Perhaps the primary reason why I am interested in improving public transport is because I think it’s the main way we can manage to both shift a lot of people around a city while at the same time not destroying that city. Urban planning and transport planning is always a balance between the “through” and the “in”. Generally, the more you cater for the through (an extreme example being a motorway) the more you degrade the “in” – the quality of the space. Conversely, it seems that typically you can improve the “in” by reducing the “through” function of a place. Elliott Street, Fort Street and the other shared spaces are hugely nicer places to be now than they were before – because their “through” function has been lowered.

The problem with traditional transport planning is that, since World War II at least, we have sacrificed the quality of our urban environments in the name of making it easier to get around. Where there has been congestion, we have widened roads or built new ones, ignoring to a large extent what the effect of the widening or the new road might be on the quality of our urban environment. Our cost-benefit methodology for assessing transport projects still reinforces this approach: saving a few seconds off a trip counts, degrading the property values of adjacent sites does not.

But it’s not only the impact of wider and new roads on the quality of our urban environments which so strongly connects auto-dependency with poor urban outcomes. We also need to consider the impact of where we store all these cars the 95% of the time we’re not actually in them. By that, I of course mean parking. The excellent Old Urbanist blog has a recent post analysing the proportion of many US downtowns which have been given over to parking – typically mandated by planning rules that require a certain number of parking spaces per area of development.  Some of the results are truly scary:

Houston, Texas:
Surface parking (red): 21.3%
Garage parking (yellow): 3.7%
Street area (including sidewalks): 39.7%
Total area for rights-of-way plus off-street parking: 64.7%
Park space: 2.6% (1.1% exluding Discovery Green)

So basically two-thirds of downtown Houston is set aside for either shifting or storing cars. In a large city, the value of this land must be utterly immense – surely it could be put to a more economic use than this?

We find a similar situation when you look at Little Rock, Arkansas – admittedly a much smaller city: Surface parking: 26.5%
Garage parking: 2.7%
Street area (including sidewalks): 32.0%
Total area for rights-of-way plus off-street parking: 61.2%
Park space: 0.0%

For some contrast, let’s look at Washington DC – which has a very well developed Metro system allowing people the choice of not driving into the CBD for work:Surface parking: 1.1%*
Garage parking: 0.0%
Street area (including sidewalks): 43.3%
Total area for rights-of-way plus off-street parking: 44.4%
Park space: 2.53% (5.00% including Ellipse)

While Washington DC has a very low level of parking, it does contain a large number of rather wide streets, which means that we still see almost half its land dedicated to roadspace. The Old Urbanist post offers some further insight on this matter:

Although these numbers are interesting enough on their own, I bring them up to emphasize the importance of the street grid in determining the balance of buildable to non-buildable land. Even the difference in unbuilt area between the downtowns most dominated by surface lots, and those most built out, as is the case for Houston and Washington, is no greater than the difference between Washington and the European cities with the most generous street allotments – the Paris of Haussmann, with its broad boulevards, imperial Vienna of the 19th century, and Barcelona’s Eixample, all of which devote around 25 percent of their area to streets.

It is difficult to imagine a justification for much exceeding the 25 percent figure. Many cities of similar size and far larger than those just mentioned make do with less, including Tokyo, Mexico City and Buenos Aires, while accommodating extensive mass transit systems. The traditional city of narrow streets and small squares, typified by towns of medieval plan, find ten or fifteen percent perfectly adequate.

In addition to their transportation function, streets can also be understood as a means of extracting value from underserved parcels of land. The street removes a certain amount of property from tax rolls in exchange for plugging the adjacent land in to the citywide transportation network. Access to the network, in turn, increases the value of the land for almost all uses. For the process to satisfy a cost/benefit analysis, the value added should exceed that lost to the area of the streets plus the cost of maintenance. (This implies rapidly diminishing returns for increasingly wide streets, and helps explain why, in the absence of mandated minimum widths, most streets are made to be fairly narrow.) For many of the gridded American cities of the 19th century, as I’ve written about before, planners failed to meet these objectives, although these decisions have long since been overshadowed by those of their 20th century successors.  

I am yet to conduct a similar exercise for Auckland’s CBD, but I imagine we have much more space set aside for parking garages and much less for surface parking than Houston and Little Rock, and more garages yet narrower streets than Washington DC. But I imagine we are still using a lot of the city’s most precious real estate for little more than shifting and storing cars. Perhaps the most under-rated benefit of public transport projects like the City Rail Link is our ability to reverse this trend: to be able to reclaim significant chunks of the city for more productive uses.

