Thursday, August 10, 2006

No Stalling on Downtown Parking

The Downtown Tacoma BIA is one of the stakeholders participating in the Parking Advisory Committee, sponsored by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and recognized by the Tacoma City Council. This group, which was organized last November for a two-year run, has achieved real progress on downtown parking issues.

The committee's key focus has been on examination, evaluation and--where deemed appropriate--implementation of ten recommendations from a stakeholder process developed in 2003 and subsequently presented to the City. Input from City of Tacoma staff has brought to attention several additional items, especially regarding new technology, that augment the purposes stakeholders had in mind when drafting their recommendations.

Four of the ten recommendations have progressed far enough that the committee believes them to have been achieved:
  • Recommendation 1: The City of Tacoma should agree to complete the promised expansion of the parking system.
    The City is abiding by commitments made in 2001 regarding completion of parking expansion projects and has defined the trigger criteria for development of expansion capacity.
  • Recommendation 4: The City of Tacoma should establish a balanced parking oversight committee.
    The Parking Advisory Committee is a balanced combination of staff and parking stakeholders as envisioned by stakeholders.
  • Recommendation 5: The City of Tacoma should integrate on-street enforcement with off-street operations.
    On-street enforcement and revenue collection have been operationally integrated with parking facility operations. Ongoing review and communication between City interests and stakeholder concerns are helping to improve responsiveness and support.
  • Recommendation 8: The City of Tacoma should enhance and possibly expand its enforcement officer force.
    The City has hired the full complement of authorized enforcement officers and put them on the streets.

Two recommendations are moving ahead with significant results to date, but not yet completed:

  • Recommendation 2: The City of Tacoma should proceed immediately with façade improvements and necessary seismic, and structural repairs on Park Plaza North and Park Plaza South Garages.
    City staff has recommending a vendor and that Park Plaza South only should be renovated at this time pending identification of a source for a $5 million funding gap.
  • Recommendation 9: The City of Tacoma should implement hand-held recorder enforcement technology.
    Committee members have been working very closely with the City’s parking enforcement personnel and are seeing a significant increase in access for customers and clients along with a sizable movement of employee parking to off-street facilities. There is still work to be done on the “moving to evade” ordinance, on a permit system, and to meaningfully link employees with commute alternatives such as transit.

The Parking Advisory Committee hosted a well-attended public forum on parking in June to deepen the understanding of and broaden community input on the mechanics of the current system. Input from that forum will be discussed in an upcoming posting here and will be presented to the Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee on August 22nd.

Three other recommendations having to do with more technical aspects of financing have yet to undergo intensive scrutiny by the group. These items will be addressed while, at the same time, the committee reviews recommendations for a parking "business plan" from consultants Miriam Sevy and Ross Tilghman of the Leora Group, LLC. City Councilmembers will get a preview of the "business plan" recommendations next Tuesday afternoon.

The final recommendation yet to be addressed has been the most controversial:

  • Recommendation 10: The City of Tacoma should postpone metering implementation pending community consensus.
    Delay in implementing pay stations was a consensus shared in October 2003 by every group within the stakeholder community. There was across-the-board agreement that the City should delay any decision on implementation of street metering until:
    1. Outstanding concerns have been addressed
    2. Enforcement compliance is determined
    3. Economic performance improves
    4. Definition of decision criteria is established
    5. Community support is attained.

    Committee members have agreed to work with the City in examining the 2003 consensus position in light of changes in procedures and the addition of new tools, including the ongoing, largely successful enforcement action. They have asked in return that the City refrain from decisions regarding pay stations, permits or metering until it has worked with stakeholders to examine the issues carefully and with broad input to see if the community consensus of three years ago is still valid.

9 comments:

  1. Recommendation 2: The City of Tacoma should proceed immediately with façade improvements and necessary seismic, and structural repairs on Park Plaza North and Park Plaza South Garages.

    Yes, yes, yes. I think everyone (even the consultants) can agree that the parking garages on Pacific Avemue have drained the life out of the area as currently designed.

    The retail spaces need to be fixed so that they are not stuck in a dark zone under the overhang of the parking garage.

    Also, the passages between Commerce and Pacific Avenue in and around the parking garages need to be opened up.

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  2. Name Change for Pacific Plaza proposal

    For anyone interested, there is a poll being conducted by local blogger Kevin Freitas as to what the name of Pacific Plaza should be and if it should be changed at all.

    Weigh in. The council will make a decision on the name on way or another on 8/22/2006.

    Kevin has narrowed the name down to about a sozen choices.

