Jun 17, 2010

India's years of walking dangerously - a sobering video

Just how bad can walking environments get?

Answer: Very bad, as demonstrated in "Where are we to walk?" a 9 minute video from Pune in Maharashtra, India. 

Parisar explains who was behind the film:
The film was conceptualised and shot by Susan Michet, an American student intern during her time in Pune in May 2009. The Alliance for Global Education funded Susan's stay and work in Pune, Janwani provided the office space and infrastructure, while Parisar provided the inputs regarding the content of the film. We also acknowledge Hema Gadgil's contribution of her voice-over to the film.

After watching the film, do you have any ideas for our Indian friends? What can turn this around? Do you know of a city where things got this bad but which has since created a walkable city? Do you see redeeming features of Indian cities that offer some hope and which can part of the solution?

For more on (un)walkable cities in Asia (especially South Asia) see also:

Jun 10, 2010

Parking slots are like toilets (according to conventional parking planning)

[Update: Looking for more parking policy information?  
Try Reinventing Parking.]

Planning systems treat parking and toilets in very similar ways and for similar reasons (such as to deter people from 'doing it in the streets'). Is this just a funny observation? I guess it is quite funny but I also have a serious point.

Planning toilets like we plan for fire-escapes, elevators and plumbing does work quite well (mostly). However, planning for parking like we plan for toilets is problematic. Below, I list ways that conventional planning does in fact treat parking and toilets the same. Then I highlight key differences which make planning parking like toilets seem like a very bad idea.

First, a list of how parking and toilets are (conventionally) planned in very similar ways:
  1. Both are treated as an essential ancillary service that every building will need.
  2. It is usually assumed that no fee (or a token fee at most perhaps) will be charged. Remember, we are talking about the conventional approach to parking policy here. Some jurisdictions even ban fees for such facilities.
  3. There is thus little direct return on the investments. So the private sector would under-provide them unless forced to. To the rescue come regulations in the form of parking or toilet requirements in planning or building codes.
  4. As mentioned above, one rationale for requiring them with buildings is so people won't have to use the streets (or not too much anyway).
  5. Another reason they are required with buildings is so people don't freeload on the facilities of neighbouring buildings. In parking this is called "spillover". This might be apt for toilets too, come to think of it.
  6. Demand for these facilities is usually assumed in the regulations to be associated with specific premises rather than a whole neighbourhood.
  7. When the buildings can't provide enough (as in old neighbourhoods for example), local governments may step in and provide some. Otherwise people (or at least high-end customers) may avoid the area.
  8. There are provisions in the codes to ensure access for people with disabilities.
  9. Sometimes facilities for females are specified for both. OK, this one is rare for parking but I couldn't resist putting it in.
  10. The planning system assumes it can predict demand and therefore set reasonable and accurate requirements. In both cases, getting it wrong can cause problems.
  11. The standards can end up being very complicated. Singapore's parking standards (pdf) list about 50 different building uses, each with its own parking standard. The American Restroom Association (ARA) website reveals several competing models for 'restroom codes' (including: the 2003 Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials and the 2000 International Plumbing Code (IPC) published by the International Code Council (ICC). Their provisions look remarkably similar to parking standards. For example, the International Plumbing Code includes:
    "403.1 Minimum number of fixtures.  Plumbing fixtures shall be provided for the type of occupancy and in the minimum number shown in Table 403.1. Types of occupancies not shown in Table 403.1 shall be considered individually by the code official."
  12. In both cases, old buildings built before modern standards were enacted are treated differently ('grandfathered', so that they must only comply with the rules at the time they were built). However, the new codes may kick in if the owner wants to do anything that requires planning permission (such as a change of use).
  13. A distinction is made in both between private facilities and those that are available to the public. These may be treated differently in the standards. There is often conflict over whether the facilities in any particular premises should be open to the public. 

BUT the analogy breaks down. Parking differs from toilets in crucial ways (besides the obvious!)

  1. It is much more difficult to predict parking demand than to predict toilet demand (which itself is not easy). The human need to expel waste changes little (except when beer is consumed in large quantities perhaps). The demand for parking can change enormously over time as car ownership changes and as mode choices shift.
  2. Everyone needs toilets. Only car users need parking. (But conventional parking policy assumes that 'car users' = 'everyone')
  3. Parking takes a lot more space than toilets. Forgive me for stating the obvious here. It is common for American suburban office parks to be required to have as much parking space as they have floor space for other uses. Buildings in Kuala Lumpur (see the picture) or Bangkok often have a third or more of their floors devoted to parking. Parking standards often dramatically limit the density that is feasible on a site.
  4. Required parking is extremely costly. Even the most lavish provision of toilet space does not threaten the feasibility of building projects.
  5. Even the most generous provision of toilets would not dramatically influence people's behaviour or discourage us from using less harmful alternatives. There is no toilet analogy for walking, cycling and public transport. No toilet alternatives get starved of users, of investment or are rendered unpleasant and unsafe as a result of excessive toilet provision.
  6. It may be reasonable to prohibit charging for toilet use (as some American jurisdications do). Failing to charge efficient prices is much more problematic for parking (as Donald Shoup spent 700 pages or so explaining).
  7. Parking in the streets can be regulated and managed to render it less problematic, whereas public urination or defacation are never acceptable public policy outcomes.
  8. Toilet requirements are rarely (if ever?) so onerous that they freeze redevelopment or reuse of old buildings in inner city areas. Parking standards often do so (and in the process they can worsen inner urban blight).

