Sunday, July 24, 2005

What Ray's Thinking

After I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, I got a very detailed and polite response from Ray Gibbs, the head of Downtown Greensoro, Inc. Ray's a true gentleman.

I would like to have posted most of what he wrote, because it's pretty interesting, but he told me he'd be making a more detailed, formal public proposal soon, and that he'd prefer me to put that up here when he does it, and I'll be happy to oblige.

But he made a couple general of points that I think he won't mind my mentioning.

(1) Fifty percent of the surface area of downtown Greensboro is currently devoted to parking, which supports my contention that there's too much parking there. BUT, Ray points out, if downtown is going to grow, the available parking area will be reduced, while the demand for parking will rise. The most efficient way to meet that demand is with vertical parking (decks).

(2) A bunch of commenters on my post didn't like decks because they feel unsafe, they're disorienting, and they're ugly. But Ray claims that crime statistics show that suburban surface lots are far less safe than decks because they have no security cameras and offer many more escape routes to criminals. Movies and TV shows might be to blame for our perceptions of deck safety. Ray agrees that better signage is needed to help people figure out which exits to use, and has been asking for it for quite a while.

As to the "ugly" charge, he sent me this photo:

This is a 5-story deck wrapped by a residential building in mid-town Atlanta. Since the residential part of the deck brings in taxes, the overall cost of building such decks is lower than for traditional decks. The building's tenant association also sees to the cleanliness and safety of the deck.

So, I'm rethinking . . . we may not need new parking right now. But we will.


Patrick Eakes said...

Props to Ray for his measured response, and props to you, David, for listening and considering his response.

Anonymous said...

That makes sense, but I am still shy of parking decks. Studies may show them as safer, but it most people's minds they are not, and that is what matters.

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Greensboro doesn't need any more parking downtown. Not one more space. Neither does Winston, nor Raleigh. All of these destinations are significantly overparked and are for the most part, bereft of street life outside business hours. (a few late night hotspots not withstanding)

What some North Carolina leaders are beginning to understand is that if you want a vital, pedestrian-filled downtown, you need to put a priority on movement that occurs without an automobile.

Greensboro instead should be investigating Transportation Demand Management strategies such as a parking freeze or parking maximums:

See above, then scroll a bit to read about Boston and the EPA parking freeze in the 1970s.

Then every leader in Greensboro should pick up a copy of Donald Shoup's "The High Cost of Free Parking"

and David Sucher's City Comforts.

Then maybe the city will stop spending money on massive parking facilities that duplicate other parking facilities that are already underused most of the time.

jimcaserta said...

You can't compare Greensboro to Boston. Boston has a vast mass-transit system that is used widely, and I can't see Greensboro ever sustaining a project like that. Boston also has its traffic problems - have you ever tried to get into the city on 93S? Big Dig? I've ridden the commuter trains to the city and they are a major pain. Even factoring in hunting for a parking spot, it is much quicker to drive from the northern 'burbs than to take a commuter train. Also there is a "last train" which hampers nighttime activities.

A better comparison would be to Austin, TX, as much of that city's growth has been recent. They have a huge (formerly free) garage that would be packed Fri. and Sat. and nights, and fairly full weeknights. With people then walking to 6th St. or the warehouse district. Austin is one of the "greener" cities I've been to, but they still have plenty of parking garages.

David, your post and Ray's response is what blogs are about - a forum for ideas.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Boston and Greensboro differ in many ways. But that doesn't mean that one can't learn from the other. Greensboro professes to want a vibrant urban center. Boston has one.

You say that the commuter trains are much slower than driving into Boston. Yet you also say that 93 South is horrendous traffic. Which is it?

Mapquest clocks Andover to downtown Boston at 33 minutes; the train is listed at 49. Of course, the MBTA Commuter rail has 95 to 98 on-time performance, and Andover to Boston in 33 minutes during rush hour is a complete fantasy.

150,000-170,000 take commuter rail into Boston every day because it has been invested in and made competitive. Thousands more use the subway which circulates people through the center of the city. Which brings us back to Greensboro.

Regarding downtown Greensboro parking, let me give you an example of approaches not to take using Winston-Salem.

There's plenty of parking in downtown Winston. There is also, interestingly enough, talk of bringing modern streetcars to the city, a great idea. Streetcars are a relatively low-impact form of light rail that have low capital cost and can run safely with auto traffic in the streets. They also are fantastic for channeling development.

So, when talk of the Winston-Salem Warthogs moving to a new downtown stadium came up, did anyone say "well, if we simply extend the streetcar a few blocks, it will run by the stadium after it passes several large parking decks owned by the city on 4th street."

No, instead, the city started pondering how they would bond a $7 to $13 million parking deck, even though existing decks not far away could easily hold the needed capacity for the ballpark.

If Greensboro wants an urban downtown, leaders must get beyond the idea that there should be ample parking for everyone immediately adjacent to a major facility for everyone to attend a major event.

This is a suburban development mindset which kills street life, which in turn means fewer people on the sidewalk, which means fewer people feel safe walking in the area after dark, which means fewer people come downtown to use the parking decks and attend the event facilities that were financed with public funds.

Mr. Wharton's excellent post about the parking decks around the park is on the money, and being surrounded by parking decks bodes poorly for the longterm viability of that public space.

You are right- Boston has superior public transport to most American cities, and Greensboro is not even close. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't start down that road.

But at the end of the day, it's a simple law of the urban fabric- overparking a destination kills downtown vitality.

Before Greensboro builds another parking space, it should spend some money making its existing parking:
-easy to get to/away from on foot by improving sidewalk quantity, quality, and connectivity
-safer in reality
-much safer in perception
-easy to locate using wayfinding signs