Comment of the Day: Too Many Parking Spaces

COMMENT OF THE DAY: TOO MANY PARKING SPACES “In my line of work I look at parking requirements for different cities around the country all day long, and Houston’s are pretty high. 10 per 1,000 SF for a restaurant means you need a parking space for every 100 square feet. This means for every 10 ft x 10 ft block of floor space in your restaurant, you’re expecting that the people occupying that space drove ten different cars to get there. Is any restaurant ever so packed that there are 10 people for every 100 SF of space (including the whole area of the restaurant, not just the dining area), and all of them driving a separate car? I guarantee you this: a city that requires that ten paved parking spots exist every time there’s 100 square feet of people dining somewhere will never be an interesting city. If you need that much flat pavement everywhere that people like to hang out and cluster, you’re going to concrete and asphalt yourself away from ever having an interesting district. You might manage to get something going in the parts of town that were built before the draconian regulations took effect, but pretty soon people are going to want to build new things in those areas, the new requirements will kick in, and pavement will start spreading like a cancer.” [Mike, commenting on Comment of the Day: Would Ground Floor Retail Work in the Rice Village?] Illustration: Lulu

41 Comment

  • Dense retail with parking garages. That is the answer.

  • What is or is not “interesting” is very subjective. I do not find it interesting to try to find parking, pay for parking, then walk to a destination, just to eat a mediocre meal prepared by hipsters who erroneously think just because the food is unique, it’s somehow special… or even good.

  • The ridiculous one is the requirement for parking for banks. No one goes to banks anymore, yet the City thinks that there are 20-30 customers inside a bank at any time during the day.

    Unfortunately, for restaurants in Houston, I can definitely see 10 people arriving in 10 different cars. Add in some space for staff parking, and the requirement isn’t that crazy. But you are certainly correct that the solution to Houstonians driving everywhere isn’t to turn the city into a giant parking lot.

  • The math here is wrong. The parking requirement assumes that in a 10×10 space, you’ve got one car load of people. It is a little high, perhaps, but not as high as you might think. A popular restaurant with a bar can easily go over 1 person per 100 square feet.
    That said, we need to get away from our feudalistic approach to parking. The damage done to our city doesn’t come from the number of parking spaces, so much as it comes from the fact that every business has it’s own lot in front of it, and parking in one lot to walk somewhere else is frowned upon. A better approach would be to build parking garages or lots that are shared by businesses in a certain area. If you have 5 restaurants, totaling 25,000 square feet, they could share a 250 space garage.
    We could have our cake and eat it, too. We could have pleasant urban neighborhoods and also sufficient parking for visitors from other parts of town.

  • swamplot editors = bad at arithmetic

  • Did you make this the comment of the day to make fun of his difficulty with math?

  • Yeah, the math is wrong, my bad. Good thing Houston 19514 chimed in, or I would only have had two people reminding me the math was wrong.

  • Houston must already be very interesting, because from this post… it seems to be the only location I’ve ever come across where 1000/10 = 10.

  • Commonsense, I understand your preference for easy parking–I share it. I especially hate valet parking. But isn’t the issue here that the market should decide, rather than the government? If a restaurant wants your business or mine, they should have reasonable quantities of parking. But the restaurant owner should be the one making that decision, not the city of Houston.

  • response to ZAW: just the right approach. downtwon albuquerque has about four or five city-owned garages and has eiminated parking requirements for the “main drag” and restaurant/bar business’s in the area. Makes for a consistent streetscape and ecourages people to walk along the street getting to destinations. Denver also has captured this idea.

  • Robert Boyd,

    Trying to use common sense with Commonsense doesn’t work.

  • completely agree that the mandatory parking spots is killing walkable areas. i would note, however, that the village is one of the few walkable places that has the centralized parking garages folks are demanding (RO and Highland being the other two w/in the loop)

  • 31.6*31.6 = 1000. This could conceivably be a whole restaurant (though a small one). So I don’t think 10 parking spaces for a small restaurant is excessive. Think Irma’s. It’s maybe 1500-2000 ft^2, and pretty inside crowded at that. It has 30 or so spots, and it’s not excessive.

    Since the math is a fail, the entire argument of this Comment of the Day falls apart.

    Seriously, is the only criterion for a COTD that it be either anti-car or pro-planning/zoning? Or better yet, both!

  • @Robert Boyd, I agree, it should be up to the restaurant to determine what type of customers they want to attract, however, I believe that the city’s position is that if there is no sufficient parking, patrons will use public streets which would increase traffic and wear and tear, which could be construed as a public subsidy for the said private business.

