Experts Say Parking Hinders Growth
|October 26, 2006||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Experts Say Parking Hinders Growth
Big Shopping Mall Not for Cars
Here are portions of a report from the Austin American-Statesman (Texas, U.S.).
by Bob Keefe
The Westfield San Francisco Centre has everything you might expect at the biggest shopping mall west of the Mississippi: an enormous Bloomingdale’s, a nine-screen movie theater and 170 specialty shops on nine levels.
When developers completed a $460 million renovation last month that tripled the mall’s size to 1.5 million square feet, though, there was something they did not add: parking.
It was not an oversight.
Building a mega-mall without new parking might seem unfathomable just about anyplace else in America. But here, developers and city officials cordially agreed on that point to encourage public transportation and reduce downtown traffic.
Not allowing any new parking was just the latest result of a downtown growth management policy developed in 1985, said Joshua Switzky of the San Francisco Planning Department.
City leaders “came to the realization that we can’t grow and have economic vitality downtown (by) accommodating additional automobiles,” Switzky said.
In addition to the mall, about 16 million square feet of office space has been built in downtown San Francisco since 1985.
The number of new parking spots added since then? Almost none, according to Switzky.
Other big cities, most notably New York, Boston and Chicago, also have relatively little downtown parking. But San Francisco’s policy of refusing to allow almost any new parking flies in the face of city planning elsewhere, where new construction almost always comes with a mandate to build new parking too.
It might be something other cities should consider especially in places such as Austin, Texas, that are in the midst of major downtown redevelopments, said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California in Los Angeles.
Most cities don’t even consider limiting parking, said Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking.” Typically, city leaders say “shopping has to come with parking or you can’t have (new) shopping at all,” he said. “And you wonder why places like Atlanta are at the top of the heap of cities with (traffic) problems.”
Though few U.S. cities have gone as far as San Francisco, what’s happening here is indicative of a trend nationally, said William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, a trade group.
In Dallas, Washington and elsewhere, developers have built or are planning housing and retail shopping centers that rely on public transit as much as public parking.
In Atlanta, parking lots at several public-rail stations are set to be replaced by stores and high-rise homes as urban living takes off again.
Car-clogged Austin is counting on public transport to reduce downtown traffic congestion and the need for more parking lots. Rail service is scheduled to begin in Austin in 2008 and is tied closely to the revitalization of the downtown core.
San Francisco’s Westfield mall doesn’t even have a parking lot. The nearest parking is across the street at a city-owned lot that also serves the Moscone convention center and other attractions. It can hold about 2,600 cars.
Officials expect about 68,500 people a day on average, or about 25 million a year, will visit the mall. That works out to one parking spot for every 26 mall shoppers.
Even so, officials say the parking garage will be full only on big shopping days during the holiday season.
To be sure, San Francisco and the location of its newly expanded mall are unique. The 49-square-mile city is one of the most densely populated in the country and one of the best for pedestrians. Its narrow streets and steep hills were built for cable cars, trains and horses, not SUVs and sedans, and many have never been updated.
The mall also is in the middle of one of the biggest hubs for public transportation outside New York City.
More than 30 different public transit sources are within a few blocks of the mall, including the Powell Street terminus of the city’s famed cable car line, several stops for the Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system, and stops for municipal trains and buses.
“People here are used to using transit, and the system is pretty good,” said Jim Chappell, president of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a nonprofit group that advocates mass transit and less public parking. Even with relatively few parking lots in the city, most go unfilled on typical days, he said.
In a statement, mall co-developer Westfield America said that at least a few weeks after opening, the reliance on public transportation seems to be working.
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