Dependable Erection

Monday, June 07, 2010


I confess - i love reading the rose-tinted Facebook posts originating from the group calling itself the Durham-Orange Friends of Transit, or DO Transit for short. I wish they'd be a little more specific about who, exactly, they are beyond "an alliance of local organizations, civic leaders and citizens who support regional transit for the Triangle," since no actual individuals or organizations are listed as being members of the group, only signatories of their petitions.

But that's a minor quibble.

Here's their utopian post from this past Saturday:
Through smart land use, the Triangle can give residents the option of driving less -- a direct way to stem the demand for offshore and foreign oil. For example, parking eats up space, reduces walkability, and adds an incentive to drive. In certain areas such as downtown Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro we can plan for ...parking areas to be redeveloped in the future, when other transportation options arrive such as the Bull City Connector.

I love that. We can plan for parking areas to be redeveloped in the future.

Parking areas like this one, which we're building right fucking now with tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money which could be spent on, oh i don't know, rolling stock, or tracks for a future street car system.

Seriously, this is the 4th parking deck being built in the ballpark area in the past 10 years or so. Add another one for West Village, and maybe there's one or two more that i've forgotten or missed. I'm too lazy to do the math, but how much bond money have we committed to downtown parking decks over the past decade? Surely one of our elected officials who is a member of DO Transit can tell us? After all, we're going to be redeveloping them with additional tax dollars in the future, right?



  • That's been the Chapel Hill mantra for years -- make parking downtown hard, and people will use our cool and free bus system. What happens, however, is that businesses that don't directly and solely cater to students -- bars, fast food and the like -- general don't florish in downtown and move away as soon as possible.

    Mass transit is a great ideal, but there needs to be a radical reorientation of our culture before it becomes feasible. forcing people into it will only produce resentment.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:11 PM  

  • Yeah, i know. they all end up moving to Portland.

    Meanwhile, the suburban malls are thriving . . .

    By Blogger Barry, at 2:16 PM  

  • I always laugh when friends locally complain that they don't know where they can park in downtown Durham. Parking is not something we have a shortage of, that's for sure.

    Enjoyed my first Beaver Queen Pageant this year! I will blog about it once I get my pictures up--so glad Scarlett O'Beaver won. I heard she promised more than a little tail.

    By Blogger The Gourmez, at 2:26 PM  

  • No comment about the promises made by Scarlet or her krewe.

    Having grown up in and around NYC, i think i have a handle on what limited parking is, and you're right. It ain't what we have in Durham. Longest i've had to spend looking for a parking space in D-Town is about 90 seconds. Farthest i've ended up from my destination is 3 blocks.

    And unlike Brooklyn, i have never once had the thought, "let's take a cab, i don't want to give up my parking space."

    By Blogger Barry, at 2:38 PM  

  • Creating enough density for successful mass-transit is a chicken-and-egg problem in all three cities in the Triangle.

    Durham's approach in creating lots of visible structured parking is one way to increase density in a car-centric culture, without ruining future prospects for mass-transit like the far-flung design of RTP did. The promise of plenty of spaces helps to lure business tenants, as well as customers for the Bulls and DPAC from a wide area of the Triangle and beyond. A streetcar would not serve the same purpose.

    As for the new courthouse parking structure in particular: People will have to reach the new courthouse from all across Durham County. No mass-transit system in Durham County will ever deliver mass transit within walking distance of any majority of residents. And traffic in Durham will never be bad enough that people would think that driving to a mass-transit stop to get downtown will be a preferable option to driving.

    Yes, I wish that the new courthouse deck would be "wrapped" with apartments/condos/office/retail, but that is water under the bridge. Keep pushing for this kind of solution when it comes time to finally do something about the Chapel Hill St. parking deck and W. Mangum surface lot that are even worse examples of urban design.

    By Blogger C, at 3:54 PM  

  • Durham's approach in creating lots of visible structured parking is one way to increase density in a car-centric culture, without ruining future prospects for mass-transit like the far-flung design of RTP did.

    I understand the second part of your comment, but not the first.

    Please feel free to elaborate as to how these parking structures increase density.

    By Blogger Barry, at 3:57 PM  

  • The structured parking takes up significantly less space than surface parking, therefore helping to increase density. But structured parking is far more expensive to build than surface parking, and any lack of parking availability can be a deal breaker for a business looking to locate in downtown Durham. Building parking is like building any other amenity that might tip the scales for businesses (and developers building for businesses) to locate here.

    By Blogger C, at 7:09 AM  

  • Again, i'm not following you. If density refers to residents per square mile (or some other arbitrary area figure) how does a parking structure increase that number?

    I know there's a perception out there that in certain segments of the business community that more parking leads to more business, and there are businesses that could thrive in downtown Durham that won't relocate their because they think parking is too scarce, but i'm pretty sure the evidence says otherwise.