  • Let me get this extrapolation–dence parking means an interesting city –not museums, great restaurants, pro sports,–so I guess you must love Allentown, Gary, Scranton–(and you’re the only one)–I’m sure these rank high on Conde Nasts interesting city list–because of course they have that chic elegance that makes an “interesting” city–I guess we’ll just languish as the backwater that’s leading the nation on economic growth, always uninteresting and dull because of our lack of dence parking –sigh*

  • Pooling parking sounds great – I just wonder who would coordinate that among multiple competing businesses in separate shopping centers. TIRZs? Surely not a private owner – I mean what if they tear it down and instantly put everyone in violation?

  • I think the math is off somewhere…

  • User 2323: I was thinking the TIRZs would be ideally suited to building and owning centralized parking facilities. Management Districts could probably do it, too. Or a private non-profit cooperative set up just for the parking…. In any case day to day management of the facility would probably be contacted out to Ampco or some other parking management company.

  • Unfortunately, ‘Traffic wear and tear’ as an argument against street parking does not convince me. Citizens are by right entitled to use street parking which is after all common property paid for by all taxpayers; furthermore, the use of parking meters can help mitigate the expense associated with said parking.

    The mandated parking requirements in Houston are terrible IMHO and in need of major revision or outright derogation for high density areas of the city. The ordinance and its amendments effectively subsidize automobile transport which works against smart densification, i.e. hyperdensity with essential infrastructure as mentioned in Vishaan Chakrabarti’s book. (Ref. )

    A more immediate point is that ‘Mandated Parking Requirements’ increase the upfront cost to developers which doesn’t make business sense. Surely there is ‘common sense’ in waiving these mandated requirements in high density areas of the city, e.g. downtown and the Rice Village.

    As far as ‘pooling parking’, I agree that the concept has merit as an interim solution while the city transitions to hyperdensification; however, it must be supplemented with major ordinance changes.

  • okay, not only is the math off in this discussion, i.e. 10 spaces per 1000 sf = 1 space per 100 sf = 10×10 parking spot, so you’re 10 times off. Still why does everything have to be based on people driving everywhere??? Increased density should mean that some people can take public transportation, bike or …shudder…walk to their destination. Why is this so hard for Houstonians to consider??? Are we such a nation of lardasses that walking a few blocks to a restaurant is unthinkable? I just came back from a trip to Europe and ate in a number of small cafes where there were at most 2 or 3 parking spots for a cafe serving 100+ customers. Come on people, we can walk a few blocks for a meal. Try riding a bus for a change – better than circling the block looking for a parking spot.

  • Well okay, here is my shocking disclosure to Houston. Tomorrow night my wife & I plan to enjoy White Linen Night in the Houston Heights even though the nearest venue is 6 blocks away!!!! And (shudder!!!!!) we will walk that distance in the Houston heat & humidity!!!! Come-on everybody, let’s toughen-up and face the reality!

  • The reality is that the COH does NOT want more development,especially Inside the Loop, and the INSANE draconian regs & rules th COH has imposed on business owners is the way to slow down development. Of course, that’ll reduce taxes flowing to the city. But politicians DO NOT think logically or sanely.

  • Give me a break, dirt is flying all over Houston–slow down development?–how on Earth has development been stifled–they can’t develop land fast enough–Houston is Booming for Christs sake

  • Quantum – People will always want to go from the suburbs to downtown, and many of them will drive. To eliminate parking is to render many central neighborhoods inaccessible to those who live in the suburbs; in turn encouraging suburban development and sprawl. Better to accommodate cars in central areas, but find ways to do it that encourage higher densities. We should want people to come in, park their car, and then spend an afternoon or an evening walking around (maybe they take a bus or a train at some point), enjoying what the central neighborhood has to offer.
    If our suburban shopping malls can do this, why not neighborhoods in Houston?

  • Mathtown, USA. Population 0.

  • Sounds like yet ANOTHER reason for real mass transit.

  • @mako, when you walk through the Houston heat and humidity, you’re the person that the rest of the people don’t want to sit next to in the restaurant. You can’t smell yourself, but no amount of blue cheese dressing can cover the smell for everybody else.

  • Commonsense–I agree that free street parking is a subsidy for businesses (and residents). After all, streets are assets. But the solution shouldn’t be to force businesses to use their own property to provide parking that they may or may not need, but rather to charge users of street parking–in other words, to stop providing government subsidies for private parking, which is what the city does now.

  • I agree with commonsense’s post 14. The “market” justification for poor decision making does not hold up- it results in clogging public streets with private use, converting roads into parking lots. No bueno.

  • Highland does it right. Nice big parking structure and police to protect the crosswalks. The theater district too. I sweat just thinking about walking. When the Astrodome spans the entire city I’ll think about it. I don’t know how the police do it, but I’m infinitely grateful they do.

  • @ZAW

    Neighborhoods can crowdfund a parking garage! Big donors can get a guaranteed space and/or free parking for life. Everyone else has to pay and the proceeds are split among the original participants.

