There are things I wish downtown Salem (Oregon) had more of: night life, throngs of people, cool shops and art galleries, vegetarian-friendly restaurants, street musicians.
Parking meters... that's something I've never wished for.
Yet the City of Salem is determined to force paid parking down downtown's throat. Why? The reason remains a mystery, like other recent ill-advised City decisions.
US Bank got an approval to cut down five large beautiful trees in downtown Salem. For no good reason. Three years ago the City's Public Works director, Peter Fernandez, made a promise to the US Bank president that the trees could be removed.
Then flimsy reasons were conjured up in an attempt to justify the tree-killing decision. Same thing is happening with Third Bridge planning: a decision to build another bridge, which would channel people away from downtown, has been made without considering better and cheaper transportation alternatives.
Now we've got a rush by the City to install parking meters downtown. Again, with little or no consideration of whether this will solve the purported problems meters are supposed to solve; and with little or no listening to the downtown businesses that will be affected by a shift from free to paid parking.
The Downtown Parking Task Force project began hopefully enough last year. The original intent was to listen to the public first, to both the business owners and the customers. Hear them share their needs and dreams, perhaps in our Library’s auditorium, and from those conversations, develop potential strategies at open meetings.
Instead, Task Force and city staff members met at 7:30 a.m. in the library’s lower-level Anderson Room; seated in a “U” with their backs to the public they were meant to serve. As the months passed there was never an opportunity for the public to speak.
Recently the Mayor, City Manager, members of the Parking Task Force, and other proponents of parking meters met with the Statesman Journal editorial board. I watched the entire hour-plus video of the session. I came away unconvinced that meters are needed.
Unfortunately, the Statesman Journal followed its usual policy of being on the side of whatever the City of Salem leadership and Chamber of Commerce are for, whether or not the public interest is being served. The resulting editorial, though annoyingly wishy-washy, supported moving ahead with parking meters -- even though it acknowledged that this could turn out to be a bad idea.
The Parking Task Force didn't survey downtown business owners to ask how they thought parking meters would affect them. Shameful.
Such is par for the course these days with the City of Salem. Expert advice and citizen input are ignored; the US Bank tree-killing debacle and looming Third Bridge disaster are further examples.
Read what downtown business owners and other citizens think about downtown parking meters here and here. These informed comments provide a lot of ammunition to shoot down the parking meter proposal. I have some additional skeptical bullets:
(1) Currently four large downtown businesses, such as Penney's, pay most of the parking tax that supports downtown parking garages and other parking expenses. If meters are installed, that tax goes away. This amounts to a wealth transfer to large corporations at the expense of downtown visitors. Penney's will save over $40,000 a year.
(2) Reportedly the Convention Center pays nothing for parking, yet benefits from the City parking structure right across the street. Other governmental entities apparently pay nothing for parking either. Why should big business and big government get a free parking ride?
(3) The main reason parking meters are being recommended by the Task Force is to pay for the capital and operating costs of downtown parking structures, which currently provide free parking to visitors. So why aren't parking meters planned for the structures? Why should onstreet parkers feed their meters in order to provide free parking to people who use the structures?
Now there is free onstreet parking, and free offstreet parking in the structures. If parking meters make downtown onstreet parking costly, then offstreet parkers should incur the same cost. After all, the purported purpose of the meters is to meet the cost of maintaining and operating the parking structures.
Those who use the structures should pay much or most of the costs associated with them. Logically, this seems obvious. Yet the Parking Task Force didn't recommend this. Here's my conspiracy theory about why:
In my experience as a frequent downtown visitor, the structures are more likely to be used by people heading to large businesses such as Penney's, and to the Salem Center mall. After all, skybridges connect the structures to these places.
There is no skybridge from a parking structure to the small businesses I have frequented for many years: RJ Dance Studio, Venti's, Beanery, Pacific Martial Arts, Great Harvest, etc. I use onstreet parking when I go to these small businesses, because it is much more convenient. And very rarely, if ever, have I had to park in a structure because I couldn't find an onstreet parking space.
Thus my suspicion is that the City of Salem is tilting toward large businesses, and away from small businesses, in this parking meter proposal. By using onstreet meter revenue to subsidize free parking in the structures, Penney's, Salem Center, and the Convention Center will continue to have free parking easily available to their customers -- while not having to pay any parking tax.
Yet it is small businesses that make downtown Salem as attractive as it is. And it is small businesses which should be supported by City of Salem policies. Downtown Salem is on the edge of being vibrantly ascendent. It also is on the edge of sliding downhill.
Which side downtown moves toward will be affected by how attractive the area is to visitors, and thus to businesses.
Already the City has authorized the killing of five beautiful trees that used to grace downtown's State Street. And the City is determined to build a Third Bridge that would funnel people away from downtown toward Keizer Station and points north.
