Strong Towns’ Black Friday Parking event showcases the absurdity of parking minimums for second year running.
On Black Friday, an army of strong towns advocates hit the pavement, documenting parking lot utilization across the country. It’s dangerous work. Woe to ye who would deny a crazed shopper that $199 HDTV special for a few seconds! But for the sake of a greater purpose, #blackfridayparking participants persevered at risk of being trampled.
Black Friday Parking isn’t focused on protesting all that is wrong about our national consumerist obsession, although there is plenty to say about that. Instead, Black Friday Parking focuses on an area of policy that is often overlooked and maybe seen as esoteric, but impacts our cities and towns perhaps more than any other land development regulation. In its application, it favors the big box retail model, the car-dependent development pattern, and the associated public highway funding that make it all possible. In that way, parking policy is more the cause of the Black Friday consumerist madness than the effect. It is part of a system perfectly adapted to our national car addiction and oil dependency.
Parking minimums are the worst policy for good urban form. They spread out development, make places unwalkable, and create vast expanses of low-yielding land use. Parking is expensive to provide and it favors the big box store over the hometown business. Big boxes are capital-intensive, high-volume and low margin, publicly subsidized, and yield a very low return to the municipal coffers. They do provide nice sound bites at a ribbon cutting, though. Hundreds of jobs! Lots of new property tax revenue! What isn’t said is that this growth is unproductive and also creates huge infrastructure liabilities that aren’t included on a city’s balance sheet.
Think this is just a bunch of theoretical blathering? Just listen to Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Anath Prasad, making remarks to the West Palm Beach City Council, about how transportation spending “attracts the Wal-Mart, Target, Bass Pro Shop”. Go to minute 12 of this video: FDOT remarks on Flagler Bridge This is happening everywhere, in the same way.
Black Friday Parking locally
I traveled to visit family, so I couldn’t take photos of local retail parking for the #blackfridayparking event. I suspected that if any retail strip would be filled to capacity, it would be the Palm Beach Outlets. But the Palm Beach Post tells a different story:
At Palm Beach Outlets on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, a stream of cars flowed into the parking before the sun came up Friday. But die-hard deal seekers said they were surprised there wasn’t more traffic at the outdoor mall, which opened at midnight on Friday.
“We do this every year,” said Toni Anderson of Lantana, who was shopping at the outlets with four family members. “It is pretty quiet. It took a lot of the fun out of it.
The group started shopping just after midnight at The Mall at Wellington Green, where they said crowds were also small. They decided to head for the outlets about 5 a.m., Anderson said.
“I figured it was new, and there would be more people,” Anderson said.
Shindler said the group arrived at the outlets about 6 a.m., and was expecting to have trouble finding a parking spot.
“That is why we got up so early, we were expecting it to be a little more crowded,” Shindler said.
Incidentally, the Post did a story this past Wednesday about parking needs in a new waterfront development. In this instance, a developer wished to provide fewer parking spaces than required by code. Instead, the City of Lantana will get less greenspace, more pervious pavement, more stormwater runoff by the intracoastal, and of course its precious parking.
Variances included decreasing the amount of required parking spaces from 2.5 per unit to 1.87, decreasing the size of parking stalls and aisles, building taller buildings than what code allows and putting fences in some areas where code requires a masonry wall.
Developer Trinsic Acquisition Co. and Goray came back Monday night with a new site plan that complied with town code. To make room for more parking, some green space was scrapped, said Dwayne Dickerson on behalf of the developers…
Vice Mayor pro tem Malcolm Balfour said he liked the original site plan better because there wasn’t a parking lot at the front of the property. Dickerson said it was necessary to do that to provide enough parking spots to be in line with the code.
The purpose of Black Friday Parking is to show that planners don’t have a crystal ball. The rise of internet retailing, the decreased importance of Black Friday sales, and the trends towards more urban retail formats are all trends that cannot be foreseen with any degree of accuracy. Abolishing parking minimums doesn’t mean developers will get it right either. It just means they won’t be required to get it wrong.