Tuesday April 8, 2008

More thoughts on parking

Last week I wrote an article on what I perceive to be Transit Miami’s anti-car bias, and here is Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal’s thoughtful response. This is a response to the response.

First, let me say where I agree with Gabriel. We are both urbanists, and share the goal of making Miami less car-dependent, more transit and pedestrian centered. So-called “livable” cities everywhere in the world feature public spaces that put the focus on humans (as Gabriel so eloquently calls us), with public plazas, pleasant sidewalks, and convenient mass transit that makes getting around town without a car not just easy, but pleasurable. An important component of this is increased density, and we both support Miami 21, which would put higher density development where it can do the most good, and bring about other pro-pedestrian changes. We would like Miami to be more like that, and less of a car-dominated no-man’s land of suburban sprawl. Where we differ is on how that change ought to be brought about.

What happens when you can’t park?
Gabriel has clarified his position to be that the way to bring change about is to reduce parking on new developments. By decreasing the number of parking spaces, you reduce the number of drivers going there, therefore reducing the number of drivers on the road, therefore increasing the use of public transit. I don’t like this approach for two reasons — because I don’t think it’s very nice, and because I don’t think it will work. Thought-experiment with me here. Let’s say you’re going to the barbershop. You hop in your 2008 GMC Yukon Hybrid and head over to Lou’s Barbershop, in their new location at Lopez-Bernal Centre.

But guess what? LBC has insufficient parking, and there’s no space for you. That sense of frustration you’ve got there — that, to me, is not a way to win converts to the public transportation cause. Moreover, under Gabriel’s logic, you react to this situation next time by either finding a bus route to Lou’s, riding your bike, or car-pooling with a friend. Sorry, but this just does not wash with the reality that I live in. When parking shortages make driving somewhere difficult, the most natural reaction is to drive somewhere else! Lou looses your business, and the environment is the worse off if your new barbershop is farther.

Extending this logic to residences is even easier: will you move somewhere if there’s no place for you to park? Of course not. Friends stop visiting because parking is impossible (we know something about this on South Beach)? Start looking for a place to move to.

Real solutions
I am on board with a lot of the rest of Transit Miami’s solutions to this problem, including increased and improved public transportation. A good example is the streetcar, which, serving a corridor of new high-density developments (US-1 between Downtown, Edgewater, and the Midtown), would be a very good step in the right direction. People in those developments will have a real alternative to driving their cars. But make no mistake — they’ll still need cars, and people from outside the area will need places to park when they come visit.

South Beach is a very bikable city. The rest of the county is not. I don’t think the lack of a degree in urban planning makes me particularly unqualified to make those statements, but the use of Bogota as an example of rapid change is telling. Every Sunday in Bogota many roads are shut down, open only to pedestrians and cyclists. It’s quite something to see, but it does not represent a change in how that city goes about its business. Enrique Penalosa has made some improvements to the public transportation system (which most people there used before), but the urban bike lanes in downtown Bogota are empty.

Odds ‘n ends
For what it’s worth, I think that cycling and public transportation combined can be an effective way of getting around the city, and have said so and done so. I’ve disagreed with TM about the viability of a bike rental program. The very last comment at that link is from Gabriel, who said he was working on a map of how such a program would work in Miami-Dade. Well, there is no map, because outside of a very limited geographical area (say, that covered by MetroMover), the distances are just too great.

Oh, the thing about growing a mountain was a joke. But I don’t think it’s unfair to point out, when you’re talking about “experiences that both illuminate Montreal’s successes and Miami’s potential,” that a vast majority of your article has no relevance to Miami’s “potential” unless you intend to tear the whole city down and start from scratch.

Parking and the law
Technically, the article I was addressing had to do with a legislative issue — the reduction in legally-mandated parking spaces. As a matter of libertarian principle, I actually agree that the government should not be in the business of mandating parking in developments. I think adequate parking is in the interest of the developers and owners, and they ought to be the ones to determine the best definition of “adequate” (e.g. I don’t think Aventura Mall is being legally compelled to build those new garages). While this complicates the disagreement we’re talking about, I don’t think it significantly alters it.

