The usually thoughtful Kevin Drum wandered into a debate he's not ready for, arguing with Matthew Yglesias over parking regulations. Yglesias is a resident of Washington, D.C., who, like me, generally believes government intervention has the burden of proof but willingly admits it has its place. Kevin Drum is a a liberal California suburbanite and an engineer at heart. But the biggest difference is that Yglesias has read Donald Shoup and Drum hasn't. Drum's argument lacks a scientific foundation.
Requirements in cities and suburbs vary, but here in the burbs the general idea behind parking regulations is to make businesses pay for their own externalities instead of fobbing them off on other people...
Now, if your goal is simply to reduce the amount of parking so that it's a pain in the ass and people will drive less, that's fine. It's a pretty roundabout way of doing it, but whatever. But if your goal is to match parking spaces to cars, then it's simply not true that property owners are the best judges of how much parking is needed. Like profit maximizers anywhere, they'll do their best to provide as little parking as possible and instead try to free ride on the parking that other people have already created and paid for.
If I live in the suburbs and "own" the parking space in front of my house, do I have to park a car there or can I use this resource for something I really want? Can I build a shed there, for instance? Could I transfer this resource to someone else, say the business on the corner, in exchange for something I want? Why does the city insist that I can only use this for cars, my cars, when I have a perfectly good driveway? Is that the largest possible benefit of this resource? Is it the best possible use of that space from the point of view of either the city or myself?
There are two kinds of people in this world*-- those who've read Donald Shoup's writings and come away convinced that parking should pay for itself and those who haven't read Shoup. Seriously, I'm still waiting to find a coherent argument against Shoup's thinking by someone who's read him. American communities have devoted huge resources to parking without a thorough cost benefits analysis. Shoup breaks new ground by examining the issue in both a theoretical and scientific manner.
I really hate to be rude about this, but we Shoupistas basically think the other side is just uninformed (or greedily defending a middle-class entitlement that promotes the destruction of the planet). To us, the un-read are like global warming deniers. So, please read Shoup. If you do and can come up with thoughtful critiques, I'll honestly be happier than I am now. I don't enjoy calling the other side in an argument "uninformed", but what else fits?
If Drum had read The High Cost of Free Parking's chapter concerning how most cities arrive at their minimum parking space regulations, he wouldn't have argued what he did above. If you're going to defend civil engineers' regulations, you should be ready to explain how they arrived at their numbers. When they set the miniumum number of spaces mandated for a barber shop, do the parking estimators actually go visit a reasonable sample size of local barbershops in various neighborhoods and count the free parking spots typically used? No, according to Shoup (.pdf), they usually consult the book Parking Generation by the Instutute of Transportation Engineers. The book does not suggest parking minimums, by the way; it simply contains data. But here's Shoup on what it measures:
Because parking is free for 99 percent of all automobile trips in the United States, parking must be free at most of the ITE survey sites. Parking generation rates therefore typically measure the peak demand for parking observed in a few surveys conducted at suburban sites that offer ample free parking and lack public transit.
And even if the data were localized and representative, political machinations come into play. These regulations are made operable by politicians and until recently officials were likely to hear only one type of complaint. A home owner or an existing business complained about customers of a newer and/or successful business parking in a space that the folks with seniority considered their own, even though all curbside parking spaces are owned by the city, available first-come, first-serve to all. (And when the government gives away valuable resources free of charge, first-come, first serve, what happens to that resource?)
Until recently, few stood up and complained that this middle-class entitlement of municipally-provided parking spaces had a downside beyond the revenue costs (which can be enormous and inhibiting for development). Because of parking regulations, our neighborhoods are less densely-populated and contain fewer amenities we can walk to. That's an expensive externality in my opinion, although it's probably dwarfed by the externalities associated with America's dependence on gasoline-powered automobiles-- foreign trade deficits, Middle East wars to protect our supply of oil and all that environmental harm.
So, read Shoup. Once you have, I predict you'll agree that Shoup's description of a world with market-priced parking is the right goal. And then you can help us with the heavy-lifting-- transitioning from this imperfect world to Shoup's utopia, pulling the appropriate political levers without coming off like the cultists we are.
(*There are two kinds of people in this world-- those who divide people into two groups and those who don't.)