Now the City wants to install parking meters, which means large businesses wouldn't have to pay their fair share, or indeed any share, of downtown parking costs. I'm not saying the City of Salem hates downtown small businesses. But I can understand why someone would come to that conclusion.
Your allegation that the city wants meters just to have meters, or kill small business, or or to appease the Chamber is ridiculous and defies common sense. Parking is the third rail of city politics. Nobody wants to touch it which means parking problems rarely get solved.
The budget is $2.7mil. and the parking district only generates $1mil. in revenue. That gap has been growing. That is a problem that needs to be solved. It wasn't just invented to fit a predetermined outcome as you suggest.
Metering the garages is not on the table because people don't want to use the garages. Occupancy rates are only 50% or roughly 1500 stalls, at peak hours. To charge for something, there has to be more demand. Occupancy rates on the street are over 70% district wide (about 812 of 1161 spaces). Meter the garages and those 349 available spaces on the street will be locked up, and unavailable for the customers of street business. Then you will need meters for parking management and free parking won't be an option for anyone.
Parking meter revenue can be very beneficial for a city when done right.
To solve this problem in a way that works for Salem we need an honest and well informed discussion about it.
Posted by: Curt | May 20, 2013 at 10:29 PM
Curt, you say there is no demand for parking in the structures. Yet this is why the City of Salem wants to put parking meters in: to pay for the upkeep of the parking structures.
Don't you see a problem with that logic?
You're correct in observing that the reason for the meters is bringing more money into the city coffers, not to solve some problem with downtown -- such as an excess of demand for free parking spaces.
The City, and you apparently, are assuming that only visitors to downtown should pay for all parking services downtown. Yet this is not at all the theory being used by the City when it comes to the proposed Third Bridge.
The City is talking about tolls, property taxes/bonds, and other means of paying for the bridge. Everybody in the area is supposed to chip in, not just the people who want to use the bridge.
So why is it that downtown parking is supposed to completely pay for itself? Why can't the City continue to use other sources of money to keep downtown attractive to visitors and economically viable? Why the push to save a few hundred thousand dollars from the downtown parking budget when the City of Salem is eager to spend $600 million or so on a Third Bridge that hardly anybody needs or wants?
Lots of questions need to be answered by the City of Salem before anyone takes the parking meter proposal seriously. Lots.
Posted by: Brian Hines | May 21, 2013 at 12:12 AM
Its not logic its fact. Low occupancy in the parking garages is a fact. Maintenance of the parking garages is fact. You have provided no factual evidence to the contrary. People have cited the excess supply of parking in arguing against meters and time limits. Now they saying meter the garages where the excess is even higher. This signals to me that people don't want to solve the funding issue at all. They just don't want meters.
Your comparison to bridge funding is right on. Funding this bridge with property taxes is a regressive act of redistribution that will force low income taxpayers in Salem and rural Marion County to subsidize new development in Polk Co. Bridge users, like parkers, don't care who pays, as long as it isn't them. Subsidizing parking with urban renewal money or out of the general fund is just as unfair. The parking issue is the first time the city has shown any interest in these funding inequities. The conversation has to start somewhere.
Yes the downtown, and the rest of the city, does need to pay for itself. One reason why it doesn't is because so much of the land downtown is consumed with garages and surface parking lots and there is very little left for housing, shops, and quality public spaces that generate value and tax revenue to fund city services. Our parking fetish is the reason why we can't have a Pearl District in Salem.
I'm happy to share more factual articles with you on parking policy and how parking subsidies harm cities when you are ready to deal with the facts.
Posted by: Curt | May 21, 2013 at 09:35 AM
Curt, I'm always pleased to learn more facts about parking policies. But here's the thing:
Facts are meaningless absent values. What are your values? What are my values? I'll tell you mine; hopefully you'll share yours in another comment.
I value a vibrant core Salem downtown. Walkable. Livable. Attractive. A place where small businesses thrive and people want to visit. Cities need a core, not just disjointed suburban strip malls and endless ugly streets filled with cars heading somewhere else.
Nothing in the parking meter proposal has indicated to me that installing meters for onstreet parking will support those values.
Maybe you can explain to me how making visiting downtown Salem more difficult and expensive will encourage people to visit the area -- given that parking is plentiful at the moment, and downtown isn't a thriving core that needs "congestion pricing."
You mentioned parking subsidies.
Well, we subsidize a whole lot of stuff. Taxes are subsidies, transfers of money from one source to another. Roads are subsidized. Electric cars and alternative energy are subsidized. Buying a home is subsidized. Laws and the tax code are hardly anything but "subsidies" in one form or another.
The question is whether those subsidies support widespread public values, and serve the public interest. If general fund money is needed to support a vibrant thriving downtown Salem, I've got no problem with that. This idea that only parking fees can be used to pay for downtown public parking (onstreet and off street)... who made that an unbreakable commandment?
