In my previous post I discussed Eugene’s City Council’s ill-fated decision to eliminate metered parking at a loss of over $200,000 per year. This political decision was made more feasible because the parking revenue went into the giant sucking hole called the general fund. Demonstrating the tangible impacts of this loss are nearly impossible. However, the city could have enacted a unique measure to increase downtown economic development while decreasing automobile traffic.
I alluded to the idea of metered money being spent on increasing affordable housing in the downtown in my previous post. This idea is replicated in many cities throughout the country in the form of parking benefit districts. Some examples of this are Austin, Texas; Olympia, WA; and Seattle, WA.
The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has released an 86 page report blasting the notion of free parking spurring economic development. It states:
Free or very low cost on-street parking benefits only a few commuters. Employees and shopkeepers who arrive first in the morning occupy the most convenient spaces, forcing customers arriving later to waste time and money looking for an available space farther away (page 3).
This issue of employees taking up most of the parking spaces was briefly addressed in the Register Guard article. “But along with the benefit, business owners in the free parking area will have a responsibility to make sure their employees don’t take advantage of the situation by occupying curbside spaces.” How the business would actually accomplish not letting their employees park in free parking, or even how they would know that this was occurring was not addressed. There really isn’t a feasible solution to this problem.
Most of the parking benefit districts in the country use the finances for infrastructure improvements. In Eugene the money would be much better spent on encouraging housing development. An increase in residents would increase economic activity. This would have a tangible economic benefit to the city and would also encourage sustainable walking, biking and transit riding. Something the genius City Council supposedly supports.
One of the most widely cited and revolutionary planning books in recent memory, The High Cost of Free Parking, critiques the Eugene City Council mindset of free parking being a stimulus to retail activity. It gives the example of Old Pasadena California, which suffered declining infrastructure and economic development for thirty years until the early 90’s when it utilized meter revenue to create a business investment district. This idea can be replicated in Eugene, with a slight twist.
My other comment in this whole fiasco is the lack of organized opposition against this measure. It seems Eugene residents are able to oppose ideas when the NIMBY element exists, but fail to be as successful when longterm policy decisions are at play. Where is the Planning and Development Director on this issue? How about LTD or the Eugene’s politically active bike culture? These disparate groups should coalesce to fight a suburban sprawl mentality that permeates Eugene policy decisions.