    Ultimately though it seems the real answer is to put in a parking garage underneath the shops and make the development dense enough to support it.

  • @anon22: Underground parking is REALLY expensive. Although parking garages are a big eyesore, you’re not going to find a lot of private businesses that care enough to dough out the extra cash it would take to place the parking underground.

    Another problem is that many lots inside the loop are too small to feasibly fit the required amount of parking that’s needed for program types like a restaurant (given how expensive land is and the ROI you’d get from the amount of sq footage left for the building after you account for parking). The shared parking option in Houston is a really good deal if you can find a neighbor with opposite hours as you (that would also be willing to share their parking spaces).

  • Underground parking garages are nice in that they can be built underneath City parks. you get greenspace, andarking. but that’s really the only big benefit of an underground garage over an above ground parking structure.
    Two things to bear in mind about above ground parking structures:
    – a parking garage can have first level retail just like any other building. (Yes, I said it, I know….)
    – Garage facades can be designed to blend in to the urban fabric. Or they coukd become wild piecs of public art, with metal latticework and lights…. They don’t have to be the run-of-the-mill precast garage we all think of.

  • Zaw said:
    – a parking garage can have first level retail just like any other building. (Yes, I said it, I know….)

    Like the ones in University Village, which I use all the time.

    – Garage facades can be designed to blend in to the urban fabric. Or they coukd become wild piecs of public art, with metal latticework and lights…. They don’t have to be the run-of-the-mill precast garage we all think of.

    Like the two over by the offices and condos just east of Memorial City.

  • I think the parking requirement is truly unnecessary.
    It fails the sniff test on both sides of the argument when it comes to development / property rights:
    1.) Why is the government telling business owners how many parking spaces it has to have. As long as an emergency vehicle has access, leave them alone. If the market wants 100 parking space per sq ft., so be it. If it wants less, let them have none.
    2.) It’s not good policy to incentivize car transport when we can be denser / more cost efficient in providing services to a more compact city. We should therefore mandate that certain areas of the city be less car centric. We’ll ZONE certain areas for this.
    We’re left with a system that is the worst possible compromise in which the gov tells you the exact # of car spots which leans to excess free spots at all times.
    Talk about the worst of both worlds.

  • One other bone to pick.
    Why can’t the city make it part of the ordinance that the parking has to be in the back?
    This seems like a compromise that everyone can be happy with. Even with a bad formula for parking spaces, we could mandate that certain places like Washington, Rice area, Kirby, etc make the stores / bars / restaurants actually be adjacent to the streets and place parking in the back.
    This would make areas appear to be more walk-able without giving away parking spaces.
    I don’t know about you guys, but it pisses me off that when I go to Coppa, the vallet takes my car and parks it in a space that I could have easily pulled into. It’s even more maddening when I leave and I have to wait on them to service others, locate my keys, find my car and then pull it around when I walk outside and see it 3 spots over in front of me.
    Rant over.

  • #36:
    What makes you think that prime parking space right in front of the restaurant would be empty if there were no valet?

  • DNA: It dawned on me that when you valet park, you’re not really paying for the service of someone going out and parking your car for you. You’re paying for the right to a primo, reserved parking space that you don’t have to hunt or fight for.
    Scoff at it all you want, but valet parking seems to be a symptom of a shortage of available parking – or, as is often the case here in Houston, inefficient parking that results from too many businesses declaring the spaces in front of them are for customers only.

  • Downtown valets will often poach as many street spaces as possible, and get downright hostile when one tries to park in a public space (valet zones are marked). For example, Batanga’s valets take that entire block face, since half of it apparently isn’t enough for them.

  • @ZAW touch on something that really aggravates me – businesses that think the spots in the public ROW belong to them. As for strip malls, you’d be hard pressed to find a rental agreement that states you own the parking spots directly in front of your rental unit. They may put up their “for customers only signs” but you’ll notice that those signs are always movable (on wheels/sticks/planters/etc.) because they have to move them inside during closing hours. Funny, the handicap spots are permanently marked 24/7… If there’s plenty of parking in the area, I’ll be nice and park in an undesignated spot, but if it’s the last one available and it happens to be front of your business…well, sorry, I’m parking there.

  • #36: The idea of requiring on-site parking to be put somewhere else beside the primary frontage along the street was considered during the Urban Corridors process (that led to the current Transit Corridor ordinance). The message from the development community was loud and clear: you cannot prohibit front-door parking within a certain area – that makes properties just outside the boundary of the restriction more valuable and attractive to a greater range of potential occupants, and therefore unfairly diminishes the value of the restricted properties. The idea of making such a restriction mandatory was thus scrapped; it is now an “opt-in” feature of the ordinance in return for the ability to do a reduced setback. Only on streets in light rail corridors though – it doesn’t apply in places like Washington and Rice Village, sadly.