Friday, April 17, 2009

Parking, Streets, and Density

Many planners reference the idea that 1/3 of any built community is usually dedicated towards cars (streets, surface parking, decks, and access ways). This paper’s authors challenge that idea, but they also reveal some other interesting facts. For instance, Dallas had the lowest percentage of streets and parking as part of its overall land use but also had a higher amount of streets per capita (a result of low density). New York City, on the other extreme, had the HIGHEST percentage of its land dedicated to streets and parking but the lowest amount of street area per capita. I wonder what percentage of Trenton is dedicated to parking, and how that affects the remaining, ratable portion of the City…

What is also relevant is the idea that mandated parking spaces (as part of a zoning ordinance) “tacitly subsidizes automobile ownership”. It seems that we only notice parking when it is not there- it is an entitlement that most of us expect. I am also reminded that our own ordinance includes language that surface parking lots help to define an “area in need of redevelopment”. While parking spaces and streets are an essential part of any urban fabric, they also represent a burden for a municipality (it must maintain them). Since Trenton has an 18th and 19th century street grid (a dense grid), and because the downtown core is a relatively low density, Trenton is burdened by a double wammy of a high% of land dedicated to streets, but with a relatively low urban fabric and ratable base. We have the worst of both worlds.

Abstract remedies are: 1: either reduce the amounts of streets (not gonna happen) and land dedicated to parking (a.k.a. build expensive parking decks at $20,000 per space), or 2: increase development density and ratables to be more proportionate with the street network.

I remember Councilwoman Lartigue rightly expressed her frustration at last week’s Council Meeting regarding the amount of non-ratables in the city, but I think that the best way out is to look up. Our downtown core needs a vertical growth spurt- current modes of thinking about quaint 3-6 story multi-use developments are most likely out of scale with the amount of ratables needed to sustain our city without additional aid. The big question is, how can Trenton attract this kind of development, and how dense is too dense?

About Me

In 1998, I packed up an old Civic with all of my belongings and made a drive from Lubbock, TX to New Jersey. The second day in Jersey, someone at Princeton told me: "hey- you're an architect? Check out Trenton sometime". I found a dilapidated house in Mill Hill and renovated it with my wife for a couple of years. We were blessed with a baby girl four years ago who has helped us to experience the city in wholly new ways! I'm an architect with a specialization in master planning, and am currently a member of the Trenton Planning Board.