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Posts Tagged ‘parking’

There’s simply not a travel destination in the world where the most memorable feature is plenty of free parking.  A vast expanse of pavement is usually not where you want to be, rather it’s an unfortunate and forgettable layover separating you from your real destination.  Indeed, increasingly, the lack of parking or very expensive parking are considered a reliable indicator that you’re in a great urban place. There’s a “walkability index” calculation available for neighborhoods across the country. Parkability is not an actual thing.

So again this year, with the generous good humor of the City of Coeur d’Alene, KEA will be participating in the annual global Park(ing) Day event calling for a reclamation of parking places for the benefit of people and parks.  We will reclaim a few downtown spaces on Friday to make our point.

PARK(ing) Day at Art Spirit Gallery 2010 - photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Admittedly, downtown Coeur d’Alene is probably the most walkable and appealing destination in our entire region. But it’s not because of parking.  In fact, much of the plan for renovating McEuen Park is motivated by removing a dreadful mistake of a parking lot from what is an extraordinary lakeside location.  We’re not exactly fans of the replacement parking plans — we think the replacement parking is still oversupplied, expensive, and incorrectly located — but the controversy itself is perhaps a good sign.  The more we really think about the costs, the more likely we’ll free ourselves from the burden of cheap parking.

 

 

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The estimated costs for McEuen Park were released this morning and, not surprisingly, a huge hunk of the costs for the park are in the parking facility. We still think this is both unfortunate and unnecessary. The total McEuen project costs, according to the released estimates (pdf), range from $23.8 million to $28.0 million.

Although drowned out by noisier complaints about the boat launch (and maybe to a lesser extent Tubbs Hill), the design of the Front Avenue parking facility remains a big gripe of ours. It provides an oversupply of parking, in the wrong location, and in a manner that physically and visually separates downtown from the park and lakefront.  Now that the cost figures have been released, the problems are even more clear.

Team McEuen estimates Front Avenue parking to cost from $7.0 million to $8.3 million and other Front Avenue improvements to cost from $1.2 million to $1.4 million. In other words, Front Avenue and its parking consumes about one third of the cost of the entire project. Moreover, these costs do not include a second below-street  “Centennial Level” of parking, which has been shown on previous Team McEuen illustrations (as shown above). This newly “alternate” lowest level of parking would add another $5.5 million to $6.5 million.

A better, cheaper, and more functional location for downtown and McEuen parking is not under Front Avenue, but on vacant and underutilized properties north of Sherman. Construction and design costs are likely to be much lower, and the more central location would be much better for the future economic development purposes of downtown. We think the investment in improvements to McEuen Park are worth doing, but only if the investments are in the park itself, not a parking facility.

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We are in the process of developing our detailed comments to Team McEuen regarding the proposals for McEuen Park. Over the next few days, we’ll roll out some of our thoughts and concerns relating to the proposal here on the blog. Today: Parking.

Team McEuen’s approach to parking is quite literal in its adherence to the city-prescribed design principle to “ensure the replacement of any displaced facilities with equal or better facilities.” The team has essentially doubled the parking by place several below-grade levels under Front Street and by expanding the lot by City Hall.

While we are 100% supportive of the removal of the current wasteful and ugly surface parking lot, Team McEuen’s design approach to parking, in our view, is still troublesome. The design is visually problematic and limits pedestrian access to the park. Moreover, we believe the proposed parking is expensive, oversupplied, and in the wrong location for the broader purposes of the City of Coeur d’Alene.

1. Access to the park – The location and structure of the parking facility on Front Street will seriously limit the points of access to the park itself from downtown. Access from downtown will be limited to discrete stairways and bridge structures from the parking facility into the park. Indeed a pedestrian from downtown will need to traverse the parking. The goal of linking downtown to the waterfront is actually impeded by placing the parking structure along and under Front Street. Access, both to and from the park, by crowds for big events like the Fourth of July, is actually going to be impeded by such limited access.  Besides, denser structured parking would be better located on the City Hall side, or better yet, a block or two away in downtown itself.