    What i'd really like to see is a survey of just how much parking is available in Durham compared to other comparable sized cities, and then analyzed the business environment compared to that. Maybe Durham really does have so little on-street parking compared to other towns that we need parking decks popping up like weeds accompanying every new structure we build. It doesn't feel like that to me. I find parking every time i go downtown with no trouble at all. If parking were scarcer, maybe i'd think about taking the bus; and if we had more people taking the bus, maybe we'd have more frequent bus service.

    As to the courthouse parking deck, it's pretty much going to sit empty for a significant part of the day. I don't see how that increases population density at all. Yeah, it's a big building on an otherwise empty lot. Maybe when the courthouse is finished there will be enough people around there during the day that someone will finally open a restaurant over at the Venable, and they'll make enough money during lunch that they'll stay open for dinner and people will walk to the Somerhill and buy art and stuff.

    Or maybe not.

    By Blogger Barry, at 7:58 AM  

  • Another factor is that people who are accustomed to parking lots are often unable to park on the street. I know people who have not parallel parked since their driver's test. They can only park on the street if there is room to pull forward into the space. So without a parking lot, they perceive that there is no parking, even if every other space on the street is empty.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:37 AM  

  • The state government in Raleigh owns plenty of blocks of surface parking for workers in their offices. This kills "density" (however you want to define it). So do the surface parking lots around the "Downtown Loop" in Durham. Structured parking replaces these lots taking up multiple acres, with one structure taking up less room, freeing other lots for development and for increased "density".

    Yes, the new courthouse parking deck is likely to be mostly empty during the evening (although it could be another alternative for Bulls and DPAC parking). But all big cities, even vibrant ones with well-used public transportation systems, have zones that are mostly day-time active. Boston's Financial District, Manhattan's Wall Street, D.C.'s Federal Triangle and the areas around the Capital office buildings, etc., etc.

    By Blogger C, at 9:36 AM  

  • And Durham has, well, downtown, i guess.

    The courthouse is smack dab in the middle of the "revitalized" south of the railroad tracks ATC area, adjacent to the DPAC and the DBAP. I think it's a mistake to consider this the equivalent of Wall Street, bustling during the day and shuttered at night. The performing arts center and the ballpark are almost exclusively night time venues. But people come to these places, park in the parking decks, see their events, head back to the parking decks, and go back to Raleigh, or Greensboro, or Chapel Hill, and don't spend any time walking around Durham. Partially because walking from the DPAC to downtown is such a pain in the ass, but also because the car is in the deck, and the deck is adjacent to the theater.

    I think the point remains, we're building solutions to 25 year old problems, not the ones we're going to be facing over the next 25 years. Unfortunately, we'll be paying for these new buildings for the next 2 decades, which means the money to solve the next generation of problems, which will include how do we get people out of their cars and onto transit and other alternative modes, will be constricted.

    And nobody in our government is talking about this, except as platitudes through a front group which, as much as i agree with their philosophy, would be better served by attaching some names so that people know who they are.

    By Blogger Barry, at 9:52 AM  

  • The calculus is pretty unforgiving right now. The size of the pedestrian-friendly and bus-friendly population market you have to tap into as a business right now in Durham is very small, so if you want to open a business, you need plenty of parking. (Another take on this -- car shoppers have a higher ceiling on how much they will buy, because they don't have to carry it home on foot, bike, or bus. This means you get more money out of every person through the door that shows up in a car.)

    You want to increase the non-car market? Great, let's talk about how to do that. You want downtown residents? Well, considering there's not a grocery store downtown (and no one can accuse me of not doing anything to try to fix that), and the buses run with irritatingly low frequency, most residents are going to demand parking, because they can't do much of anything without cars.

    More mass transit? Well, look at the fate of any political effort to expand that meaningfully over the past 25 years. I'm a broken record on this, but at least the circulator is getting going, which is about the best single thing that could be done right away for mass transit downtown. In the meantime, this won't happen until there's more residential density and more things that are walkable from bus stops.

    More pedestrians on the street? There's an easy way to get those -- have lots of businesses and destinations downtown, and then people will want to come walk around. What's the first thing most of those businesses and destinations ask about to ensure that they'll be successful? You get one guess.

    I'm not sure why I keep writing this same comment, as we go over this every time Barry goes on his anti-parking deck kick. I don't like all the money spent on structured parking, but absent a Haussmann-like makeover of the entire city, I don't see a viable alternative to creating density downtown. The parking will get built, one way or another, until we reach a threshold of public transit ridership that we're a long, long way from. It can be surface lots or decks. I vote decks.

    By Blogger Kathryn, at 12:23 AM  

  • Ahem. That's what happens when your girlfriend borrows the laptop, and leaves herself logged in. The above comment would be me, not Kathryn.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 12:24 AM  

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