Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Putting Parking in Perspective

In a previous post (and some local news articles published at about the same time), we cited parking as the Rubik's Cube of downtown issues and blogged David Sucher's posting about how "urban design starts with parking."

"You may not want to believe it", Sucher concludes, "but that is the cold hard reality."

Like wireless Internet, parking is a service that almost everyone thinks ought to be ubiquitous, easy to access and free. This makes the job of those who have to plan delivery of this service in the real world doubly difficult--overcoming obstacles of time and space can be dwarfed by the task of overcoming expectations.

That's why a number of downtown stakeholders banded together with City of Tacoma officials last year to form the Parking Advisory Committee. The BIA is one of the stakeholders, and the group is independent (managed by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber) but recognized by the Tacoma City Council.

Yesterday, Ross Tilghman and Miriam Sevy from the Leora Consulting Group offered their analysis of how to solve the parking puzzle's financial aspects to members of the Tacoma City Council. While recent changes in municipal staffing, finance and operations (supported by the PAC) have improved the parking system, "missing elements prevent Tacoma from realizing the revenue needed to build more parking."

The most significant--and controversial--"missing element" recommended by Leora is the use of pay stations (metering devices) to regulate on street parking. In other cities examined by the consultants, no more than 10% of total system revenues come from garages; in Tacoma, garages contribute 65% of revenues. Other cities gain 19% of their revenue stream from metered on street parking and 26% from on street permits, sources not yet available to Tacoma.

In short, the consultants declare that "Tacoma cannot issue ratable new revenue debt without meter/pay station parking revenue"--severely limiting the City's ability to supply new parking.

Members of the Parking Advisory Committee will join City Councilmembers on an exploratory trip to Portland, OR next month to see a more robust parking system in operation; the PAC will also meet with the consultants to review their analysis in more detail. To date, the stakeholder group has opposed pay stations.


  1. The last Washington city I know of to try to install pay stations was Bellingham Washington.

    The pay stations caused a loss of business for merchants and people didn't like them. By an emergency vote, the Bellingham City Council removed the pay stations and went back to meters.

    After hiring consultants, purchasing expensive pay stations, and having a long public “educational” program and even having parking employees try to assist residents work the pay stations for over a week, Bellingham was forced to remove all of their pay stations earlier this year.

    Here is an article on the issue:


    Bellingham City Council

    By Kristi Pihl (Western Front)

    February 14, 2006

    Bellingham City Council approved yesterday’s removal of LUKE, a new automated parking meter system, from the 1300 block of Railroad Avenue at an emergency city council meeting last Saturday.

    Bellingham removes pay stations 2/14/2006

    Why would pay stations work in Tacoma when they failed in Bellingham?

    Is the demand for parking in Tacoma closer to Portland and Seattle or to Bellingham?

    I think the issue for Tacoma is between what we have now and individual meters (in some high demand areas).

    I believe either would work although having no meters is somewhat more inviting to potential shoppers.

  2. Only then did we look at the building itself. Parking is the tail that wags the building."

    I agree that parking is an important component. However, it takes a far back seat to the design of an area itself.

    No one I know has ever driven somewhere because of parking.

    They are attracted to an area because of the desirability of the destination first and foremost.

    As an example, Pike Place Market is a huge draw bringing thousands of people daily. Yet, parking is nearly impossible and is very expensive even if you do find it.