Quoting Beijing: From Imperial Capital to Olympic City by Li, Dray-Novey and Kong (p.99-100):
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travelers considered Beijing's natural surroundings quite pleasant; in summer and fall, the city seemed park-like. The view from the Western Hills toward the city was a sea of green, interrupted only by a few yellow-tiled rooftops peeking out from the foliage. Looking west from the Imperial City during his 1849-1850 stay, the Russian envoy Kovalevsky enjoyed the "remarkable view, bright, shining, enchanting... Before us rose the massive indented walls, surrounding a series of palaces" under the "wonderful sky, clear, blue, transparent... and the clear aromatic air."
In his book When a Billion Chinese Jump, Jonathan Watts argues that China has become a dumping ground for the west's polluting industries and the country's bountiful supplies of coal present an all too tempting energy source. The human misery wrapped up in coal extraction and polluting factories will undoubtedly fill volumes. Still, I can understand how China came to have those problems; I'm less understanding of their embrace of the American disease, this idea that a middle-class lifestyle depends on owning a private automobile. Just as our young are increasingly rejecting auto dependence, Chinese cities are crowding out bicycles. When the air quality index in Beijing goes "crazy bad", I think we know what to blame.
And yet, Beijing has done a damned good job on trees. Here we have a rapidly-growing city where acquiring land to build residential properties can be quite difficult, yet trees are protected. Towers rise above the trees, sure, but in between the towers are lots of trees. I can't think of any area of Beijing as big as Chicago's Loop that's as devoid of trees.
In the photo to the right, the strip of green just on the other side of Zhongguancun Street is where subway line #4 runs. Above it, they could have built parking lots or widened the road, but instead we have trees.
The photo at the top of this article was taken in Jingshan Park, right in the middle of the city. You're looking northwest toward our Center. Were I to walk in a straight line northwest, I might have to cross four lakes: Beihai, Qianhai, Houhai and Xihai. And soon I'd start hitting University campuses every so often, some nice and some just ok. Beyond the Center, though, would be Peking University, which is drop-dead gorgeous. The Summer Palace is further west and the Old Summer Palace north. Both Peking U and the palaces have lakes, too. After that is the Botannical Gardens and then you hit the Fragrant Hills.
On clear days, Beijing is still a sea of green, albeit a city with towers rising thru the trees.
The vice-mayor of Beijing whose portfolio included traffic has departed for Xinjiang as carbuyers rush to register new cars in advance of 2011 regulations. While China Daily, the government's English language newspaper, touts the new curbs on government cars as well as plans to build more parking spaces and improve public transportation, the real story here is a new set of regulations limiting personal vehicles, which I'm going to take a stab at explaining even though I haven't yet found a suitable online source to link to.
But first, let me try to describe the regulatory environment in China in a couple paragraphs. The judicial branch of government consists of people who have a wide range of levels of competence, but the entire branch-- judges, administrative regulators and police-- is still an arm of the Communist Party. This lack of an independent judiciary means that enforcement of rules & regulation relies more on power relationships than on letter of the law. (I know that's a little true about the United States or any other country, but it's an order of magnitude truer in China.) A powerful person can get away with breaking a lot of rules as long as s/he doesn't offend another powerful person.
And there are a lot of rules & regulations-- so many that the police could never enforce them all, so they concentrate on answering complaints. We refer to them as "peace officers" in the U.S., but that's a much more suitable description of the Chinese police who spend a lot of time seeking compromises between aggrieved parties (like folks in traffic accidents). The police turn a blind eye toward small infractions like stickering sidewalks or unlicensed streetside vending. However, they're notorious for enforcing one specific regulation designed to decrease the volume of traffic: one weekday each week, dependent upon your license plate number, you can't drive that car. One day a week, an expensive machine sits in your parking garage unusable.
In 2011, Beijing (and I've only heard this word of mouth) will limit new municipal car registrations to about a third the number issued last year. Hence, December saw a surge of new car buying. Are the new regulations enforceable? People believe the police will be able to spot drivers lacking a suitably-numbered Beijing license plate.
Is there a more market-oriented solution available? Yes, I believe so and unfortunately I have to throw the most hurtful insult possible at Beijingers: Shanghai handles this better. In Beijing, car registrations cost about US$80. Shanghai charges US$6800 per plate. Roads are clogged, the air is polluted and something has to be done to limit traffic. The choice is between highly disruptive & wasteful regulations or fees that can then be plowed into infrastructure like new roads and public transportation.
The Chicago Transit Authority boasts 144 rail stations. Today, Beijing's subway* contains 126. Within the next week, however, China's capitol will open 45 new subway stations. (That's if I counted right. Somewhere between 40 and 50 anyway-- that much I'm sure of.) Beijing will vault ahead in track mileage.