The way forward
There is hope. A commenter on the previous post linked to a density index for various US cities. On a scale that assigns 6.22 to New York, 1.78 to Los Angeles, and 2.1 to San Diego, Miami earned a 1.55 (2000 figures, and note that this applies to the “Metro area,” e.g. for Miami it would include most of Dade and Broward). But as I stated above, parts of Miami are in fact increasing in density, and are good candidates for increased mass transit. As these lines are constructed, anyone who can will use them. The Coral Gables-Downtown commute is a good example, with some people taking the rail despite the fact that it’s more expensive then driving. If we want to change the city, the way to do it is to push for increased transit (which of course TM does) and pricing that makes public transportation an obvious bargain for everyone. Let’s build rail that goes to the airport, Little Havana, and for god’s sakes the Beach. And let’s not get distracted with trying to keep people from parking their cars.

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  1. adam    Tue Apr 8, 10:55 AM #  

    The other option with the barber shop is that you could simply walk to one in your neighborhood. A barber is a local business who you could see again and again, form a relationship with, and get tips on sports from. Most neighborhoods have at least one barber—why drive across town to get your hair cut? Eventually in a high-density city like New York or San Francisco or potentially Future-Miami, the businesses catering to local clientelle would do well enough to compete with bigger competitors and you could shop for your dinner at your corner bodega instead of driving to publix.

  2. nonee moose    Tue Apr 8, 11:53 AM #  

    Good post Alesh.

    These themes look like big-pictures. But they’re made up of a bunch of little ones.

  3. Kristen    Tue Apr 8, 12:32 PM #  

    I agree with Alesh’s reasoning that frustration isn’t the way to effective change consumer behavior. All it does is create a negative association, and in the case of drivers looking for a spot near where they want to go, it will make them take their business (and their carbon emissions) elsewhere.

    Frustration won’t work, but actual pain will. Here’s the inevitable thing that’s really going to jump start this thing: gas at $4.00 a gallon. When the gas price reaches a point where it hits people deeply enough, that will change behavior, and public sentiment will start lining up behind viable public transportation alternatives. We’re close to the tipping point now.

    Viable is the key here. Before living in Miami, I lived in Boston and New York, both cities with high population density, and viable public transportation systems that would get you anywhere you wanted to go. It IS necessary to have a car in Miami if you want to reach a wide variety of areas in a reasonable amount of time. I have been comfortably carless in other cities. I love public transportation, and I ride my bike. It would use both options more if there were a way that the cost in terms of my time had more parity with the costs of gas to drive. As it is, it could take me two or more hours to get across the city, and would require three buses at least. My time is worth more than the gas right now.

    In all of this worthy discussion, there are a couple of other issues we’ve skirted but not addressed directly, like more mixed use zoning outside of downtown, and barrier zoning which would create higher density development between traditional residential neighborhoods and commercial zones. If you really want to reduce driving, you actually need those barbershops, markets, and whatnot to be there. Not everyone lives within reasonable walking distance of amenities now. The areas in Miami that actually have that kind of walkability (The Beach, The Grove) are out of most people’s price range. This kind of policy shift would require a sea-change at the county level, and it definitely won’t happen until we get someone with some vision for the long term in there.

    Also, a bike rental system like Paris’ recent addition might not be feasible, but a car sharing service like Boston’s Zip Car (www.zipcar.com) sure would be. Especially if you put the (fuel efficient) cars in the higher density destinations people are already likely to be, like the Beach, Coconut Grove, Downtown, Coral Gables, and along major transportation corridors. This might allow a two car family to become a one car family, or for people to drop their car altogether.

    Clearly this is a battle that will be played out over many decades, but until it really makes sense to people’s pocketbooks, we won’t get mainstream change. We need not only the informed folks like ourselves, but the couldn’t-care-less crowd to look up, and that means making it hurt.

