Opinion: Replacing homes and businesses with parking hurts everyone

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Michael Clemson, the Vice Chair of the Long Beach Transit Board of Directors, and the Carbon Reduction Manager for the California State University Chancellor’s Office, where he manages the university system’s transportation and energy demand programs, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

OK fine, let’s put parking in your backyard. Parking is an important issue. It’s unbearable to work all day and fight traffic only to have nowhere to park on your street. The seemingly easy solution is to build neighborhood parking structures, but on a closer look it’s obvious why it hasn’t been done. Parking structures in people’s backyards would cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, destroy neighborhood character and it wouldn’t even solve the problem.

Free Parking Isn’t Free

In 2015, the city looked at taking over a now-popular restaurant to build a 64-space parking structure in Belmont Shore for $7.4 million, or $115,600‬ per space. Small, expensive structures like this are the kind that would be built in residential neighborhoods. To get 1,000 spaces, you would need 15 structures that size, at a total cost more than $100 million. That’s about a quarter of all the money the city expects from Measure A during its 10-year lifetime. ‬‬‬‬

Diverting Measure A to parking would take money away from street resurfacing and pothole repair, something that the city already has trouble keeping up with, along with sidewalk improvements and transportation options that actually reduce parking demand. People could pay to park in a neighborhood structure but covering the costs of a 30-year bond a monthly permit would be $320. At that rate, most people would still try their luck on the street.

Even if the finances worked, would you volunteer your backyard?

Not in My Backyard

For new parking to be close enough to conveniently walk home from, it will need to be on residential streets. Homes and businesses would be torn down. Your quiet street would become a highway for neighbors driving to store their cars.

Long Beach’s coastal neighborhoods are quiet and walkable. You would lose quality of life with parking structures looming over your homes in the demolished footprint of local, small, walkable businesses. Parking structures in your neighborhood might make it easier to get home, but you might not want to live there.

City consultants try to get around these undeniable problems by suggesting building parking somewhere else and have a shuttle bring people to their homes. We already have this: The parking structures in Downtown Long Beach are empty at night and the existing shuttle is called a bus. This obviously is not a desired solution for many.

But even if we want to build more parking structures next to your home, it wouldn’t even make parking easier anyway.

More Parking Means More Drivers

Long Beach’s Parking Impacted Zones are the places where people own the fewest cars. This is a simple equation: No place to store a car means many people will do without.

Some blocks in Alamitos Beach have more than a quarter of the households not owning a car, with many more getting by on sharing one between household members. 

Freeing people from driving is also a simple equation: apartments near jobs with good transit.

Unfortunately, we continue to invest in a losing battle.

Between 2007 and 2017 Long Beach added 6,500 people but added 11,900 cars. Billions were spent to expand freeways and on local road improvements, which encouraged enough people to drive that the projects often made traffic worse. During that decade the recession forced cuts to transit, especially for students, and very few bike improvements happened.

Cities invested in driving get more cars, but cities invested in transit see more riders. The 14th Street busway in New York has increased ridership and reliability while minimally impacting traffic, and Seattle’s transit-only lane is a success. San Francisco is diverting cars out of the congested Market Street. Here in Long Beach, despite the apocalyptic rhetoric, the Broadway bike lanes have made the street more pleasant and reduced collisions.

Cleaner air and fewer traffic deaths is a clear consequence of safe and convenient biking and transit options. Improving our neighborhoods is another benefit. Building parking in those neighborhoods is a road to nowhere, even if we could afford it.

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