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  3. The BIA focus on parking is ultimately going to fail as an economic development strategy. It is impossible to get a critical density of customers, visitors, and residents at all periods of the day if you are devoting so much of your land area, capital investment, or street-level pedestrian space to off-street parking. (i.e. land area if you have surface-level parking, capital investment if you're choosing underground garages, and street-level pedestrian space or retail if you're building above-ground garages topped off with offices or condos).

    You'll get commuters during the day taking up spaces, maybe some people around lunchtime, maybe even some people around dinner-time, but there won't be enough casual walking people to support a balance of retail with so much investment into auto infrastructure and the maintenance of parking limits. You just can't get the density that way. Have you people not read Jane Jacob's "The Death and Life of Great American Cities?" It should be required reading for economic development consultants. She was (and still is) one of the most prominent urban theorists that specialized in the functioning of urban economies and their relation to the type of urban form. Her approach was extremely pragmatic. All she did over the course of many years was observe the patterns of areas that were economically vibrant and she wrote them in a book. Essentially what she said was that successful areas have the following attributes: Shorter blocks, good use of corners, density, mixed use, time distribution of users of an area, and a better balance of transportaion modes.

    You know what I think is sad - what is really sad... it's the corner of S. 11th and Pacific. It's bordered by the derelict (but restorable) Luzon Building, two disgusting elevated parking garages and two planes of surface parking. The area is dead, there is no sense of space, traffic is unruly because of the onramp to 705, and yet what I'm hearing from this report is that the BIA wants "more of this." They want deadness? They want an ugly downtown? This is a horrible use of corners (no pedestrian destinations whatsoever), there is no density of any appreciable nature, it's a monopoly of uses, there is no time distribution of users in the area, and it's auto dominated. It's a recipe for failure.

    The alternative of course to parking (in Portland, as in other first world cities across the world) has been transit - high quality, high frequency, rail-based transit. Now I can understand why the BIA wants enforcement of present parking regulations. But you all really should understand that minimum parking requirements and off-street parking expansion is not a winning strategy in the long run for the kind of economic development and for the kind of downtown that we are striving for.

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  4. Wow I don't know how anyone could be excited to see the parking garages get facade improvements!

    Once facade improvements and the structural repairs happen, that is what we are most likely stuck with forever!

    It is sad the BIA has doesn't have the future in mind. I wish the BIA would believe in our city some more and understand that the land those garages sit on is prime real estate. The garages are not the best use and never will be, no matter how much you fancy them up.


    Do it right or Don't do it at all!

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  5. Ebjornson9:24 PM

    It is impossible to get a critical density of customers, visitors, and residents at all periods of the day if you are devoting so much of your land area, capital investment, or street-level pedestrian space to off-street parking.

    I agree. The city's act of tearing down buildings to build parking garages is pretty well accepted now to have hurt the downtown badly.

    However, if there is well designed retail on the first floor, I don't see that it would be all that bad to continue to have parking behind and above. Of course, the retail spaces have to be dramatically modified as they are not working as built.

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  6. Anonymous10:56 PM

    You can have a Bannana Republic as a retail tenant and that still doesn't fix the fact that there are 2 floors of parking above and thats it. These garages are on Pacific Ave., our main drag. They are in a zoning that allows 400 ft heights.


    Ebjornson said...
    I agree. The city's act of tearing down buildings to build parking garages is pretty well accepted now to have hurt the downtown badly.

    And you want to seal the deal!

    The city needs to stop the cycle of mistakes Downtown!

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  7. Do it right or Don't do it at all!

    Ok. What would "doing it right" in your opinion mean?

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  8. Doing it right would be to tear them down and rebuild the sites. They should be mixed-use buildings or office towers. The buildings should be no shorter than 20 stories. PARKING SHOULD BE UNDERGROUND. If something of that nature is not feasible now, then the city should wait until it is.
    Those blocks are to valuable to just leave as one floor of retail.

    From looking at maps of the garages it looks like you could fit 2 towers on the South Park and 2-3 towers on the North Park

    Erik, as someone who is very for downtown and development downtown, I am surprised that you would not look to the future and see that refacing the garages would be a big mistake.

    Like it was said before, the improvements to the garages would be sealing the deal on the cities mistake.

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  9. Doing it right would be to tear them down and rebuild the sites. They should be mixed-use buildings or office towers. The buildings should be no shorter than 20 stories. PARKING SHOULD BE UNDERGROUND.

    I agree. That would certainly be a better solution.

    However, whether the city is willing to dedicate the amount of funds to accomplish this is another issue although I would certainly support it.

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