  4. Moon    Tue Apr 8, 02:49 PM #  

    Unfortunately, I think a good portion of Miami is too shallow to let $4 gallons of gas stop them from driving. Not when they pay $12 for a drink at Martini Bar and pay the $8 to park at Sunset Place.
    The people who are going to be hurt by the high gas prices are a lot of people who are already in high density low income areas where there is a lack of reliable public transportation.
    My office staff may bitch and complain about the price of gas, but they’ll still fill up their Lexus SUV before they would even think of taking a bus.
    I don’t know how else to make people wake up, but the cries of “wait til $5 gas,’ seem to me to be falling on ears that won’t care.

  5. FerfeLaBat    Tue Apr 8, 03:52 PM #  

    This really is a great post. I think the problem with Miami began long ago with the layout. It is too spread out which makes public transportation a nightmare. The fact that they chose not to extend the Metro to the airport is also a HUGE problem IMHO.

  6. Moon    Tue Apr 8, 06:05 PM #  

    It’s spread out because when the city began, that’s what people wanted.

    They appreciated the wide open spaces and green spaces and the fact that they didn’t have to live in the row houses of the northeast cities. They wanted to be able to live in housing communities without businesses on every street corner.
    They wanted to be able to spread out and not ‘up’ to the big high rises of other places.

    Many of us in the ‘burbs still want that. We don’t necessarily want public buses coming down our quiet residential streets.
    Of course there’s the conflict with the fact that we often need to go to places like downtown to work. And of course if we have to get to the airport… well, we just drive. After all, we have cars.

  7. adam    Tue Apr 8, 08:04 PM #  

    yes, that is a fantasy. If you want to live in the country, you can not live in the city, and vice versa. suburbs are inherently unsustainable.

  8. alesh    Tue Apr 8, 10:16 PM #  

    I think part of the issue here is the very nature of how human beings solve problems.

    A statement like “suburbs are inherently unsustainable,” or a post that calls the Tata Nano, a car that gets 54 miles per gallon and has extremely low emissions The World’s Cheapest Catastrophe, exhibits a sort of all-or-nothing attitude that is, in my judgment, out of touch with how human society attacks problems. It’s not “everybody has to get in line with my program, or else.” We do it incrementally, from many different sides.

    More fuel-efficient vehicles are part of the solution. Mass transit is part of the solution. Building different cities is part of the answer (one word: Dongtan — look it up). But a big part of the answer is realizing that the changes are not going to be embraced as whole-heartedly as we would like.

    It’s not sustainable for everyone to live in suburbs, sure. But it’s certainly sustainable for some people to live in them… so a statement like “suburbs are inherently unsustainable” is just fundamentally wrongheaded.

    Note also Kristen’s statement, which is sort of the nucleus of this whole discussion: “My time is worth more than the gas right now.”

    Read: you can get a small number of people to act right by appealing to their higher ethics, but you get real change by making things a practical reality. (or something… forgive me, i’m tipsy)


    The key word in your post (#1) is “eventually.” For the average person, Miami is not there yet, and they’ll drive to another barbershop, and the on with inadequate parking will die. I agree with your sentiment but my example stands.




    agree. I’d have supported a $3/gallon gas tax (indexed towards sustainable energy research) 10 years ago, and i’d support it today. $7/gallon gas would change some minds real quick. Unfortunately it’s not politically thinkable.

    A lot of the zoning changes you’re talking about are built into Miami 21 (which, admittedly, is only a miami-city thing). But you see where that’s going — being subject to public approval, it seems now to be destined to fail on account of being too drastic. The public is a stupid bitch sometimes.

    I don’t know about zipcar… it’s a for-profit business, so why don’t they open a branch here? there are all sorts of other scotter and whatnot rental things on the beach, mostly used by tourists. maybe there’s an untapped market in there somewhere.


    Exactly correct w/r/t the Lexus SUV. Maybe they’ll get a prius next time, tho?

    I think there’s a mix, and society’s been moving over the last few decades to embrace urban, high-density living… maybe it’ll happen in Miami eventually, too?

