Downtown parking: An expert’s points – Hasso Hering


A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Downtown parking: An expert’s points

Written September 19th, 2018 by Hasso Hering

Consultant Rick Williams, at podium, listens to a question from Jeff Blaine, Albany public works and community development director, on Wednesday.

We’re all parking experts because, after all, we’ve parked vehicles in countless spaces thousands of times. On Wednesday, though, Albany city officials and others including me heard from a real expert, and listening to him was worth the time.

The speaker was Rick Williams, head of a Portland consulting firm that bears his name. The firm studies parking and transportation issues. Williams told the urban renewal advisory board and the city council lots of things, all of them important. For me, what he said about parking garages stood out because Albany has vague plans, on paper anyway, for one or two such structures downtown.

One of Williams’ points: Parking structures are expensive. Building one costs up to $35,000 per single stall. If it is financed with debt over 20 years, paying it off runs up to $240 per stall per month.

Then, to generate revenue to pay off the debt, the garage must be used. That means free parking on the street has to end. If parking on the street is free, nobody pays to park in a structure.

Studies have shown that users of a parking garage will walk no more than 750-800 feet to their destination. So, to have a chance at success, a garage must be surrounded for 800 feet in all directions by destinations that customers want to reach.

Williams cited a Portland parking garage that failed because is was built next to the Willamette River, meaning no destinations on that side.

A plan prepared for CARA, the urban renewal district, in 2011 proposed that a parking structure might eventually be built on the site of the Albany Eagles clubhouse. Williams didn’t refer to this plan, but his comments implied that building a structure on the riverfront there would be a mistake.

Because parking always comes up in discussions of downtown development, CARA may be asked to commission a downtown parking study. Williams said this might run around $35,000 for a town of Albany’s size. His firm has done scores of such studies for cities big and small, and if CARA wants one for Albany, his firm would be a logical choice.

Ahead of launching a review of its development code, the city had hired Williams to assess Albany’s parking standards for apartment complexes and senior care homes. His team found that at 14 apartment developments studied, there was more parking available than residents needed or used. This was so even at two older developments where the code now would require more spaces than were built. At the others, developers had built more spaces than demanded by the code.

The findings suggest that in the interest of more efficient land use, Albany may want to lower its off-street parking requirements for apartments. The extra space could be used for more housing units or anything else.

I missed the chance to ask this acknowledged expert what he thought of back-in angled parking of the kind the city installed last year on Second Avenue in front of the post office. If he gets hired for a downtown parking study, maybe I can ask him then. (hh)

17 responses to “Downtown parking: An expert’s points”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Good thing for the city council that hardly anyone pays attention to, and tries to understand, CARA and the TIF scam that was imposed without voter approval.

    I take issue with one comment …”to generate revenue to pay off the debt, the garage must be used.”

    Nonsense. CARA uses Tax Increment Financing to pay off its debt. This means the urban renewal bonds will be paid off with the property taxes CARA skims from the other taxing districts.

    No “use” of the garage is needed. If the parking garage generates any revenue you’ll have to ask the council how they intend to spend that money.

    The only thing needed is for this garage to increase the tax base in the CARA area. Since a city owned parking garage will generate zero tax increment (I would argue the increment is negative), the only thing a parking garage will generate is another slush fund for the council to spend on pet projects.

    Wake up Albany taxpayers. You’re about to get fleeced again.

  2. Avid Reader 1 says:

    Albany CARA (that is, downtown area, as they (we, the taxpayers, that is) finance it) is such a mess. CARA and the council and mayor run around like chickens with their heads cut off, hiring consultants left and right. And, they continue to spend, spend, spend our tax money.

    Yes, Hasso, ask the expert about the bank-in, angled parking when you get the chance. It is a joke, but the consultant won’t put it in those terms, I’m sure. If you use that parking, you spend more time parking than you do in the Post Office!! Fat lot of good it will do to ask him about it, but would be interesting to know what the consultant has to say.

    • David Abarr says:

      So much information. Same 5 people who obviously hate Albany on here. Those headlines gets hits on this site though.

  3. Terry says:

    If free downtown parking disappears we may as well just close downtown.
    The city needs to STOP pissing money away on pet projects and focus on necessities.

  4. @CorvalliSteve says:

    Interesting information.

    I wonder if parking structures might be more viable if they were part of a comprehensive transportation plan, located adjacent to transit hubs with a robust transit system.

    The fact is Albany is growing, and traffic in many areas is already exceeding capacity at peak travel times.

    • Linda LaRosseau says:

      Albany already has Hourly Service in place, featuring two entire bus routes. Don’t try to do too much.

      • Bill Kapaun says:

        Since you know so much about the local bus service, List ALL the downtown locations the bus stops at-
        Kind of like a parking garage by the river…..

  5. J. Jacobson says:

    Build the new parking ramp near the Wheelhouse office emporium. Five or 6 stories should be sufficient for the amount of parking demand Albany typically generates. Back-in parking should be encouraged.

    Placing a monolithic concrete structure in this area will stimulate both Water Street development and provide the Parking Public the opportunity to improve their overall health by walking several blocks to the more Historical Center of Albany’s throbbing core. Imagine the community-wide benefit.