While the United States dithered over an insufficient stimulus package in 2009 (due to the neanderthalic intransigence of Republicans), China forged forward, literally forged forward, building infrastructure. Stimulus money went to municipalities and Beijing used some of its share to speed up its already ambitious subway construction plans.
The Jing looked at its planned routes and made the wise decision to proceed with the least expensive expansions first. Elevated lines are less expensive than subways (by a factor of at least 3, I believe) and most of the suburban lines are elevated, so that's where the new lines and extensions were built. Very few of the new stations opening this week are truly subway, below ground, but they're all going to be part of the same metro system. I use the future tense because the ten stations set to open this year on the Fangshan line in southwestern Beijing are actually separated from the rest of the subway system. It'll be connected once its more expensive underground section is completed, probably in the next couple years.
One of the exciting finds for me here has been an English-language writer for BJ's City Weekend online, David Feng, aka "The Beijingologist". Feng has written short blurbs and taken photos at all the stations scheduled to open this year, a remarkable feat, and I find myself anticipating each new Feng post. As much as Feng delights me with our shared obsession, I still have to take issue with one of his attitudes. Or maybe just his tone. I suppose it's true that some of these stations are going up "bang in the middle of nowhere."
But that's the way it should happen. It's much cheaper to put in rail transit and then build up around it rather than tunneling under existing buildings. And Beijing can design for high density in these locations from the get-go rather than knocking down low-rise, underperforming buildings in the next few years. Riders on chronically-crowded inner city lines would prefer new subways close-in to ease that situation, but those lines will come. In the meantime, it makes sense to build cheap elevated lines so that new homes constructed with transit in mind can follow in their wake.
*Everyone seems to use the word "subway" here even when talking about the elevated stations, so I'll do the same. It's all part of the same Metro system.
On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the new public spaces along Broadway would be made permanent. Several blocks of Broadway, including Time Square, have been converted from automobile use to sidewalk and seating. Here's a .pdf with before and after renderings of Herald Square.
A dramatic decrease in traffic injuries was cited as reason enough to make permanent this experiment, but the counterintuitive prediction by Dep't of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan of better automobile traffic flow was also validated by data from taxicab trips. Affected retailers chimed in with their approval of the change.Closing off some blocks of diagonal streets to automobiles makes a lot of sense for Chicago. Although there are few such diagonals on the southside, streets like Clark, Broadway, Milwaukee and Lincoln would probably benefit. Those six-corner intersections are a headache for both pedestrians and drivers.
I wouldn't be surprised if the Times Square experiment itself, as well as the resulting success story, is someday considered an important turning point in American urban planning. I personally feel this is a very exciting moment.
My out-of-town guest Beth earned a Bachelors degree in Art a couple years ago, so a trip to the Art Institute was a must. Well, it's always a must, but with her it was an extra-special must. Hyde Park Urbanist would like to go on record voicing my profound approval for the new Modern Wing.
I wish I'd taken my real camera, but these IPhone pics might whet your appetite. The first pic looks thru shades at the skyline and Milennium Park. The second depicts the pedestrian bridge leading from the third floor of the Modern Wing to the edge of the Pritzker Pavillion. The bridge offers some terrific views of the skyline and functions as more than just a symbolic link between these two cultural landmarks. The bridge's materials, straightness and gentle incline respect pedestrians.
The main hall of the new wing is cathedralesque and these new spaces present their 20th century pieces quite sensibly. The Modern Wing does all the big things well-- you should use the elevator and look up. Settling in will probably mitigate the few criticisms I might offer-- like the arbitrariness of segregating European art from the American pieces on separate floors, with the extensive Joseph Cornell collection residing in the European section for some reason. The restrooms are fine and maybe the Art Institute considered itself just a little too well-respected to commission interactive pieces, but some museum should do so because I'm sure we've all had the impulse to piss on some art at one time or another.
We took in the Bean, of course, and then Beth was amazed to happen upon a free performance of Handel's Acis and Galatea at the Pritzker Pavillion. I'm not a huge fan of opera; I always wonder what the overwrought hullabaloo is about, with the answer invariably something to do with love & romance. Why can't the main characters just move on with their lives and find someone new on E-Harmony or something? But Beth has a more normal appreciation of romance and she liked the performance just fine.