These differences highlight problems with conventional parking policy. It is probably NOT such a great idea to plan parking like we plan toilets.

Does this analogy work for you? Does it help you think about parking policy? Can you help me to improve these lists? Are some of the points weaker than others? Have I missed any?

*  Some background: I have been developing this analogy in recent months and included it in several talks about my parking research (first in Ahmedabad, then in Singapore and recently in Manila). A few audience members in Manila said, "I want to use that!". That response has prompted me to get down to posting it here.

I have been blunt in this post and mostly said 'toilets' rather than use euphemisms like restrooms, bathrooms, WCs, etc.

Jun 5, 2010


Connecting you with web destinations that caught my eye recently. 

From a public domain image at Wikimedia commons
*  Why call this segment "connections"?
Of course I want to connect you with useful reading related to 'reinventing urban transport'. But connections is also a helpful public transport word highlighted at Human Transit blog as a more positive and illuminating term for what are sometimes called 'transfers'.  

Jun 3, 2010

Shoup's parking agenda is more profound than you think

[Update: Looking for more parking policy information?  
Try Reinventing Parking.]

Donald Shoup's 'The High Cost of Free Parking' points towards a profoundly different way of thinking about parking policy. It offers much more than just a nifty way to price on-street parking efficiently. 

Conventional parking policy in action in New Zealand

Yet, in real-world policy debates over Shoup's parking ideas most people seem to focus only on his call to price kerbside parking for 85% occupancy. That's a pity because his agenda is much more interesting than that.

First, a recap on Shoup's parking reform ideas.  He is focused on cities that currently have a conventional suburban-style parking policy, with cheap on-street parking and every building required to have plentiful parking. He is based in Los Angeles and his focus is on American cities. His ideas are also obviously relevant to places like suburban Canada, Australia and New Zealand which have adopted the same parking approach. In fact, I am finding that conventional autocentric parking policy has infected many other countries too. So Shoup's critique, and his solutions, are probably relevant to places as diverse as India, Malaysia, the Gulf States, the Philipppines, and many more.  

For places with conventional autocentric parking policies, he suggests three key reforms:
  1. Price on-street parking to ensure a few vacancies and eliminate cruising for parking
  2. Return the street-parking revenue to local benefit districts.
  3. Eliminate off-street parking requirements, and allow developers to provide as little parking as they like.
Item 1 has been getting a lot of attention with trials in Redwood City in the Bay Area, New York City, San Francisco and Washington DC. Item 2 is usually there in these debates but seems to get lost in some of the trials.

Item 3, eliminating the off-street parking requirements, gets lip service and not much more.Yet, this aspect was a huge proportion of Shoup's book. He was taking aim squarely at suburban parking requirements! Yes, the on-street parking reforms are good in themselves AND a way to help us relax about requiring off-street parking. But Shoup's reform agenda points toward a transformation that is more profound than just getting efficient parking in the streets.

What is this profound change? I would call it a market-oriented parking system. This has been noted before by various people (such as here and here). But somehow, it is consistently downplayed in most planning and transport discussions of Shoup's ideas. Could this be because market-oriented parking seems too right wing? Maybe that is an issue. But market-oriented parking should have appeal beyond the right. These days, a wide cross-section of the political spectrum agrees that many (or most) goods are best provided by competitive markets. It is not necessarily right wing to ask if parking is one of them.

Don Shoup himself is not crystal clear that he is really pointing towards market-oriented parking. However, he is fairly explicit in his chapter entitled, "Let Prices Do the Planning":
'Since [on-street] prices will vary to maintain a few curb vacancies, spillover will no longer be a problem. Individual property owners and merchants can then choose how much on-site parking to provide based on business considerations, not zoning. Some may choose to provide their own off-street spaces, while others may offer to validate parking in nearby garages. Regardless of the strategy, all firms will be able to decide for themselves whether parking is worth its costs. Parking will increasingly become unbundled from other transactions, and professional operators will manage more of the parking supply.' (Shoup, 2005, p. 496).

I think market-oriented parking represents a third major approach to parking policy. It contrasts with both of the more familiar ones. So, in my view, parking policy come in three main varieties:
  • Conventional parking policy in which parking is treated as a type of infrastructure and the primary goal of parking policy is to meet demand.
  • Parking management in which parking is viewed as a tool for serving wider goals in transport policy and urban planning.
  • A market-oriented stream that calls for market-based parking prices that are responsive to supply and demand conditions and allows private decisions to shape supply.

Shoup's agenda points in the direction of market-oriented parking but I don't think it would take us all the way there. We would probably need some additional public policy action to make sure that the new local parking markets work well and stay competitive.

I argue these points (and some others) in a new paper:
Barter, Paul A. (2010) 'Off-Street Parking Policy without Parking Requirements: A Need for Market Fostering and Regulation', Transport Reviews, First published on: 20 April 2010 (iFirst). DOI: 10.1080/01441640903216958. 
The journal's online version is behind a pay wall but there is an earlier pre-print version (pdf) here.