2. Sightlines from the park toward the city – While much detailed work has been done to enhance and protect the vistas from the park to the water, the parking structure will be seriously to the detriment of the vista from the park toward downtown. Indeed when a visitor looks from the well-appointed park back toward the commercial center of town, the view will be, essentially, a two story wall of parking. While vegetative screening is likely to help somewhat, the distinct and severe structural boundary will remain for all to see.

3. Oversupplied in the wrong location – The emphasis on the parking in Team McEuen’s design has resulted in a dramatic oversupply of parking that will only on the rarest of occasions be used to capacity.  Indeed, the current lots are only rarely at capacity. Moreover, to the extent that the parking capacity is needed for the downtown central business district, it is located at what will be the permanent periphery of downtown, making downtown growth northerly less probable. To the extent that the parking is needed for the park itself, it is at a location which will make pedestrian traffic through the business district much less likely, limiting the purported economic advantages to redeveloping the park. We strongly suggest that the bulk of the parking, and particularly any significant parking structures, be located away from the park, above Sherman Ave.  This will be a much greater benefit to downtown businesses, and will ameliorate the impacts of having a structure on the park’s border.

4. Expensive – Structured parking may be the most expensive feature at McEuen Park, and it would be a bit of a travesty if a large proportion of the funding for the park’s renovation went to parking rather than the park itself. We are not necessarily opposed to structured parking downtown –it could serve a number of important redevelopment purposes – just not at McEuen Park. There are a number of locations north of Sherman Ave. that would make much better locations for a parking facility, and at which the structure could be built much less expensively, or as part of a mixed-use development less dependent on government-arranged financing.

 

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So, the grand plans for McEuen Park will be rolled out to the public at a meeting at North Idaho College Thursday evening (Student Union Building, Coeur d’Alene Room, 6pm). We will be acutely interested to see how the plans will be received.

The controversial proposal eliminates most of the surface parking area and boat launch, eliminates the ball fields, and may be expensive to build and maintain. But the proposal has some striking design features and makes the park much more functional and user-friendly. Indeed, based on our preliminary review of sketches on Team McEuen’s website, there’s much to like, there’s much that could be better, and there’s a lot to be to be concerned about too.

For example, on the one hand, we are quite glad to see the proposal largely eliminates the ugly and wasteful surface parking lot. On the other hand, the replacement underground parking seems to be significantly over-supplied and it will be expensive to implement. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and better for both the park and downtown businesses to relocate the lost parking into some of the other vacant land around downtown? Wouldn’t that create more opportunities for redevelopment and foot-traffic in downtown?

We are also very concerned with the impacts on Tubbs Hill. There are a number of features that encroach upon the natural integrity of Coeur d’Alene’s significant and fiercely-protected natural landmark. Although we agree that McEuen Park could use a serious facelift, Tubbs Hill needs no enhancement and should be left alone. Rather than the design team attempting to accommodate the Park by expanding features into Tubbs Hill, we think Tubbs Hill’s clear natural boundaries should be accommodated by the Park’s design.

At the moment, we’re mostly agnostic about the boat ramp and the ball fields. One of the guiding principles of the design, supposedly, is that any amenities removed from McEuen will be relocated elsewhere to be at least as good or better. We’re open to what they will suggest. And we’re agnostic as to some of the more elaborate design flourishes. We think much will depend on how much the new park will cost to build and maintain. The burden of persuasion clearly belongs to Team McEuen, but we are hoping to be persuaded.

With a lot of people with a lot of interest in a lot of topics related to the re-design, Team McEuen will be challenged to provide for public input opportunities that the public will demand. The web page is nice, and the facebook page is engaging, but some formalized process, we think, will be necessary. We’d also like to see some supporting narrative accompanying the proposal, and some images large enough to more fully understand the details.

At this point, we look forward to the discussion. See you there Thursday night?