It is a value, a questionable value. I'm suggesting that Salem needs to have an open and honest conversation about what we value most in downtown Salem, and form policies that support those values. Not choose a policy -- parking meters! -- just because this seems like a good idea, and some other cities have installed them downtown.
Salem is unique. Our values are unique. We should have a unique downtown parking policy that meshes with our values.
Posted by: Brian Hines | May 21, 2013 at 10:47 AM
I am an urbanist and an advocate for cities. What I want for myself and my family's future in this city is an active, sustainable urban lifestyle. That is what drives my interest in urban planning, design, and policy. So value the same things.
Salem's misguided approach to parking is one of the primary reasons why Salem is mostly "disjointed suburban strip malls and endless ugly streets filled with cars." Salem is that way because we planned it and subsidized it that way. You subsidize parking and you get lots and lots of parking and concrete and asphalt until you have a place where few people want to visit. That is where we are now.
Of course a user pays parking system is not an unbreakable commandment. Salem has not lived by it for 30 years. The commandment Salem has lived by is that free parking is the key to prosperity. Salem has poured approximately $8mil. into those garages and it has not made Salem a better place. There are more vacant properties downtown now than when we moved here. I view "free" parking downtown as a failed experiment.
City staff in the SJ interview were very clear that they want the money that they are currently sinking into the parking garages to go to urban development. That to me means they want to stop subsidizing driving and instead use it to make Salem "Walkable. Livable. Attractive. A place where small businesses thrive and people want to visit." We have had over 30 years to make "free" parking work. Its time to go a different direction.
Posted by: Curt | May 21, 2013 at 02:00 PM
It is interesting you call any information coming from the City a "fact" but any information from citizens is automatically suspect.
Let me show you why you need to be suspect of any "fact".
Here is how the City of Salem came up with their "deficit" in the parking district:
There was a $4.2 M deficit (or $425,000 a year over 10 years) identified in 2011, but much of that has been caught up. For instance, between 2010-13 the City budgeted $2.2 M for Parking Garage capitol expenditures. So, they should only have a $2 M deficit, shouldn't they?
The $4.2 M figure included all costs for the parking garages, and annual increases to keep up with inflation. The City Manager took the $425,000 figure and "rounded up" to $500,000 ($75,000 more than they need each year),
Then the City Manager came up with a $160,000 annual "operations" deficit each year. No one knows where that figure came from and it was never made clear at the Parking Task Force - because no one asked. . . . That number was "rounded up" to $200,000 ($40,000 more than they need).
Then the City Manager calculated, if she eliminated the parking tax - $ she needed an additional 383,000 a year - (rounded up to $400,000) multiplied that times the number of days, divided by the deficit and came up with a need for $1.1 M of new revenue needed each a year - or $1.25 per hour for the meters.
Well, not exactly since $1.25 per hour, with a "20% leakage factor" gives the city $1.3 M of new revenue each year. So, with all the "rounding up" the City is asking for about $300,000 more each year than the inflated figures they reported they need.. . . . And, just because the City said they need that money - you believe them. Why?
Today, the downtown parking garages have a $1M annual income (with the parking tax the income is $1.4 M). The reason the city can't afford to maintain the garages is that they charge too much to cover their costs.
A professional building manager would charge between 6-10% of revenue each year to manage the parking garages. The city management costs 23%.
Maintenance usually runs about 6-10% each year, but the City charges 29%. . . .
The City was charging 33% for "security" although they didn't require "security" in any other city owned garage. When this was brought to their attention the city took $290,000 of that to pay a general fund cost.
So you need to question both sides. If the city cannot find sufficient money each year to maintain the garages, they certainly shouldn't be taking money from that budget to pay general fund costs. That just digs a deeper hole downtown.
The City either needs to be competitive with their costs, or put the parking district out for private management. Using City staff has bloated the budget beyond anything reasonable for the downtown, or our customers, to pay for each year.
As the old saying goes, "first government takes everything it wants, then taxes the rest" seems to hold true here in Salem.
Just because the City says they need it, doesn't mean the citizens owe it to them. There are ways to manage the parking garages with the income they produce. The city just doesn't want to look at that solution (or any others).
Posted by: Cherry City Blogger | May 21, 2013 at 03:08 PM
Ha! I started drafting a blog post over the weekend, but I see that Curt has anticipated most the points in it. (I'll post it later this week.)
It will, however, have a old photo that you probably will not have seen!
So just a brief echo of what Curt's already said...
Since 1978, has there ever been a "golden age" in downtown Salem when it was really prospering and free parking the reason? Curt's right. Free Parking hasn't worked, and we should stop digging in on a failed policy and work on new approaches instead. Done right, metered on-street parking can create more vitality, not less. Even if the City weren't running a deficit on the garages, metered parking would still be a good idea as we move towards a healthier mix of people in downtown who arrive on foot, on bike, by bus, and by car.
