Thursday, March 6, 2008

Parking & Traffic, Charlottesville's Recent Developments

Just to our South and West, Charlottesville is tackling two big issues that hit pretty close to home. The city is trying to come up with traffic by-pass alternatives that mostly involve Albemarle County (which isn't always receptive to the proposals, and have their own development plans). They are also trying to address downtown parking issues.

Some of the best quotes I've seen from a city counselor is from Charlottesville's Ms. Edwards on thinking outside the traditional when the traditional doesn't make sense (from The Hook):

While the Councilors agreed to send a letter to the consultant, Lewis Grimm of PBS&J, urging a “return to the drawing board,” the two freshmen on Council saw what one of them, Holly Edwards, termed a “window of opportunity to start looking at and thinking about alternative forms of transportation.”
Edwards proposed getting “creative” and “radical” about extracting people from their cars. “Instead of leveraging a few dollars for roads,” said Edwards, “[we should be] leveraging dollars for alternative transportation.”
“I couldn't agree more with the comments expressed by Ms. Edwards,” said Mayor Norris. “The next major investment in our region should not be another huge swath of very expensive asphalt. Let’s use this as an opportunity to leverage the kind of investment that Ms. Edwards describes and figure out how to get people off the highway.”

The Hook also ran a front page story this week on parking in the city of Charlottesville. Author Dave McNair writes that the city and UVA have a combined 11 garages, with more in works by both the college and private developers. The two primary garages serving downtown are referenced, and noted that their architecture was designed such that they appear to be buildings in the landscape. I would have to say that our own Sophia St. garage is much the same in this sense. The article also talks about drivers reluctance to use garages (C'ville starts charging when you enter, unlike Fredericksburg where the first 2 hours are free), and unrealistic expectations related to on street parking. Unlike Fredericksburg, Charlottesville does not have any parking on their closed main street pedestrian mall. Rather, they are bounded by 2 garages and a slew of lots both public and private.

The article includes the following quote from author/parking guru David Shoup:
As Yale economist and parking issue guru Donald Shoup points out in his book, The High Cost of Free Parking, studies show that driving around looking for free or low-cost curb spots accounts for about 30 percent of the traffic congestion in downtown areas. Indeed, virtually all day long, drivers on the Mall are doing what Stroh calls the "the two-hour shuffle."
..."Drivers often compare parking at the curb to parking in a garage and decide that the price of garage parking is too high," Shoup wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece last year. "But the truth is that the price of curb parking is too low. Underpriced curb spaces are like rent-controlled apartments: hard to find, and-- once you do-- crazy to give up. This increases the time costs (and
therefore the congestion and pollution costs) of cruising."

Sound familiar (except autochalk helps with the 2-hour shuffle)? I would encourage anyone interested in parking to read the full article. It includes a lot of history, cultural stigmas, and future designs that range from radical all the way to classic that would fit into any historic neighborhood.
Now, how can we convince Kalahari that the right answer to lots of pavement is a single parking garage? Or could a developer make a descent return on investment by building a deck or two downtown? I wonder if we could find a private developer to build the deck for the new court building instead of using city bonds? Actually, I'm pretty certain some of these thoughts are also being considered by our city employees - but I toss them out here for comment.

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