    FerfeLaBat ~

    Correct. Metro expansion is possible, but changing the sprawl will be slower. On the other hand, increasing the density in the area around downtown will create a zone that can be reasonably serviced by an expanded Metrorail . . . slowly, that can lead to a situation where there’s enough “city” that people can actually function without a car?

  9. adam    Wed Apr 9, 01:53 AM #  

    I think you are sort of brushing aside the meaning of the word sustainable. Sustainability is about building for the future, assuming the population is increasing. It’s not sustainable for everyone to live in suburbs now and it’s not sustainable for them to grow at their current rate. It’s not sustainable for them to even grow at the population growth rate, and it’s not even sustainable for them to stop growing and just sit there—because as you might have noticed we are already diminishing our quality of life for ourselves and our future needlessly to satisfy the dream of having cake and eating it too. The unsustainability is built into the very idea of suburbia, and unless you vastly restructure what a suburb is it will always retain that. Of course, thanks to the ever-mobile Urban Development Boundary we have evaded having to face this fact, as we eat deeper and deeper into the never-to-be-regained everglades cake that we used to have.

    I don’t think I’m out of touch with how human society tackles these problems, It usually involves a tyrant and a massive culling. I know that the changes aren’t going to be embraced whole heartedly. It is a bitter pill to swallow, when you can’t find parking less than a block away from your desired location. Yeah, it’s rough, but we could use the excercise. That’s why as a car owner and lover-of-driving, I am calling for higher taxes on gasoline and less parking spaces downtown. Every urban metro in america is dealing with this question right now. Building too many parking spaces in downtowns will be worse for us in the long run.

  10. adam    Wed Apr 9, 01:59 AM #  

    Also, I may not be average, but I get my haircut near where I work, specifically so I don’t have to drive somewhere to do it. Your example is kind of up to interpretation. I get what you are saying—people are lazy, but what if they can get their barbering, grocery shopping, dinner and movie all without moving their car?

  11. FerfeLaBat    Wed Apr 9, 06:23 AM #  

    From what I’ve read, London’s fee for driving downtown was successful. I’m not sure of all the details, but I know the US embassy refused to pay it and now owes a fortune. The lack of parking in New York also seems to work, but I don’t think you can do that here until public transportation is safe and accessible. Right now it is neither.

  12. alesh    Wed Apr 9, 08:12 AM #  


    I’m not brushing aside the concept of sustainability — i’m laying it out on the table so we can give it a good investigation. Thanks for helping with just that. All too often, the term gets thrown around like it’s a self-explanatory concept, and that everyone is in agreement on what is, and is not, sustainable, and that the only difference is that some want to live sustainably and some do not.

    I submit that not only do we in fact NOT know what is and is not sustainable, but we’d have a tough time nailing down a suitable definition of the term. If you mean “having no net impact on the world,” then that of course is almost logically impossible. The planet is and will continue to change as a result of human behavior. So the question becomes, what changes are we willing to live with? And of course to some extent we don’t know until we start to see them taking place, by which point (reasonable people argue) it may be too late. On the other hand, “by then it will be too late” is a phrase that has historically been thrown around by environmentalists and subsequently been shown to be incorrect, the planet fixing itself after allegedly too-little-too-late fixes on the part of humans.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t move in the direction of so-called sustainable living, just that it’s not nearly as cut and dried as you’re making it out to be.

    what if they can get their barbering, grocery shopping, dinner and movie all without moving their car?

    Then they’ll do it. My exact point is that you can build a city where that’s easy to do without those parking restrictions.

  13. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal    Wed Apr 9, 09:26 AM #  


    I’m glad you kept this conversation going, I’ll offer a reply once I return from the Northeast.

    Just a minor clarification: The opinion we posted was from the point of view (and partially written) of the entire Transit Miami Staff, not just me.

