead are funding enough parking for nearly every ticket holder to park a car every night downtown.

Another snippet:

Shoup is not opposed to all parking lots; he’s against cities requiring parking lots. “Would you require every home to come with a pool or every office to include a dining room because someone might want it?” asks Shoup. “Why not let developers build parking where the market demands it and charge its true value?” It’s a market-based utopian wager: If you ask drivers to pay the actual price of their parking at the Grove or Santa Monica Place or Disney Hall, what would they do? If the fair price of your parking space is $60, would you view your car differently? In Manhattan a small portion of the population owns cars—it’s too expensive to park them. L.A. has the highest density of parking spaces in the world. “You can’t have the number of cars we have in L.A. without our parking lots,” says Shoup. “And you can never create urban density with the parking lots we’ve built.” They make driving too easy.

L.A. sits on a mountain-size surplus of parking it doesn’t know what to do with. “For decades,” says Willson, “cities have asked urban planners, ‘How much parking do we need?’ keeping in mind that it should be free for everyone who wants it and there’s no mass transportation involved. Shoup is saying, ‘How much parking do you want for the city you desire to live in?’ ” San Francisco or New York might have ten times the parking each has now if they had buildings like 1100 Wilshire, where the first 15 floors are all garage. But the downtown areas of those cities won’t allow it.

The piece includes history of parking L.A., some details on how variable rate meters work based on demand, and lots of other fun information.

Paved, but Still Alive in the NYT talks about the excess parking in the country and explores various ideas for reuse of underutilized lots:

In “Rethinking a Lot,” a new study of parking, due out in March, Eran Ben-Joseph, a professor of urban planning at M.I.T., points out that “in some U.S. cities, parking lots cover more than a third of the land area, becoming the single most salient landscape feature of our built environment.”

Absent hard numbers Mr. Ben-Joseph settles on a compromise of 500 million parking spaces in the country, occupying some 3,590 square miles, or an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. If the correct number is 2 billion, we’re talking about four times that: Connecticut and Vermont.

And more:

For starters we ought to take these lots more seriously, architecturally. Many architects and urban planners don’t. Beyond greener designs and the occasional celebrity-architect garage, we need to think more about these lots as public spaces, as part of the infrastructure of our streets and sidewalks, places for various activities that may change and evolve, because not all good architecture is permanent. Hundreds of lots already are taken over by farmers’ markets, street-hockey games, teenage partiers and church services. We need to recognize and encourage diversity. This is the idea behind Parking Day, a global event, around since 2005, that invites anybody and everybody to transform metered lots. Each year participants have adapted hundreds of them in dozens of countries, setting up temporary health clinics and bike-repair shops, having seminars and weddings.


For big cities like New York it is high time to abandon outmoded zoning codes from the auto-boom days requiring specific ratios of parking spaces per housing unit, or per square foot of retail space. These rules about minimum parking spaces have driven up the costs of apartments for developers and residents, damaged the environment, diverted money that could have gone to mass transit and created a government-mandated cityscape that’s largely unused. We keep adding to the glut of parking lots.

I’m surrounded by parking lots, almost literally. There’s a big parking lot for the health department next to my property — it’s usually only a little more than half full. On the blocks near mine, there are parking lots for several large churches. Those lots are full for a couple of hours a week, but the rest of the time they contribute literally nothing to the neighborhood.