Monday, January 7, 2008

Logical Conclusion of Parking Regulations not Logical

I know what you are thinking, here we go again with the parking! But the truth of the matter is that the parking requirements that are incorporated into our zoning ordinance are just as influential as the building size and use requirements in determining what kind of development we will end up with. In addition, the method of applying the standards and reviewing each parcel and building proposal in isolation, treating it as if it were it's own universe yields a disjointed and dysfunctional public realm. But back to the subject at hand. The parking requirements.

Each requirement taken in isolation may seem reasonable, but the effects are profound and far reaching. For an area like Coolidge Corner we have to ask ourselves what kind of place are we trying to build? The standards we have set are more suitable for the suburbs. They are the norm and have been adopted throughout the land, and we can see the results. The building in isolation surrounded by a sea of parking. These regulations are based on a standard number of automobile trips that are "drawn" to a certain type of building, this is known as Trip Generation and is based on all kinds of science. Build an office out in the suburbs and a certain number of cars will come and go on a given day because the people working there have no other way to get there! It is fairly easy to predict then, based on the size of the building, how many auto trips will come and go. From there we can come up with a formula for a minimum number of parking spaces per a unit of building square footage, and voila a parking requirement.

By requiring developers to provide on-site parking for every new building, be it housing, office or commercial we are subsidizing and encouraging driving and increasing the costs to both build and ultimately occupy those homes and businesses. In an area rich in alternative transportation options this makes no sense. Those in need of affordable housing and small businesses looking for affordable rents could benefit from the infrastructure expenditure savings realized through a relaxation of excessive on-site parking requirements. In terms of the affordable housing household the savings are two fold. The unit is cheaper because they aren't buying an amenity they do not need (excess parking) and because they are living within close proximity of transit they need not spend such a large portion of their income on automobile costs.

In addition to the cost savings the benefits to the environment, both in terms of reduced pollution and energy savings and the livability of a humanly oriented public realm cannot be overstated. By reducing the pervasiveness of the automobile in our environment we remove a huge source of stress for the pedestrian. Citizens are coming to realize the joys of mingling with others in a relaxed public setting. This increased awareness has spread through the growing publicity surrounding the many successfully created public spaces in cities and towns around the globe. Brookline has the perfect setting for creating such a place and those who are raising their voices to demand such a place are speaking for future generations and the public in general.

This is not an either or proposition. There will still be people who will need to drive to Coolidge Corner. However, we need to plan for parking for the area as a whole and not force each parcel to provide on-site parking. This destroys the economics and walkability of our core commercial district. Lets see if we can't get a little more creative. We should do everything we can to make walking, taking the T and biking attractive fun and convenient. We should not subsidize and encourage driving. We should not destroy the street scape and pedestrian environment just to accommodate the automobile.

Until we come to grips with the ramifications of our unacquainted parking requirements. The reason we have heard of only one development proposal for the Centre Street parking lot, a nine story hotel, is because a hotel has a much lower on-site parking requirement than does commercial, office or residential uses. And still it must be completely out of scale (9 stories tall) in order to be economically viable. Do we really want to sacrifice the benefits to our community that other, more locally usable commercial establishments or affordable housing might bring, just to meet an outdated, inappropriate parking standard?
[where:Brookline, MA 02446]

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