    I look forward to keeping this discussion going…

  14. adam    Wed Apr 9, 09:27 AM #  

    I don’t know where you are pulling “having no net impact on the world” from my post, but this is not what I meant by sustainable. Of course the planet is changed by human behavior. The point is that some behaviors use resources (gasoline, fresh air, the ozone layer, land, street capacity) at a rate that we will not be able to sustain without ill effects in the future. The reason I know this to be true and not just some hypothetical, is that you can already see the ill effects in how our city operates. I’m not saying it’s going to be “too late” for humans or mother earth or something if we keep going down the road we are going, but yes, it is already too late for the swamps that are drained and have houses built on them. I think you are fooling yourself if you think that any real changes in conservation policy came without people getting up and complaining about it first. Your libertarian ideal of letting the businesses simply form a more perfect union by themselves is not going to happen by itself. We need restrictions to shape the future of our city, otherwise we’ll end up in the everglades with a strip mall and a hybrid SUV. Tell me you don’t think this is true.

  15. nonee moose    Wed Apr 9, 10:10 AM #  

    When you advocate draconian means to achieve otherwise beneficial ends, you shift focus away form those very beneficial ends by unwittingly forcing the debate to focus on the means. This does not make for results of any kind.

    Think instead of the issues that seem to impede the results you want. As an example, someone earlier on the thread did a cost-benefit analysis of their decision to use a car. Perhaps one solution is to shift that analysis in a way that favors your desired result (i.e. jack up meter fees and penalties), rather than immediately assault property rights, which are decidedly higher on the heirarchy of Things-You-Don’t-Want-To-Be-Messing-With, if only from the point of view of protracted debate before actual implementation, then endless litigation impeding implementation, and the ultimate possibility that implementation may be permanently foreclosed. Which leaves behind only a trail of frustration and years wasted with nothing to show for it.

    As for parking space development, perhaps an incentive approach can also be possible. Perhaps it’s a question of semantics. Is it any different to restrict parking space density than to incent a reduction in development plans, in the same way LEED certification of buildings is proposed to be incented? Clearly, there are other issues that come into play, and those may require resolution as well, but the focus is on resolution, neverhteless.

    There will be times and issues where government has to take a very firm and restrictive stand, and I think the UDB is one of those issues.

    One thing is for certain: There must be a prior commitment to a more robust public transportation system in order for any of this to be possible.

  16. adam    Wed Apr 9, 11:05 AM #  

    Let’s be clear. Unless I am way off track here, the measure in question was a minimum mandatory requirement of parking spaces in new buildings. I don’t think anything we are talking about is draconian. Unfortunately meter fees are only going to affect street traffic, which—judging by the number of parking lots and garages we have already allowed to be built dwntwn—is not going to change much.

    I definitely support incenting a reduction in parking in new buildings. I think the city could put some money towards subsidising non-parking condos that could be used by municipal workers who otherwise would be living in broward or outside the city. I think it is a carrot and stick situation though. Yes, put money towards transit and incentives for smart development, but you have to get that money from somewhere, and that might be taxes on gasoline and parking spaces.

  17. Stefan    Wed Apr 9, 11:05 AM #  

    ah man, i miss riding the subway (when i was living in cologne, germany). i used to hop on the train for half an hour, get smashed at the pub and hop back on the train at 4am, never had a problem. wish i could do that in miami as well. good times hehe.

  18. nonee moose    Wed Apr 9, 11:27 AM #  

    Adam, I’m not sure what you mean by a minimum mandatory requirement _. If by that you mean that buildings _shall have no less than a certain number of spaces per unit, then I’m afraid someone beat you to it. If you meant to say that a requirement of no more than a certain number of spaces per unit, then all the above arguments apply.

  19. alesh    Wed Apr 9, 04:59 PM #  


    I know, you were clear that it wasn’t just your opinion. Sorry I willfully chose to ignore that and address my comments (at least in the first half) to you personally. Looking forward to your rebuttal.


    The point is that some behaviors use resources at a rate that we will not be able to sustain without ill effects in the future.

    Forgive me, but I still find this hopelessly vague. A SINGLE car creates emissions that are harmful to the environment, right, so how do you gague the point at which something crosses over into being unsustainable?

    w/r/t the Everglades, I agree that it is to be protected. I think this is best done with a strong commitment to the UDB. But once a certain amount of land is designated for development, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the fact that it’s developed as suburbs somehow makes it unsustainable. Please explain further.

    also, I’m aware that the legislative aspect is tainting this argument a little. I support sufficient parking, but I do think it’s a little absurd that we have the government specifying what is sufficient. Should the government let developers have more leeway? Probably. But if that leads to a situation where parking is difficult, then to me it just shifts the argument. (And note that around downtown there are any number of private lots that have varible-pricing parking during any sort of special event.)


