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Thayer Street Does Not Need More Parking

I'm backing off considerably from the blog and the Twitter--which, I guess in my case means writing something about once a week. So let's have at it!
UPDATE: Commissioner Choyon of the CPC wrote back to me by email today to say that the CPC voted unanimously to approve the demolition of these seven buildings. To be honest, I'm not shocked that this was approved, but I am completely floored by the margin of the vote. The discussion by the commissioners was very skeptical, on its face, and lent the impression that Brown might not get its way. Please contact your city councilor to ask that Providence enact better parking policies.

UPDATE: Here is the audio of the meeting.

The final decision on these buildings lies in the hands of the Zoning Board of Review. Contact them.

The City Plan Commission met last night. That is the board that is tasked with overseeing compliance to zoning regulations in Providence. There were several issues before the Commission, but the one that drew comment was a proposal by Brown University to demolish seven houses for a surface parking lot. I'm proud to report that an anonymous Brown source came to us and reported this plan, and we broke the story through Twitter, later seeing it covered by The Projo.

I did not stay for the entire meeting. I saw all of the testimony and public comment, and it felt like the vote might have gone either way when I left. Eco RI News was present, and will almost certainly write a better blow-by-blow than I can, so I want to focus on a key argument that came up last night: many present felt that Thayer Street needs more parking.

Thayer Street does not need more parking. And that needs to be said, because even many of the people who don't want surface parking still seem to think the solution is a garage.

Really enjoyable cities are keeping their parking from growing:

Zurich is, by the way, a little bigger (390,000), and a little denser (11k per square mile, to our 9k per square mile) than Providence, but in the same ballpark. And, of course, we'd be a little bigger and a little denser if we didn't knock down housing for parking. They've had this policy since the 1990s.

Really enjoyable cities don't put parking meters in a few places, but charge demand-based parking for all the on-street parking (that is, the on-street parking that is left after they've implemented what Zurich does):

Providence has only implemented paid parking in a fits-and-starts kind of way.

Really great cities recognize their pedestrians. Did you know that Providence is in the top ten for the number of people who walk to work? This is what Thayer Street looked like closed to cars:

And here's what Thayer Street looked like when there was a legal ban on travel even during a blizzard (some businesses were open--I actually walked to get myself some pizza on Thayer):

Really enjoyable cities (though, in this case, the state is at fault) don't subsidize parking garages to the tune of tens of millions of dollars at a time when unemployment is high and school buildings are falling apart. They find better things to do with their money:

Really enjoyable cities encourage housing development to keep housing prices affordable, and to bring more customers within walking distance of shops. They charge a land tax or parking tax so that they can lower property taxes on buildings. See Pittsburgh (top) which has a 40% parking tax, and Detroit (middle) which has filled its downtown with parking. And then there's Providence (bottom):

Providence is like a corpulent man who wants to lose weight, but won't take any steps to do so. He's sitting next to a box of cookies called parking, and he keeps saying to himself "Maybe I'll increase transit frequencies. . . ". 

"Nah, I'll have another cookie!"

"Maybe I'll add protected bike lanes since all those bike racks on Brown and RISD's campus are already full. . . "

"Nah, I'll have another cookie!"

"Maybe I'll implement a tax system that rewards home owners, renters, and business owners, and gradually makes parking lots more unwieldy to own. . . "


"My left arm feels numb. . . " 

Thayer does not need more parking. What Thayer needs is a city with some self control.


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