Cheap Parking Doesn’t Matter for Downtown Redevelopment

Here’s an old favorite from Aaron Renn. Many of today’s politicians in recovering urban areas are still shellshocked from decades of white flight, and think cheap and plentiful parking is the ticket to successful redevelopment. They want to compete with the suburbs on the suburbs’ terms. That’s the idea behind free holiday parking and related gimmicks. It’s good to have convenient parking, but this should take a back seat to nearly any other idea. It should never be a reason to build fewer apartments. It should never be a reason to turn away a new business. The overriding goal for older central cities needs to be attracting quality neighborhood businesses and entertainment that people like, improving neighborhoods for the people who live there, and enlarging the market of customers for these businesses with more multifamily and mixed use housing. Create a nice place that people want to visit, and they’ll visit regardless of the parking situation:

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality of the matter is that parking has virtually nothing to do with whether people do or don’t come downtown. It is a deciding factor at the margin in the worst case.

This is obvious after thinking about it. To paraphrase Denis Leary, I’ve got two words for people who think parking hassles are the reason suburbanites don’t like to come downtown – Broad Ripple. Broad Ripple is a city neighborhood. There are some free off street spaces, but not nearly enough to fulfill the demand on Friday and Saturday nights. I have personally been forced to walk six blocks or more from where I parked my car to the Broad Ripple Ave. strip. Articles containing horror stories about Broad Ripple parking are standard fare in local papers. Yet throngs of people drive from every part of the metro area and beyond to eat, drink, shop and party in Broad Ripple. Parking hassles have not stopped Broad Ripple from becoming a huge success.

Or consider Christmas shopping season at Keystone at the Crossing. Yet another parking nightmare, the day after Thanksgiving and most weekends in December leave many would be shoppers cruising a full lot waiting for a space to free up. This after already enduring the traffic jams on 82nd St., Keystone Ave., and Allisonville Rd. to get there. But again, this does not appear to deter the thousands of people who throng to the North Side mall’s upscale shops and restaurants.

And parking at Broad Ripple and the Fashion Mall is a piece of cake compared to finding a parking spot in places like San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. In those places, there aren’t even any illegal spots available. All the fire hydrants are taken. But people are willing to drive from 50 miles out in the suburbs to dine out in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. People from Indianapolis and beyond travel to Chicago to shop Michigan Ave., dine out in Lincoln Park, or take in a touring Broadway show in the Loop, where $15 charges for parking are commonplace and on street parking is a near impossibility. New York is of course the nation’s premier tourist mecca and no one even thinks about trying to park there.


  1. “The reality of the matter is that parking has virtually nothing to do with whether people do or don’t come downtown. It is a deciding factor at the margin in the worst case.”

    Maybe I’m “at the margin,” but parking matters to me tremendously. When I go downtown I’ll park a few blocks away where it’s not metered.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Cities should strive for convenience (read: priced to produce about 15% vacancy for curb spaces), but this is really the least important thing to worry about. If there’s stuff people want to do downtown, they’ll come regardless of the parking price.

      • I think that’s the difference between a “big city” and what’s going on in the Lehigh Valley. There really isn’t anything *that* compelling in a downtown to make me want to spend money on a parking spot. Spending money on a parking spot just so I can go shopping? I dont’ see the value in that. Spending money on a spot so I can go see a performance, for whatever reason, that sits better with me. I guess it’s because I’m not spending money just for the privilege of spending more money.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          On the margin, there’d be more stuff to do if cities stopped turning away businesses who can’t meet the minimum parking requirements.

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