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Clear Distinction Between Elorza and Smiley on Parking

Two candidates, Brett Smiley and Jorge Elorza, sent their mayoral questionnaires in before the June 1st deadline. A third candidate, Michael Solomon, will be sending one shortly. In an email, Solomon's campaign apologized for missing the deadline, saying that the questionnaire was not seen because we had sent it to the candidate's city council email--campaign rules dictate that city staff cannot process or forward campaign materials. We expect to publish that candidate's responses as soon as they are received.

The Smiley and Elorza campaigns showed very different views on parking policy. Parking policy is extremely important for Providence's development, so we're highlighting it.

When presenting the questionnaire, it was a real challenge to think of how to highlight the differences we thought were important without favoring any candidate. We will be posting the full responses to the questionnaire soon, but first we wanted to make a specific post about parking, because on that issue the candidates show distinctly different positions, and because we consider parking to be among the issues that it is hardest to get municipal officials to understand or commit to good policies on--you often hear even progressive candidates say that they want to support transit or bikes, for instance, but hear the same candidates be unwilling to take parking lanes as transit or bike lanes.

Smiley's campaign submitted their questionnaire much earlier than Elorza's, and answered point-by-point in great detail what their positions were. Although Elorza's campaign had no knowledge of the other candidate's responses, he did have the benefit of another month of hammering from our blog on the issue of parking--Smiley's poor showing on this issue deserves at least the benefit of the doubt given his early participation in the questionnaire. While we find Smiley's positions on parking unacceptable at present, it's noteworthy that the candidate has shown such extreme openness and accountability, and that its positions have been so detailed, and this places candidate Smiley ahead of other contenders.

Elorza for his part should not be forgotten by voters--as we said, parking instigates a kind of animal ferocity in people which clouds their judgment and makes them territorial, and his willingness to commit without waffling on parking issues is a home run.

Since we are less interested in who wins the campaign than in what policies get enacted, we wonder whether the other candidates will learn from Elorza's campaign and quickly change their positions on parking minimums, parking maximums, the use of parking lanes to benefit transit or biking, as well as on subsidized garages like Garrahy. Smiley, who at least anecdotally has been at every biking event we have participated in, has shown himself to be a candidate deeply interested in urbanism, but he needs to play catch-up to Elorza if we wants to votes of bikers, transit-users, and land use advocates.

On some issues, simple answers work extremely well, and in the realm of parking, this is especially the case. It doesn't take a political scientist to work out complex answers to whether or not we should subsidize a garage--the answer is yes or no. For other areas, however, having finely tuned answers may be the make-or-break between a good and a great candidate. This is one reason we hold out interest in Smiley. Again, on parking, his positions are at present completely unacceptable. But while Elorza's campaign committed to a variety of other good positions on things like transit funding or bike infrastructure--which we will go into on the next post--his campaign"s answers were less detailed (e.g., what funding sources will we use to fund transit? Where will the protected bike lanes be?) Elorza's campaign will benefit from efforts to fill in the gaps on details around the implementation of those positions so that voters can commit themselves more fully to his campaign.

We would certainly value a candidate with the detail of Smiley and the instincts of Elorza.

Candidate Statements: Parking (Bold are our prompts. Regular typeface is the candidate's response to the prompt. Green Italics are our responses to the candidates' positions.)
Brett Smiley

Agree/Disagree: Free parking is a necessary evil because it encourages business growth. 

We want a thriving business environment in Providence, and the ability for customers to get to commercial areas easily is important. Parking needs to be in the equation, but so does pedestrian, bike and public transportation access. First, it’s important to distinguish between lots and on-street parking. When it comes to the former, someone always pays, whether it’s customers who pay to use the lot or merchants in areas like Wayland Square who own lots for their customers. For on-street parking, it’s essential to ensure that we are maximizing what is available, since on-street parking is a limited resource. Time limitations in neighborhoods without meters and meters in more dense retail areas like Thayer Street make sense. And in commercial districts with sufficient density, pedestrian and bike access should be considered as alternatives to increased parking.

Some real positives here: "bikes should be considered as an alternative to increased parking". The focus here on on-street parking is also not without merits. Providence has a past of banning overnight on-street parking, and this can have a lot of bad effects--it widens roads to allow speeding, and encourages the development of surface lots and driveways. We've encountered some resistance at times to using even poorly-occupied on-street parking as protected bike lanes because of people's residual fears from those policies. So the candidate is right to point this out.

The recognition that someone pays for parking--whether customers or merchants, or event taxpayers, is a good observation. 