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We’re having a great deal of fun today in Coeur d’Alene. It’s our first-ever PARK(ing) Day. Thank you to our volunteers, our suppliers, our sponsors, our contributors, our artists. And a secret special thank you goes to the City of Coeur d’Alene for being such a good sport about it. We’re posting pictures all day over at the facebook page.

PARK(ing) Day at Art Spirit Gallery - photo by KEA BlackberryCam

But what exactly is the point of all this? Basically, that inexpensive parking is not really all that inexpensive. There are significant costs throughout our car culture, but today we focus particularly on costs associated with our insistence on being able to park our cars wherever we want.

From a purely environmental perspective, vast expanses of asphalt are problematic for a number of reasons, but most critically problematic because of stormwater runoff. Rather than water slowly infiltrating back into the soils, stormwater runs off into our streams and rivers and lakes, quickly, warmly, and filled with pollutants.

Artificially inexpensive parking is indirectly problematic because it encourages us to use our cars in ways that are inefficient and unnecessary. We’ll drive further and more often because the leapfrog of parking lots makes walking less efficient, and because even well-designed mass transit can’t compete.

PARK(ing) Day at Java on Sherman - photo by KEA BlackberryCam

But collectively we’re wasting a lot of money. Bottom line numbers from the well-researched book “The High Cost of Free Parking” indicate that the “free parking subsidy” cost Americans a collective $127 billion in 2002.  Most free parking spaces have land values worth far more than the cars parked on them.  In Coeur d’Alene, this is particularly acute along the valuable lakefront.

Not everyone is onboard. When one of our PARK(ing) Day locations was setting up this morning, a detractor driving a huge truck commented, “I own a business down here, where am I supposed to park?” just before pulling out of his free on-street parking spot. Notwithstanding a business model that has the owner taking up his customers’ parking, this is a frequent complaint among those accustomed to the parking subsidy.

What we’re saying today is that we need to rethink our parking. And we’re pleased to be part of a global effort to do so.

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As someone who had to pay more than $20 to park a car for a day in downtown Baltimore, I walked to work. North Idaho, however, is at the exact opposite end of the parking spectrum with acres and acres of inexpensive parking.

In some instances, parking is located on extremely valuable land. Visitors come from around the country and around the world to enjoy the natural beauty of our area, but there’s a huge expanse of parking separating the City of Coeur d’Alene’s downtown core from its namesake Lake. At Independence Point, what would otherwise be a world-class gateway to the City, visitors are treated to yet another parking lot.

So this Friday in Coeur d’Alene, KEA is joining with artists, activists and citizens around the globe will temporarily transform parking spaces into public parks and other social spaces, as part of an annual event called PARK(ing) Day.” In a press release, the PARK(ing) Day founders describe it:

Originally invented in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco-based art and design studio, PARK(ing) Day challenges people to rethink the way streets are used and reinforces the need for broad-based changes to urban infrastructure. “In urban centers around the world, inexpensive curbside parking results in increased traffic, wasted fuel and more pollution,” says Rebar’s Matthew Passmore. “The strategies that generated these conditions are not sustainable, nor do they promote a healthy, vibrant human habitat. PARK(ing) Day is about re-imagining the possibilities of the urban landscape.”

Since 2005, the PARK(ing) Day project has blossomed into a worldwide grassroots movement: PARK(ing) Day 2009 included more than 700 installations in more than 140 cities in 21 countries on six continents. This year, the project continues to expand to urban centers across the globe, including the first-ever PARK installation in Tehran, Iran. “Urban inhabitants worldwide recognize the need for new approaches to making the urban landscape,” says Rebar’s John Bela. “PARK(ing) Day demonstrates that even temporary or interim spatial reprogramming can improve the character of the city.”

PARK(ing) Day is a grassroots, “open-source” invention built by independent groups around the globe who adapt the project to champion creative, social or political causes that are relevant to their local urban conditions.

We understand that Kootenai Environmental Alliance, and our fellow instigators around town, will be the only participants from Idaho in this year’s global event. Look for us on Friday, September 17.  Better yet, come join use and help us re-imagine parking lot pavement in North Idaho.

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