    I think you’re right about everything except the parking. I don’t think insufficient parking is good for anyone, whether it’s insufficient parking through government mandate, government incentive, or developer choice. Increasing meter fees I think would have an effect similar to a reduction in parking — shifting the traffic to another place rather then reducing it.

  20. nonee moose    Wed Apr 9, 05:28 PM #  

    Alesh, my real point is that making a business case to businessmen is what is necessary, not more regulation.

    My comment on the meters was merely to point out a more benign disincentive, as opposed to outright bans or restrictions.

    As to the notion of insufficiency, I think the market will bear that out. There is no magic formula for how much parking is sufficient, because at least one of the variables is always changing.

    The problem here is culture. And to allow cultural changes of that nature, you need to leverage different aspects of our reality to spark critical mass. Commit to the appropriate transportation infrastructure, check sprawl to necessitate infill, and incent or disincent through “incremental inconveniences”. Allow the culture to come to its conclusions on its own realities, with its own buy-in. Not someone’s say-so.

  21. adam    Thu Apr 10, 09:19 AM #  

    Well, we car argue all day long about what the word sustainable means, or whether suburbs are unsustainable or not, but I think that by any reasonable measure they are not. given that they are by definition serviced by individual automobiles and can not ever achieve more density, and must continually sprawl outwards all the while widening highways and arteries, necessitating the replacement of density downtown with parkinglots and garages. Is this really a strategy for the future? We’ve let the market decide so far, but I doubt it’s going to build us a transit system.

  22. margaret    Sat Apr 12, 05:50 PM #  

    If you want people to change their habits, you offer them easier, better choices, not take their favorite choice away from them. Browbeating people does nothing. They will drive three times as far to the next minimall with parking for their haircut. No doubt.

    I spend very little time in my gas guzzler, but you’ll take the carkeys out of my cold, dead hands before you’ll see me taking a bus to Churchills. I’m a small girl. Asking me to take public transport drunk from the pub is suggesting that my own safety is less important than your ideals. Ask any female who has actually depended on public transport, they’d rather have door to door transport whenever feasible.

    The other problem is that you can’t build an extensive subway here because of the geography— and if you build more elevated tracks you will destroy those neighborhoods. Overtown used to be a great place for black people to live. It went to pot when they built the highway through it. Nobody likes having their home plowed through by rapid transit cause somebody else doesn’t like the idea of suburbia.

  23. adam    Sun Apr 13, 04:21 PM #  

    First of all, we are not fighting for “my ideals” here, we are fighting for the future of a good city. You are saying “don’t inconvenience me now for benefits in the future”. Well, ok, but how bad are you willing to let it get before we change it? Let’s call it like it is.

    If the problem is that Miami Dade transit doesn’t feel safe enough for you to take home from the pub, then you should be pushing for safety on transit, not moaning about high minimum parking zoning. It’s really not browbeating. San Francisco is pushing right now to institute .25 cars per residence maximums in their new downtown buildings—maximums—that’s pretty extreme, but still widely recognized as a positive approach to new urbanism!

    You can build overhead lines and streetcars here without destroying neighborhoods. Look at brooklyn and portland and chicago and houston and anywhere new lines have gone in recently. Neighborhoods get revitalized with good transit, not destroyed. The freeway, yes—that will ruin a neighborhood. This is what I’m seeing happen on biscayne right now as it become more and more a freeway.

  24. doctordenim    Sun Apr 13, 09:32 PM #  

    On the “What happens when you can’t park?” section of this piece, you wrote “Lou looses”, but I think you meant to write “Lou loses.”

  25. adam    Mon Apr 14, 11:02 AM #  

    Plenty of parking is helpful to those suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.