Agree/Disagree: Public financial support for parking garages can help to alleviate the
amount of surface parking in downtown.


While parking lots are not expensive either to build or to operate, garages are expensive. Since the 1960s, every public parking garage built in Downtown Providence with only one exception (Pine Street) has been built with one or more public funding sources, including city, state and federal money. Building a garage is a costly investment for the city, yet it can be worthwhile as it allows for more productive development of real estate by decreasing demand for surface lot parking.

This position needs to change. Transport Providence considers taxpayer-funded parking to be a major litmus test issue of a good or bad urban planning position--especially in a city like Providence where there's some rhetorical agreement across the candidate spectrum, even at the state level, for support of transit and biking, parking can often be the distinguishing characteristic of someone who "gets it" versus someone who does not.

The research here impresses us, though. To be honest, we were not aware of the talking point that each of the garages had been tax-funded since the '60s, although we understood that that was a trend for the country as a whole, and might have expected as much. This is a good sign from candidate Smiley, that his campaign does excellent, detailed research on issues. We think he takes the research to the wrong conclusion--it may be true that since the '60s we did a certain thing, but the better question should then be, "How's that working out for us?" We think not so well.

A garage itself can be a good use of land if privately developed, and the city can enact zoning with teeth to make it illegal to put surface parking in the downtown, so that what parking does exist is put into garages--much of downtown already is a no-surface parking zone by zoning, but we've seen how even the state government ignores the zoning code, as in the case of the Statehouse lawn. We recall good leadership from Smiley's campaign on surface lots when a historic building was torn down on Atwells Street a few months ago. The candidate issued a press release calling for a tougher stance to prevent this from happening, and showed interest in our recommendation that Providence make demolitions pay the up-front cost of maintaining a park on vacant land, since many buildings escape the ban on surface parking by intentionally allowing their buildings to go derelict until they have to be torn down for public safety reasons--in Salt Lake City, when such a demolition happens, the derelict landlord has to plant trees or put in grass and whatnot to keep the area from being a lot.

Agree/Disagree: There's already too much parking in Providence.

In the long term, we need to decrease the demand for parking. Blue Cross Blue Shield is a great example. When they moved into Capital Center, the company subsidized RIPTA passes, as opposed to parking, for its employees. Other companies like Textron, and organizations like the Rhode Island Foundation also subsidize RIPTA passes. The more we can decrease demand for parking and increase usage of a more efficient RIPTA, the better. As Mayor, I will explore providing public transit passes as opposed to parking passes for city employees.

In the short term, and in a struggling economy, we need to do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for people to work, recreate and shop in Providence. Parking is a piece of that puzzle, and more parking benefits city businesses as we explore viable, long-term solutions.

This short-term/long-term distinction, we feel, is a hedge. Consider the Garrahy garage, for instance. How does one build a garage as a "short-term" solution? The way that the garage becomes solvent over time is by attracting cars to park in it for money. If the state puts money towards a garage, it is committing itself either to wasting its money, or to making the money back by attracting cars. So we would encourage Smiley to stop thinking in this short-term/long-term dichotomy as it affects parking. The future is today. We need to take action now, especially given the great expense of the parking garages.

Agree/Disagree: Park & Rides are a tool in the fight for higher transit ridership.

Agree. See above – park & rides are a logical way of dealing with demand for parking while encouraging RIPTA ridership.

The candidate explained in sending his responses that they spent quite a lot of time talking to experts in RIPTA, RIDOT, Providence Planning, etc., etc., about each of their responses to the prompts, and this response strikes us as what we'd expect RIPTA to say about this. So our response to this is as much a criticism of RIPTA as it is of Smiley. The national trend is towards a recognition that lots for people to park in are less useful than development hubs with buildings that people can take the bus from. Having lived in South County, we've taken the long bus ride on the 66 past several park & rides whose only access point is driving on nasty, overbuilt roads. Those park & rides are sometimes next to useful things like grocery stores or clothing outlets, but those, in turn, are built with lots of parking. Baking sun on pavement and dangerous roads make it unlikely that anyone would walk from the bus stop to those locations, buy things, and go back to the bus. The Wickford Junction stop of the T, just down the road from a RIPTA park & ride for the 66, has struggled to get ridership, whereas it might have been more productively developed as parking-free or parking-lite apartments and workplaces that could have drawn bi-directional transit use. So we recognize that the candidate is doing his due diligence is reflecting what leaders in RIPTA or RIDOT most likely said, but we still think this position is wrong.

Agree/Disagree: Parking minimums must be eliminated from the entire city.