However, while things in the city centre aren’t as horrific as many of these US cities, if you head to many of the more recently built “town centres” you can see some pretty similar diagrams. In the map below of Botany Town Centre we can see the vast majority of space is set aside for shifting and storing cars (red for buildings, green for open space, grey for roads and parking lots):Manukau City Centre is very similar:Not only are these places incredibly unattractive parts of the city to be “in” or to walk around, they are also incredibly, and stupidly, wasteful of one of our most precious resources: land. They are trapped in a cycle of “to grow we need to provide more parking, but the more parking we provide the less usable space there is to build on” which inevitably leads to illogical things like Auckland Transport spending tens of millions on multi-level parking buildings – which will of course further reinforce these areas’ dependency on cars and over time require even wider roads and more parking spaces.

It is in places like Botany, Manukau, Albany, Westgate and (in the future) Flat Bush where we must somehow break this cycle – most probably through providing vastly better public transport options so that people feel more and more comfortable about leaving their car at home. Compared to the opportunity cost of all this wasted land that’s required to support an auto-dependent model of land development, the public transport projects should be dirt cheap.

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  1. “In a large city, the value of this land must be utterly immense”

    This is another very good argument against the “roads pay for themselves” myth. When did road users ever hand over the millions of dollars for the real estate on which city streets are built on? My guess is never, but I’d be interested if anyone else has a better understanding of this.

  2. Yes, parking is a major issue – and it’s the result of over-regulation, in the form of minimum parking requirements. Good to see that council officers and elected reps are *slowly* waking up to this fact, even if there’s still a lot of misinformation out there.

    Two extremely important points to keep in mind when talking to people about parking:
    1. Managing parking efficiently is desirable even if there are no alternatives available (just like charging for water encourages conservation rather than substitution). And there are many ways in which parking is inefficiently used right now, which would not happen in the presence of direct, accurate price signals.
    2. Many alternatives exist already, we just do not see them as such. Car-pooling is an obvious one; home-delivery not so obvious but equally powerful. Rather than everyone driving their own car to the store, the store has one truck that delivers to everyone. Much less driving that way!

    If we can get those two points across then maybe we can start to shift the parking elephant out of the sustainable transport room.

  3. The DC image is a little bit misleading as a large proportion of downtown buildings have underground parking garages, so there shouldbe a lot more organge. But certainly walking around DC is quite a different experience to Houston or Atlanta, with surface parking almost non-existent.

    1. Good point.
      The way I see Auckland at the moment is that public transport is not yet at the point where the average person working in town can easily get onto public transport. Part of the problem with providing that PT is the on-road parking that is all over Auckland city. In order to provide for more dedicated cycle-ways, pedestrian friendly areas and bus lanes we need to remove that on-street parking and encourage it to be moved to parking buildings. Once the PT is up to scratch then people will be less inclined to bring vehicles into the city. Then, as they become free, parking buildings can be redeveloped. Also, why is it that those ‘earlybirds’ (who are the targeted PT users) get very subsidised all day parking rates but those who pop into town get to pay full price? Surely this is the wrong way around and encourages car use by workers and shoppers to go elsewhere?

      1. Early bird parking rates are completely insane, and certainly work against the interests of retailers. A subsidy to lock up real estate inefficiently, crazy that the council offers it.

        1. I guess the point of it is to spread the load on parking building access ways and the city road network in general. A subsidy to ease peak traffic?

        2. Taken from Tournament website (of note is earlybird timings):
          $4.00 / half hour
          Available Monday to Sunday 24 hours, 7 days.

          $18.00 / day
          Available Monday to Friday from 4am to 6pm. Ticket valid 12 hours from time of purchase.

          $13.00 / day
          Available Monday to Friday before 10am. Ticket valid 12 hours from time of purchase.

          $8.00 / night
          Available Monday to Sunday 6pm to 4am. Ticket expires at 8am.

        3. Yikes before 10am? How is one hour after the peak ‘earlybird’ FFS?! I was under the impression earlybird rates were before 8am.

        4. Another thing about early bird is that these are cars that are not used for anything other than commuting, as they [weirdly] only qualify for the special cheap rate if they stay parked all day. Exactly the traveller most suited to PT, the worker [executive] who doesn’t need to travel to various locations through the day. Really the last group to incentivise to drive: travel at the peak, park all day, travel at the peak again.

          But these are the men in suits who feel entitled to receive priority. Exactly the group how complain about their time being wasted in congestion and for whom we build over capacity road infrastructure.

          At the very least early bird should be exactly that, ie pre-peak.

          But what I really think needs to happen is AT actively marketing annual travel cards at bulk rates to city employers as an alternative to subsidised car and parking offers in salary packages…. Start with Westpac and E + Y, right on top of Britomart.

          Of course we need real integrated ticketing for that, not just charge cards.