I mentioned the other day that the Pritzker Pavillion is a fine example of a public space designed by Frank Gehry. Pic-right shows people gathering on the lawn a couple hours before a performance. Millennium Park's a jewel, isn't it? Kids were splashing around the Crown Fountain, going gaga whenever the faces spit water on them. And the Bean's just terrific. All year long, tourists are taking pictures around it. These spaces are wonderfully interactive, a memorable experience for anyone who wanders into our City of Clean Alleys. The world's most expensive parking garage roof is worth ten Soldier Fields.
I used to think that a topic like -- oh, let's see, US-China friction -- was controversial, or climate change, or Google-v-Microsoft, or McNamara-v-Rumsfeld. That was before I innocently stepped into the crossfire concerning the effect of "star-chitects" like Frank Gehry on the urban landscape.
Fallows is one of America's foremost China-hands, an amateur pilot, a technology enthusiast and media expert, but he broached this topic because he attended the Aspen Ideas Festival and witnessed Frank Gehry arrogantly dismissing a line of questions from Fred Kent of Project for Public Spaces. The video of the Gehry session is here, but basically Kent was a bit long-winded asking his question about how we could build iconic buildings as better public spaces and then suggested that Gehry's buildings were often problematic by that measure. Gehry then called Kent "pompous".
Fallows complained about Gehry's behavior and then a few days later published an e-mail from Gehry that Fallows described as "classy in the extreme". The "apology" didn't strike me that way. I thought this section of his e-mail was even worse than calling Kent "pompous":
Turns out that (Kent) followed Tommy Pritzker [the moderator of Gehry's session] around the next day and badgered him about the same issues. His arguments, according to Tommy, didn't hold much water.
A few days later Fallows published a note from Kent, who said he merely ran into Pritzker while having dinner with friends. Terms like "followed around" and "badgered" don't do much to patch things up. What's most grating to me is the condescension. Neither he, the well-paid archtiect (and I think he's alluding to money when he uses the word "figures" at Aspen) or Tommy Pritzker, who uses his inherited billions to promote the archtitecture he likes, thinks much of Kent, so we're supposed to kowtow and consider the argument over.
If Pritzker & Gehry had actually tried to understand Kent, perhaps asking him a question or two to better define "attractive public space", I think they could have cited an example of a Gehry design that works pretty well. I direct your attention to the Jay Pritzker Pavillion (Jay being Tommy's father) at Millenium Park. Personally, I don't really care for all that steel surrounding the bandshell, which Gehry already used for the Disney Center in Los Angeles, and the pedestrian bridge to the east is horrendous, but the spectator areas of the pavillion are very attractive during summer. I can't remember seeing anything else by Gehry that I thought was a good public space, but we should acknowledge this success here in Chicago.
In any case, there's nothing wrong with debating "starchitects", as Discovering Urbanism explains:
It is actually more about function than about style. It's notable that Kent is not quibbling with the aesthetic properties of Gehry's buildings, nor is he questioning their status as works of art. He is casting doubt on the way these buildings are used by people on a regular basis and how they interact with a surrounding urban environment. It's an empirical question, very American actually. Everyone knows Gehry's buildings, particularly the Guggenheim in Bilboa and the Walt Disney Theater in Los Angeles, have become tourist attractions and sites of pilgrimage for modern architecture buffs. Kent is asking how they are used by people who are there for reasons other than seeing the building itself, what role they play in Jane Jacob's "ballet" of urban life.
William Whyte, the founder of Project for Public Spaces), was known for making meticulous observations about how each little detail of public space either encouraged or discouraged its use. How were the steps oriented to allow for sitting and lingering? Where did the shade fall at different times of the day? He watched and videoed places all around the country, with a particular fondness for small spaces that generated a critical mass of human interaction. Architects have come around lately to recognize the importance Whyte placed on monitoring the actual uses of buildings and places. In my opinion, PPS is in the ideal place to ask the empirical questions. I hope the substance of this debate continues, although maybe without any more accusations over self-importance.
I'm glad that Jane Jacobs gets the attention she deserves, but architects who are unfamiliar with Whyte's City: Rediscovering the Center are apt to shortchange us all.
It's photojournalism time. Here at Hyde Park Urbanist, your dedicated reporting and picture-taking staff might be all wrapped up in one person, but that doesn't mean I'm going to shy away from either complicated or controversial news stories. Today I'm going in-depth and undercover to look at how the property owners on the south side of 57th Street deal with the verge-- that strip between the sidewalk and the street. We'll be examining the verge from all way from the Quadrangle Club to the Viaduct at a quick pace, so hold onto your hats!