    And yes, we know that parking ramps must, according to the consultant, be placed within 800’ of where people want to be. And yes, we realize the Wheelhouse is not precisely a desirable destination for Albany residents…but with a sharply-focused, fine-tuned advertising and PR campaign, funded by Urban Renewal monies, perhaps citizens could be convinced that the Wheelhouse is, indeed, a destination in and of itself.

    • Derek says:

      Well, the Wheelhouse is an office building, so I’m not sure of it’s appeal as a tourist attraction. On the other hand, it did generate $73,928.19 of real and personal property tax income in 2017, so that’s not too bad. Certainly more than the Buzzsaw generated and a lot less police activity.

  6. LARRY R TOMLIN says:

    Sounds like we don’t need to hire anyone to do a study if these numbers
    are anywhere near reality. It seems that another alternative would be to buy a lot remote from downtown and have anyone working downtown park there and shuttle them to and from. If downtown gets too busy with visitors they could be shuttled.

  7. HowlingCicada says:

    “””Parking structures are expensive. Building one costs up to $35,000 per single stall. If it is financed with debt over 20 years, paying it off runs up to $240 per stall per month.”””

    Just one small part of the enormous cost of catering to the American car culture.

    “””… at 14 apartment developments studied, there was more parking available than residents needed or used.”””

    Just one little example of misplaced priorities caused by automobile-dominated public policy and waste by private enterprise.

    If I owned a pet, I would have to pay my landlord extra monthly rent for it (in addition to extra security deposit). But, if I owned a car, I wouldn’t have to pay one stinking cent for my share of the large space devoted to parking and moving cars. Even if there isn’t a structure cost, there’s a large opportunity cost to this valuable land that could have been used to build more apartments, or just added to the open space, making each apartment more desirable and valuable.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      I think that if you rent an apartment, you pay for the parking that’s provided as part of your rent whether you own a car or not.

      • HowlingCicada says:

        Exactly, and that’s the problem. Free (or included in rent) parking is a perverse incentive and should, in an economic sense, only exist where land is free.

        Apartment owners don’t usually provide as part of the rent any utilities which can be viably metered individually, nor do they provide food. Providing these “free” would encourage waste and penalize those who are frugal, an example of perverse incentive because the whole economic and social system suffers as a result.

        “Free” parking works the same way except that its effects are less visibly immediate, and longer lasting. It encourages car ownership which adds to congestion, pollution, poorer health due to inactivity (and public costs thereof), rising gas prices in the future due to supply/demand worsening, and astronomical costs of building new roads to deal with congestion.

        Maybe I’ve beaten this horse to death several times on this forum, but I’m firmly convinced that every additional car in the urban environment adds a disproportionally higher cost in economic, social, health, and happiness terms.

        For those persuaded only by free-market economics, it’s back to the opportunity costs for apartment owners – if you don’t need as much parking as you did when it was “free,” you can build more income-generating housing. Win-win all around!

  8. Bill Halsey says:

    The best solution to the problem I have ever heard in my entire life.

    And you don’t need to hire any high dollar “consulting firms”, either.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      Thanks for the link. For anyone further interested in Pontevedra, the entire city, including the cars-mostly-excluded zone, warts and all, is on Google Street View. Pontevedra seems to stand out by being a little less touristy and maybe less economically overheated (my own poorly-educated guess) than many other medieval car-restricted areas in Europe. An extreme opposite example is the old, lower section of Québec City, which was extensively rebuilt to look like the original and is almost 100% tourism-dependent. North Africa has larger old parts with extremely narrow streets and passageways – car-free by necessity, not choice.

      I thought long and hard about this subject last night. Car-free European examples I know of are small, very old, more or less tourist-oriented areas with narrow streets which made car travel difficult before they became car-free. Or else, they are single-street malls that worked out better than Eugene’s failed mall. There are exceptions – car-free Venice is large, but it’s also a world-class tourist trap. There is also a small, modern neighborhood in Freiburg, Germany.,_Freiburg

      An internet gathering place for car-free enthusiasts is I’m pessimistic about even small parts of the world escaping car-domination and its destructive effects, especially after the apparent collapse of peak-oil fears, the rise of electric cars, and the election of a President who … well, never mind.

  9. Cheryl P says:

    Maybe Portlanders are too lazy to walk an entire block (900′), but folks in Albany are made of sterner stuff. And downtown Albany isn’t that large…it’s what, 4×4 or 4×5 blocks?

    And you don’t have to get rid of the ‘free’ parking to recoup costs because there is already, a shortage of parking downtown between those who work downtown, those who live downtown and those who [try to] shop downtown. What you do is charge $xx an hour or $xx for the day…then you approach businesses and landlords about providing parking to the tenants and employees at a [slightly] discounted rate. The parking then becomes a ’employee benefit’ and landlords can add the cost to the rest.

    As for where employees and tenants park…simple. Parking garages typically have multiple floors and you have a separate entrance for ‘pass’ parking for those designated floors.

    There…I just saved the City of Albany tens of thousands of dollars; that should hopefully repair a couple of potholes.


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