Posted by: Breakfast on Bikes | May 21, 2013 at 06:10 PM
B on B, I'm still perplexed by the supposed cause and effect relationship between installing parking meters for onstreet parking and "more vitality" in downtown.
I didn't know that parking meters could make a city more vital. Please explain how this happens. From what I've heard, virtually every small business owner in downtown Salem is opposed to this idea -- expecting that it will reduce the vitality of the area, not increase it.
You seem to be implying that fewer cars, and fewer visitors to downtown, will mean more vitality. But since downtown already lacks visitors, I fail to see how this will happen. Again, please explain the logic of parking meters producing a more vibrant downtown.
Posted by: Brian Hines | May 21, 2013 at 11:42 PM
Brian: I posted a link to an example of how that happens in my first comment but you quickly dismissed it with the ubiquitous "that won't work in Salem" retort.
The core retail area downtown does have over 90% occupancy so there is a opportunity for better management of those spaces. The businesses that those spaces serve are high end businesses. Who is more likely to buy a pair of glasses from Glance Eyewear--the person who complains about having to pay for parking or the person who is willing to pay to for the convenience of having a space available?
Cherry City: I posted a link to the Tax Booklet above. Those are the numbers I am working from. They appear very credible to me because the numbers are very low compared to spreadsheets I have seen in other cities. City staff don't have anything to gain personally or politically from parking meters. Parking meters are unpopular and its a radical step for the city to take. They have no reason to stir up this hornets nest.
Posted by: Curt | May 22, 2013 at 09:52 AM
Curt, you're kidding, right? Have you even ever visited downtown Salem? Doesn't seem like you have.
You claim that most parking spaces in the core downtown area serve "high end businesses."
That is patently false. Hard for me to believe anything else you say, now that you've said that.
I'm familiar with Glance. My daughter used to work for a designer eyewear company in Los Angeles that had an account with Glance. I wouldn't exactly call Glance high-end, but for Salem I suppose it is.
It's an outlier on Court Street, an area I'm familiar with, along with the rest of downtown. Why don't you take a walking survey of downtown small businesses?
Go into each store and ask, "are you a high-end store whose customers wouldn't mind paying several dollars an hour to park while buying your expensive merchandise?" I'll be interested in your results.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | May 23, 2013 at 12:15 AM
Several dollars an hour? When was that proposed?
I live here. As I recall you live outside the city limits. But if you need proof, my picture was on the front page of the SJ picketing US Bank before the Zelkovas were chopped down.
Posted by: Curt | May 24, 2013 at 08:12 PM
Curt, the current Salem parking meter rate is $1.50 an hour:
So it isn't a stretch to say that downtown parking meters will be "several dollars an hour." Especially since if -- horror of horrors -- this bad idea goes forward, it will be a couple of years before parking meters are installed.
Also, one usually rounds up when faced with a number like 1.50. So i feel justified in calling that number "several dollars."
Here's how this would affect small downtown businesses like my Tai Chi studio, or dance classes. These usually run for about two hours; even if 1 1/2, time is needed to get ready for the class, and to leave the class.
At current rates that's an additional $3 a class to park. Two classes a week, that's eight classes a month: $24 a month to park. Twice a week Tai Chi classes cost $50 a month. So adding parking meters will increase the cost of those downtown classes by almost 50%.
How parking meters enhances the viability of small downtown businesses remains a mystery, given these facts.
Posted by: Brian Hines | May 24, 2013 at 09:30 PM
One idea that is gaining traction around the country is using meter revenue to improve the streets where it is collected: (see http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/SmallChange.pdf for how it works). That would help with the fear of "big government" taking money away from small businesses. In my experience as an urban planner focused on parking policy, usually the downtown employees are the ones parking on the highest demand streets. When you use pricing to influence demand (and not collect revenue), you encourage the long-term parkers to park further away. And people like me who don't like to pay for parking will walk a couple of blocks. Seems like the $1.50 for Salem is too high in certain areas and too low in the core. I don't live in Salem and have never been - Just my $0.02. Also, I wrote this paper on the topics that Curt is referring to: http://1.usa.gov/CMAP_Parking.
It sounds backwards, but meters can be good for business WHEN THEY'RE DONE RIGHT.
Posted by: Lindsay Bayley | May 28, 2013 at 07:14 AM
The corrected link to the paper is:
Posted by: Lindsay Bayley | May 28, 2013 at 02:56 PM
Only if you insist on parking on the street Brian. Garages will remain free and very few places downtown are more than 2 or 3 blocks from a parking garages.
Posted by: Curt | May 29, 2013 at 10:52 AM