First stop-- Quad Club. Now owned by the University but the verge here is IIRC pretty much as the University found it. The second pic shows the Fleck House on the right, which I assume is also owned by the University. The Fleck photo shows the telltale signs of a too narrow sidewalk. But even if you get beyond that 2-foot dirt path between the sidewalk and the trees, there's nothing growing in the Fleck House area. The Quad Club has dealt with too narrow sidewalk problems by installing rectangular pieces of stone on its verge. I'd say this works pretty well. The upkeep is next to nothing, the rectangles are attractive and there are intermittent opportunities for pedestrians to pass slower walkers.
Once you cross Woodlawn, you run into the Meadville site, which the University has also just purchased, and some private residences further east. At some point, the previous owners of Meadville dealt with the narrow sidewalk issue by placing some random shaped stones in the muddy area. Not a bad way to approach this, but we could obviously use some more stones on the west end of this stretch and I'd be ok with a variety of shapes & sizes. In the next half black, private residences installed some decent bricks on their verge and the trees are surrounded by planters. This is functional, somewhat permeable and probably doesn't require a lot of upkeep. It's not as green as some of the other choices, but it looks like someone cares for it.
The next couple blocks are commercial. The first photo is outside the 57th Street Bookstore. They've also gone with bricks, but they don't lie flat. The bricks just stop when they get close to the trees, so this looks less cared for. On the other hand, it's less institutional-looking than the street to building concrete in front of the stretch to the east. The expanse of sidewalk along the commercial areas gives folks plenty of room to pass, so I'd call that pedestrian-friendly if we're just talking functionality. The abandoned bike would be a whole 'nother issue, I guess.
After Kenwood, we get back into residential areas. These very stately-looking condos have planted evergreens on their verge. There's no mud path here because the bushes go all the way to the sidewalk. I hate getting caught on this strip of 57th Street sidewalk behind slow walkers because there's no room to pass. This verge choice gets points for green-- and it's green all year around-- but it's not so pedestrian-friendly.
On the street side, the bush should be trimmed back a bit so folks could more easily exit the passenger sides of cars. The first couple times I got stuck here without a passing lane, I tried walking along this little strip, but it's a pain because of how close the bush grows to the street.
The house at the southwest corner of 57th & Dorchester has neglected their verge the same way they neglect snow during the winter. I've seen the woman who owns the house just west shovel the walk and her patch of this verge has been mowed, but not along the corner residence.
Across Dorchester, the grass has grown back for some reason and this verge is mowed. There's also some decent landscaping done on the house side of the sidewalk. Let's give these residential owners some props for trying, but I'm not giving them any bonus points for verge creativity.
Across Blackstone, there's a fenced-in area with some decent looking plants under the trees. There's plenty of room for folks to exit cars. Also, if you're observant, you'll notice that the sidewalk on the east side of Blackstone is two feet wider than on the west side. That two feet tends to make some difference for passing purposes. This stretch doesn't feel as hemmed in. And it looks cared for, although I imagine there's a fair bit of upkeep to this.
Then it's street to building sidewalk all the way to the viaduct. The west portion is commercial but there's an apartment complex on the other side of Powell's. This area is ok, I guess, but it could use a little sprucing up.
A couple years ago, Medici's Bakery displaced sidewalk with outdoor seating. I'm for this, although it doesn't allow much room to get out of cars along the passenger side in those metered spaces. It's a quirky and attractive space and folks seem to enjoy sitting there drinking coffe, which increases the number of eyes on the street. The commercial spaces on either side of Harper Avenue should consider this option.
So, what's the best way to deal with the verge. Well, I don't have a platonic ideal of what a verge should be; there's no one best way to deal with these spaces along a too narrow sidewalk. In fact, if everyone did the same thing, it would be rather un-Hyde Park, wouldn't it? I'd even try to dissuade the University from dealing with their three properties-- Quad Club, Fleck House and Meadville-- consistently. The variety makes those properties feel less institutional.
However, if the bushes for the condos on the southeast corner of Kenwood & 57th were trimmed back on the street side of the verge about a foot and trimmed back two feet along the sidewalk, I think that would be my favorite because it's green all year and permeable. If the bushes were trimmed back along the sidewalk two feet, I'd suggest installing stones, random or not. I'm guessing slow walkers would stick to the sidewalk and the stones would be treated as a passing lane.