August 14, 2014 by Omar Passons
I was born and raised in San Diego. So my perspective on the role of people, cars, bikes, roller blades, etc. has been based on that orientation for much of my life. Growing up, I always lived far enough away from the trolley that taking public transit meant hopping on the oh-so-inefficient city bus. I started writing these community columns to provide some straight forward information about city topics that impact our community. And to do so in a way that makes sense. Today I want to discuss parking cars in North Park. I’m not one of those people who is heavy-handed or kind of a snob about my view of the world, so the goal isn’t to convince you that one way is right or wrong. But a lot of interesting information is out there about this topic and given the evolution of our beloved little hamlet now seems like a good time to share some different perspectives about parking.
First, let’s take a couple real-world examples that relate to parking to help frame the conversation. Let’s say, for example number one, that people come to the businesses near your house, they park on the street and don’t pay anything (it is a public street, after all). They stay around, visit some friends, do some business, maybe throw some trash in the public trash can, then they leave. They’ve come to the area, created some costs for that area in increased service for sidewalk cleaning and trash removal, and only provided a fraction back to the community in the small percentage of sales tax that circulates back from the citywide budget to all neighborhoods throughout the city. Who bears the rest of the cost?
For example number two, let’s say you happen to live on a street that is two blocks from a really desirable pork-centric shack or a store that sells really crafty bottles. It’s great if lots of people from all over the city really like those businesses, but that means that most of those people will have to drive to get here. And chances are they’ll park their cars right on your street. Again, it’s a public street, so they have every right to do that. But then you want to have your niece’s college graduation party and your son has to park three blocks away and unpack a double stroller and two kids and navigate with presents all the way to the house. Well, that’s no fun. Or maybe your 70-something mother comes for a visit and has to find on-street parking late at night when she comes back from Bingo night with her girlfriends. Again, not much fun. What’s going on here?
In both of the above situations, the people who are paying for the right to park on the street aren’t the people in the cars, it’s the people who live nearby. And, to a lesser extent, the businesses who may not be getting visited but still have to pay into area-specific fees or assessments. That is, in North park, we pay. We pay in increased services. We pay in inconvenience or potential safety considerations for our friends and family. We pay in the environmental toll of congestion-causing, polluting cars magnifying greenhouse gas problems. As this article points out, “free” parking comes at a price.
Coming up with some strategies to manage the demand for space and help our community take care of itself may not be the worst thing in the world.
A concept called moral hazard is relevant here. It means that if something feels free to you, you don’t pay as much attention to how much—or how inefficiently—you consume it. Think about the last Las Vegas buffet you went to or sheet of printer paper at work you used. Moral hazard doesn’t mean that people are bad. But it is probably good to consider policies that better help people think more about what they use—in this case, parking. And it brings up another concept a former professor of mine talked about –internalizing a negative externality. That’s an overly wordy way of saying how do we get the people who are generating the cost to pay for that cost more directly. So how could we properly align incentives for visitors while helping the residents and small businesses in North Park?
Well, one way to better align incentives and put the cost of something with the person creating it would be to bring very high-quality, high-tech paid parking to the area in and around our business corridor. In some cities, there is metered parking for visitors that you can pay for using your cell phone or a credit card. We could think about one example along Ray Street. There could be metered parking from 6PM to 6AM that had a time limit for people who didn’t live on the street. And if it were electronic, the cost could fluctuate to be higher during high demand times and lower during slow ones. In reality, the person who drives could just ask the other people in the car to help subsidize that cost by buying appetizers or paying for gas or something. And does anyone really think people from other neighborhoods will stop wanting to come to North Park because the trip got between $5 to $8 more expensive? This idea could follow a model advanced by this author about changing how people view parking.
The photo above came from this blog in Pittsburgh. The other potential magic of this kind of solution – known as a Residential Parking District – is that it could create a long-term stable source of funding for things like making the sidewalks and the streets better, landscaping, maintaining the planned park behind the theatre, helping small businesses keep their storefronts free of graffiti, helping local residents get safer intersections for walking with their pets or kids. Our community is home to some of the world’s best craft beer, to some of the best farm-to-table restaurants, an incredible music and arts scene thanks in large part to the owners of West Coast Taven/North Park Theatre, North Park Main Street, and Amy Paul of Pigment. People want to move here to enjoy these great amenities on foot or by bike and we don’t have to be afraid that the ones who are coming by car will just go elsewhere if they have to pay.
One way to increase the safety and security of our business and residential streets and to maintain local amenities like the new park to be built behind the theatre is to create a Residential Parking District that helps get people from other communities to share in the costs that are created when they visit. This will make their experience better as visitors, our community better for us when we don’t have visitors and create a long-term, stable source of funds for our immediate community.
I put the photo below to make one other point about this thing. The issue isn’t just cars when it comes to a parking district. This actually creates a mechanism to pay for other ways of easing car parking – like increasing safe bike options. Check this site out where I got the photo! Have a good one.