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City Beautiful 21 » Carrboro, Economic Development, Parking » Time to Use Car-Sharing and Parking Unbundling to Bring More Stuff People Like and Less Pavement, Traffic and Pollution to Downtown Carrboro

Time to Use Car-Sharing and Parking Unbundling to Bring More Stuff People Like and Less Pavement, Traffic and Pollution to Downtown Carrboro

Car Parked on Sidewalk, Beijing. Courtesy Flickr User roberutsu

Car Parked on Sidewalk, Beijing. Photo by Flickr User roberutsu

When it comes to creating vibrant urban neighborhoods in the US, with a few exceptions,  there is always a tension between providing space for people and space for cars.

The recent proliferation of car sharing services such as ZipCar and WeCar in the US, and even locally on the UNC campus –  holds promise to address this tension, but we have yet to employ car-sharing to address both community mobility and economic development goals in Carrboro.

The proposed project at Shelton Station is an ideal place for the Town of Carrboro to support and encourage parking innovations including car sharing and parking unbundling, and the time to start is now.  Before getting into why we should do this, let’s review what our options are for downtown land.

Development Choices for Urban Land Downtown

Land supply in urban locations is fixed, and we can use it for a few things:

  • Residences
  • Businesses
  • Circulation for People
  • Circulation for Motor Vehicles
  • Storage for Motor Vehicles

What do each of the above add to downtown’s vibrancy?  Well, people like to be around other people, and a base of residents provides not only a core set of customers for downtown businesses, but also a natural layer of surveillance in terms of security by people who are there each day and notice when something strange is going on. Their homes generate property taxes for the community based on their value.  Put another way, when you want to increase the size of a local living economy, it helps to have more locals.

Businesses provide attractions and commerce, as well as paying both proprerty taxes and sales taxes to the town.  They provide jobs for locals and those who come to our community to work.

Sidewalks provide space for people to move around among homes, businesses, recreation, and transportation choices, and allow people to access the neighborhood on foot.

Streets provide the same access for bicycles, buses, and cars that the sidewalks provide to pedestrians.

And auto storage?  It provides the lowest per-square foot values of any use on the town’s most valuable land. It prevents business expansion even when it goes unused. It prevents more residential construction that could add more residents, consumer purchasing power, and tax base. It attracts the most carbon-intensive and polluting types of tripmaking to the area. When individual businesses all try to provide their own parking separately, and when the Town requires this to be done, it creates duplication of a resource that is often idle or unused.

Successful Man / Unsuccessful Man by Andy Singer

Successful Man / Unsuccessful Man by Andy Singer

To be fair, auto storage also provides the occasional opportunity for a food truck to set up shop, and of course also provides motorists a place to store their vehicle temporarily while shopping, or dining.

But at the end of the day, if you have a limited number of “A Streets” and critical corners in your urban grid, every expansion of parking in downtown Carrboro is a foregone opportunity to add more of the top three items in the list above, which add the most value.

Despite the impression of some who seem to believe that the cartoon to the right is true and only motorists come downtown with wallets and pocketbooks, there are plenty of people who get to downtown Carrboro ready to spend money without using a car, and this is one of Carrboro’s strategic advantages compared to other towns of our size and even much larger communities. We ignore this advantage at our economic peril.


Nothing Robs More Value From Downtown Than Residential Automobile Storage

When we think about the value added by residential, business, and people spaces, and the foregone opportunity to have more of these uses when parking is created, there are still great differences in how much value parking can take off the table for downtown.

At the top end of the value continuum for parking is the market-priced parking space.  Parking with a price encourages the user to rent the parking space for as long as they need it to conduct their business in a local shop or have lunch with friends, and VERY IMPORTANTLY, then turn the space over to someone else for a new transaction opportunity for a local business.

Over the long term, led by the research of Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, optimal market-priced parking has generally come to be considered as charging whichever price per hour, between zero and X dollars, that keeps a group of parking spaces 85% occupied and 15% empty. The price of parking changes throughout the day as needed to reach this goal.

The next-best situation is having some level of constant parking pricing that promotes turnover of spaces.  This is less desirable than market pricing because at times the constant price will be too low to prevent all parking from being filled, and at other times it will be too high and discourage use of the spaces.

The most common situation, which is close to the worst, is having free parking that is reserved to specific stores or uses.  This creates extra traffic when people drive across the street to park for free somewhere else because a merchant fears losing the opportunity for turnover, and employs the threat of towing rather than pricing to move people along.

The worst situation is a space that sits occupied for hours on end and does not turn over, which is generally what you get with residential parking.

Shelton Station

Shelton Station

Downtown Carrboro And Shelton Station

So how do we align the incentives at Shelton Station to get the type of parking usage that avoids the problems American Tobacco residents are about to experience?

We ask the developer to set up their lease practices to encourage that behavior.

First, just as Southern Village developer D.R. Bryan included a Weaver Street Market membership with every apartment to help that store succeed, we should ask the developer of Shelton Station to pay for the membership fee of every resident in a car-sharing program.  This puts the variable cost of car-sharing use, generally at $8-$10/hour, directly on the driver.

Second, we should encourage the developer to sign an agreement with a car-share vendor that has a guaranteed dollar value per month to the vendor, because these allow the car-share sponsor (in this case the developer) to keep revenues from car usage above and beyond that dollar amount.  There are two benefits to this:

  1. It helps the developer recoup the cost of its investment in the memberships
  2. Since it creates a revenue stream for the developer, it encourages them to promote car-share to residents in internal marketing, etc.

Next, we should help the developer un-bundle parking rental from apartment rental. This means that instead of having a $740 apartment rent, a tenant is charged $700 for the apartment and $40 for one parking space or $80 for two parking spaces.  Bicycle parking should be both covered, and free, and there should be enough bicycle parking for every apartment unit to have a bicycle parked there at all times.

In taking these steps, the Town will make it easier for the developer to offer no more parking than necessary to residents, which will limit the use of parking for its most value-destroying purpose, residential parking.

Better still, proactively managing the parking supply like this may even allow for a greater amount of commercial development on the site by converting dormant, residential-parking-storage spaces into ones available for customers coming and going from the site.

We want to help current and future residents of Carrboro have increasingly sustainable travel choices.  If we are successful, and attract many new residents to downtown living and bolster our primary job center and commercial core with more workers and customers, we will have done something good.  If they are mostly walking or biking to those opportunities, we will have done something even better.  But if they are walking and biking to these opportunities AND not leaving a car sitting for days at a time in a space that could be used by a potential business customer for a downtown merchant, we’ve knocked it out of the park.

If you want to learn more about Car Sharing, this video from Streetfilms is also worth your time.

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One Response to "Time to Use Car-Sharing and Parking Unbundling to Bring More Stuff People Like and Less Pavement, Traffic and Pollution to Downtown Carrboro"

  1. […] parking removes the least productive type of parking (long-term residential storage) from downtown and helps support local business by providing more turnover spaces for their customers. It will […]

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