While it’s too broad to claim that minimums must be eliminated from the entire city, I do believe they should be eliminated from commercial areas that are served by transit, including RIPTA buses, MBTA and Amtrak.

We strongly disagree. Parking minimums are a tax on business to encourage driving. The baseline for Providence zoning should be no parking minimums at all, anywhere in the city. We feel this should go statewide as well. Anyone who wants parking can certainly build it, so why require it? 

Agree/Disagree: Targeted areas of the city might benefit from parking maximums, especially in downtown or around transit-hubs.

Parking maximums can be effective, but only with a properly funded public transit system and a concerted, coordinated effort to increase affordable housing options in commercial areas.

Unfortunately, RIPTA does not currently have the funding this would require, and while Providence is working on creating residential property at the requisite scale, there is still a long way to go.

Boston has been required to enforce parking maximums for decades by a federal pollution reduction order, which has worked because, during the same time, MBTA service expanded and increased and more people moved to the core areas the MBTA serves. With those factors working together in Providence, this could be a successful strategy here as well.

Some cities would be happy with candidates who say the above. We feel Providence can do better. We commend the candidate for being willing to consider parking maximums, but as in other areas of his parking policy, he procrastinates rather than taking action. We recommend a reading of Donald Shoup. His original UCLA paper on the subject showed that even in San Francisco--which at the time had the highest development subsidy towards transit in the country--parking requirements undercut transit by a 5-to-1 ratio, if each dollar was considered. Providence has a much lower transit subsidy, and we encourage candidates to look at how to better fund transit. But well-funded transit with poor land use will not work. 

The parking maximums currently proposed in places like North Main Street are too timid. A lot of 150 spaces would be allowed in "transit-oriented development" along the R-line. 150 spaces may be fine in a non-transit-oriented-development area, but the hubs where we focus on transit should be more tightly controlled. Simply banning parking within 100 feet of transit stops would be a good step, with allowances (but not requirements!) for slightly more parking at 100-foot intervals, until we approach a point where there is just the baseline policy of no parking minimum with no parking maximum.

How much does one parking spot average in the United States? How much is the cost of one parking spot in Providence? What are the factors in the price?

A well-designed parking garage in the Greater Downtown area (Capital Center to the Jewelry District) will cost in excess of $30,000 per space. Besides basic material and labor costs, which are not much cheaper in Providence than they are in Boston, similar factors affect parking construction in both: sub-surface soil (structural) premiums, design requirements, lot configurations, property costs, property taxes paid on the land, and improvements later on.

Correct. And we would add that at $43 Million, the total cost of the garage is more than the $35 Million renovation of Nathan Bishop Middle School was. Certainly food for thought.

Providence just had a very successful Park(ing) Day. What can the city do to grow this festival more? What can the city do to implement permanent parklets?

Pop-Up parklets are a wonderful idea. As Mayor, I will continue this and other similar creative ideas. In the past, it has taken enormous time and effort. I would love to see these made a part of the permanent fabric of our city, but we would first need commitments for sufficient human resources and financial resources to properly operate and manage them. This is exactly the type of challenge that would be addressed by the Office of Strategic Partnerships I proposed (SmileyForMayor.com/jobs) to find new, creative ways to bridge the public and private sectors in order to fund projects such as these.

We're proud to see that our candidates understand the importance of Park(ing) Day.



As stated above, Elorza's campaign offered a shorter synopsis of their positions, and we have taken the parking-related ones and put them below.

• Implement permanent parklets and promote Park(ing) Day.

• Streamline parking payment options and create more solar-powered parking


• Include parking requirements for bicycles in new development projects.

• Remove parking minimums and establish parking maximums.

• Do not provide public support for parking garages.

Also as stated above, some of these positions require more detail over time, and we look forward to seeing them fleshed out. The most notable thing here is a clear and unequivocal support for removal of parking minimums and opposition to public funding for parking garages. But as we've picked apart Smiley's positions on parking maximums, for instance, and criticized Providence Planning for not going far enough in the Re: Zoning process, we have to call for a count from candidate Elorza--how stringent do you propose your parking maximums to be? Where should they go? How big should they be? 

For support of Park(ing) Day: how should we support it as a city? Through funding? Through better procedures around reservation of parking spots? What will the city do under Elorza to support permanent parklets? Will these be funded publicly, or will there be an easier way for businesses to sign up for them than currently? Will there be a requirement of a certain number per neighborhood?--Amsteerdam, for instance, sets a goal of removing 2-3% of its parking per year, and parklets can be a part of that strategy.

We look forward to hearing more, but well done on opposing Garrahy funding and on removing parking minimums!


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