East Side Monthly covered Mayor Elorza's efforts to add parking meters to business districts, including the Wayland business district (see page 7, February edition). The article is balanced in a journalistic sense. Wayland merchants do not like parking meters, which they are afraid will scare away customers. The city believes that parking meters will help customer turnover, and notes that the meters bring important revenue.
As with many Providence policymaking experiments, NIMBY complaints have been accommodated, but in a way that results in a less effective system. The article ominously notes that Hope Street may have its meters "reevaluated" after they've supposedly had a negative impact on residents. Mayoral spokesperson Evan England states that on Atwells Avenue, meters were "strategically" placed away from valet areas, to accommodate the custom of offering free valet service to restaurant customers on that street.
Learn from the expert! Stop doing things wrong, Providence!
Donald Shoup calls for meter rates that leave one to two spots open per block at any given time. That means that if a price of zero would lead to one or two spots open, then for that time period the meter rate should be zero. If the price is $6.00 an hour, then that is the price. It rolls up and down according to parking demand. This helps with turnover, which the city cites.
But key information is missing. Shoup calls for 100% of the revenue to go into the hands of local merchants and residents as either tax cuts or increased services. The money is not meant to go into general funds for the city. Mayor Elorza's office needs to fix this now. I am going to be seriously pissed as an urbanist voter if the mayor's office fails to implement good parking policy because of greediness. The Wayland merchants are wrong to block parking meters, but are right to be annoyed that they're losing money. Citywide, the article in ESM cites $4.2 million in additional revenue. That revenue should be earmarked according to which meters it comes from, and merchants should be able to decide how to use it. Do they want to put the money into lower prices for customers? Do they want to give bonuses to employees? Do they want to improve the buildings they operate? That's for them to decide.
Parking meters belong wherever parking demand is high--that means that the city should not be leaving open spots for valets, or exempting residential areas. But again, that also means that the people who have businesses, houses, or apartments adjacent to those meters should be receiving the money that is collected locally. For residents that could literally be represented as a check each year: in return for living next to a high-demand parking area, the city should thank residents for dealing with parking overflow by lowering their taxes.
Two-hour limits have problems. It means that the city needs to employ just as much enforcement as before, but without any revenue. It means that parking uses have to be planned in a Politburo style, instead of allowing for flexibility. I've heard people describe Shoup's parking policies as only about turnover. That's not necessarily correct. Parking is needed for a variety of needs, some of which are long-term, and others short-term. If someone is willing to pay to be in a spot for eight hours, as a commuter, then they should be able to be there. If a food truck wants to pay a commercial rate to be operating in the real estate that is a parking spot, then that should be allowed, so long as they pay. Short-term parking is important, but is manageable if we treat parking as a commodity, which is what it is. The two-hour limits just don't make sense and result in a lot of conflicts over the varied uses that people need.
I'm not well-traveled. I've never been to Canada, much less Europe or anywhere truly "exotic". But I do read, and I do look at plans for other cities. Do you know what strikes me most about the European cities I look at? They don't have their teeth knocked out of them by parking. Look at this birds-eye view of Barcelona:
I wrote a piece using Joe Minicozzi's analysis of per-acre value back when Councilwoman Sabina Matos foolishly advocated against pedestrian safety in order to bring a Family Dollar and McDonalds drive-thru to Olneyville. The brick-and-mortar storefronts that we least pay attention to in Providence are pulling in far more revenue with far less public investment, because they're not parking-heavy. This relationship is obscured by our city's continual efforts (with state and federal help) to subsidize parking and driving. Per-acre value is undermined every time when avoid dealing with parking, because ultimately it leads us to knock down more buildings for more parking lots. It's buildings, not parking lots, that drive our city's value.
Our city needs to deal with its parking problem, and it needs to make sure that when it does so, the effort doesn't look like an attempt to punish business. Let's give businesses and residents the revenue that comes from the parking meters, like Donald Shoup called for.