        5. And the traveller least suited to PT (in it’s current form anyway), the good old shopper, movie goer etc, gets stung. $8 per hour? Wow. Now I remember why I don’t venture down town too much but tend to go to West Gate.

        6. Patrick, until the fringe benefit tax penalty for public transport passes is removed, it’s not going to happen. Providing parking doesn’t attract FBT, providing public transport passes does.

        7. Thanks for that little, but potentially vital, piece of info Matt. Isn’t that crazy? Maybe we should be petitioning our local MP’s to try and get that changed for PT (buses and trains – not taxis). It won’t make a big diffeence to IRD’s tax take overnight but it could, over a long period of time, make a significant difference to some of Auckland (and Wellington’s for that matter) transport woes.

    2. First, thanks for spotlighting my post! I wish I’d thought to use the gray shading, as this post has done, to indicate the area under consideration.

      In response to RTC, the intent I had with these maps was to show the amount of city surface devoted more or less exclusively to car movement and storage. Although an underground garage is no less a place for car storage than a surface lot or above-ground structure, it does not substantially interfere with use of the lot, ground floor and up, for other purposes.

      I’d also note that Houston, too, has an extensive network of underground garages in addition to its ample above-ground lots and structures, in spite of the fact that Houston apparently does not enforce parking minimums in its downtown core.

      1. Some of the perverse charging system for city parking is a result of the way central city parking levies are collected. I expect it is calculated on the number of parking spaces owned (ie a levy on the capital), rather than a tax on useage. The most reliable way of getting a return on the capital of a parking space is the consistent market of commuters, rather than keeping spaces free in the hope of attracting occasional users. It would be better to charge the parking levy as a flat rate on all-day parking, another rate on part-day use, and hopefully a higher rate for early bird parking.

    3. I don’t think underground parking really counts as wasted land if it has a non-parking building or other land use above it. I suppose the same could be said for parking buildings that have ground floor retailing, or apartments or offices above.

  4. Stu is right to a degree about car pooling, but it only reduces, rather than eliminates the need for parking, which PT does. The real strength of car pooling is that it eliminates the return journeys that PT requires for the next peak direction service. The other issue with car pooling is that it is more likely to take existing PT users and convert them to car users, albeit moderately more efficient ones, than it is to convert existing car drivers.

    When working at Auckland City, I estimated that if every PT person trip into the CBD were replaced by car at the current occupancy levels, an eight level parking building the size of Albert Park would be needed to accommodate all the cars!

    Car pooling is OK as a supplement to PT, but it’s no replacement.

    1. Steve – if we manage parking better and get people who are currently driving to car-pool, then this will reduce the demand for parking, in exactly the same way as PT does – you stop a car coming into the central city. I am saying that “car-pooling” is a substitute for drive-alone, as is PT and walking/cycling (for that matter). I am NOT saying that car-pooling is a substitute for public transport, which I think is how you have (incorrectly) interpreted my comment.

      The key point is this: The benefits of managing parking efficiently do not depend on the availability of public transport. Council should therefore be looking at wholesale changes in parking policies, i.e. across the urban area, rather than just in those areas where PT is available. Better parking practices would not only encourage people to use public transport, but also car-pool, walk/cycle, and work from home. All good substitutes for driving!

      1. Stu, I guess that I’m wary of unintended consequences of carpooling programmes.

        The example of the Northern Busway park & rides is instructive. Only 40% of users switched out of cars, 55% came from existing suburban bus services, generating new car trips in the network. Sure, they weren’t trips to the CBD, but were through congested motorway access routes, used additional fuel, generated adverse emissions to air and negatively affected the viability of the suburban services.

        If the same effect were to happen with car pools (a term I find hard to swallow with a T2 category) then it is entirely possible that there would be little net effect on traffic or parking, or in a worst case scenario, more traffic if previous bus users formed car pools at a sufficient rate.

        As I said, a danger of unintended and adverse consequences, possibly manageable at inception, but with a real danger of slippage over time.

        1. I’m also wary of car-pool programmes. Just note that people who car-pool still pay parking, albeit split over more people. So efficient parking management is not going to get people off PT and into car-pooling, there simply is no relationship in this instance.

  5. I don’t see why parking space is wasted if it is used. You site Houston and Austin in Texas as such examples but these cities are booming with job growth, yet affordable housing. The counter example of Washington DC is interesting given it has just been rated as having the worst traffic and longest commuter times in the whole of the USA !

    Yes Houston also has significant traffic congestion but this is driven by the huge population growth. The implied conclusion of the article is Auckland transport should aim to be like Washington DC rather than Houston Texas which is, of course, the exact opposite of what most Aucklanders would want.

    1. Oh golly where to start. The point of the post is to highlight how much space cities like Houston are wasting on parking. If Houston is booming that’s great, but clearly they could be booming even more if two thirds of their downtown wasn’t being allocated to shifting and storing vehicles.

      Last point, why do you assume to know what Aucklanders want? House prices are increasing most in inner suburbs, the acres of parking is forced by poor planning rules. Maybe Aucklanders want PT friendly mixed use higher density development. We do keep voting for local politicians who want to improve the rail system.

    2. A parking space is wasted even if it is used by a car, as it could have been a florists, or a part of a bank, or an apartment, or some office space, or a park or a fountain or a school or a tram stop. All those activities are of higher value for everyone else in the city than that one person who parked their car. So those functions of the city are either gone, or they are more spread out, making for even worse car dependency. It is hugely inefficient for a city to waste such amounts of space on the trivial needs of motorists, when they could be accommodated in better ways if they just left the car at home, or never bought it in the first place.

      1. “A parking space is wasted even if it is used by a car, as it could have been a florists, …”

        This is obviously not true because such facilities can only provide service to people who can access them. People who cannot get to the door cannot come into it. If someone wants to go to, say a florist, and chooses to use a car, then adequate carparking is essential for the florist and the car park has value to the business. The reason why malls, such as Botony Downs outlined in the article, have lots of carparks is because lots of people want to drive there (you don’t see people taking their new flat screen TV or family groceries home on the train).

        Many people choose cars to give them a freedom and flexibility unmatched by other transport modes. When people have a choice, they often choose to travel further by car to larger facilities rather than walk to the local shops. Ironically, this is usually because the larger facilities, like Botony Downs, offer better choice, more specialised products/services and lower prices than local retailers. The same applies to other facilities from holiday destinations to health services.

        Equally, the loss of carparks can devastate businesses such as occured in Newtown, Wellington. This is especially interesting because the road in question has the highest frequency public transport service in Wellington (and has higher PT use than anywhere in Auckland) yet cars car parking are still critical.

        1. Tony have you been to Manhatten or London? Do businesses in those cities fail because most people do not drive [and park] to access them? Err, no. Driving and parking is not the only model for successful urban environments, the purpose of this post is to show one of the many costs of running a city on this model alone.

          You suggest that ‘when people have a choice’ they choose to drive. My problem with Auckland, and especially places like Botany is that there is no choice whatsoever. Driving [and therefore the ocean of carparking] is the only mode provided for and that it squeezes out the provision and therefore uptake of any other option through it’s extremely high cost. Both in land use and infrastructure. Every detail of places like Botany are formed for the car, and you know what? It isn’t high value, people pay a great deal more to live in the old innercity suburbs where they do have the choice not to drive. Where they can walk and where PT provision is better [but still not as supported as driving]. Over half the people entering Auckland’s CBD in the morning are not in cars. When people actually have a choice they don’t always drive. It’s when we only build for cars that we find people ‘choose’ to drive more.

  6. “clearly they could be booming even more if two thirds of their downtown wasn’t being allocated to shifting and storing vehicles.”

    The point of my comment is to note that having two thirds of their downtown “being allocated to shifting and storing vehicles” may be a key advantage they have to cope with Houston’s growth in population, jobs and a growing economy. It is not necessaily wasted space (at least from a transport function point of view).

    1. But Tony that land use and it’s parking infrastructure is an additional tax on all citizens and businesses, and has become a trap now that driving costs are escalating. We find that there is ‘no money’ to build alternatives to constantly feeding this machine. Net result; an inefficient and uncompetitive city along with, in Auckland’s case, an ugly and unpleasantly vehicle overrun one.

    2. Tony, the transport function is access, not movement and access for people and goods, not just cars.

      Matt’s point is right on the money, it’s the opportunity cost of the asset, i.e. parking is simply dead space and an effective subsidy to the user. If it could be used to generate income, then parking is an unproductive drag on the economy.

  7. Tony there are other things that need to be considered, the land used for all of that parking costs money and if it is provided for free (which most parking in places like Manukau and Botany is) then the business providing it has to has to cover that cost which means higher prices for goods and services which is passed on to all consumers regardless of what mode they used to get there. Further there isn’t a need for everyone to have to drive to a mall to do their shopping, most people are only buying items that are easily transportable via PT and for the occasions that it isn’t practical (like buying a TV) there are other options like getting it delivered.

    Also your point about not being wasted space from a transport point of view is part of the point of many articles on this blog why is it that cars and car parking are more important than the liveability of the city. Cars are the dominant form of transport because we designed things to be that way and didn’t do anything for almost 50 years other than think about how we can make things easier for cars rather than people.

  8. (fast forward to 2013…) I am so using the Manukau image (attributed) in my Unitary Plan submission as supporting evidence for opposing MPRs.

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