Monday, May 12, 2014

Old Pasadena

Over the past week, I was in the Los Angeles area and Nova Scotia. I will be posting about some of my observations over the next little while. Today, I want to talk about Old Pasadena.

Last year I read the book “The High Cost of Free Parking” by Donald Shoup, Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA. This book transformed how I thought about parking and parking policy. I’ve talked about his book on previous posts. One of the case studies that Shoup used in his book is Old Pasadena.

Pasadena is about 16km east of downtown Los Angeles. Originally an agricultural community, the arrival of the railway and streetcars at the turn of the 20th century helped created a bustling town centre. Like many downtowns and town centres, by the 1980s, the area was in serious decline. Many of the businesses in what is now called Old Pasadena were marginal and Old Pasadena was not the place most people wanted to live or shop.

Starting in the 1980s, there was a movement to preserve Old Pasadena’s historic buildings and redevelop the community into a vibrant, walkable centre. One of the challenges in Old Pasadena was a perceived lack of parking. Like many areas with “free”, time limited parking, employees and business owners played musical car parking to ensure they could park for free all day at the expense of potential customers. According to Shoup, the City of Pasadena and local businesses came up with a solution that would help relieve the parking issue and pay for sprucing up Old Pasadena.

The City initially took out a $5 million loan to pay for improving the public realm. They also used the loan to help literally clean up the streets. All the money collected from the parking meters would be used to improve Old Pasadena. Today, the Old Pasadena Management District receives funding from parking revenue to help with the upkeep of Old Pasadena.

Part of the plan was to also build parkades in Old Pasadena for longer-term parking and to reduce the need for on-site parking which can destroy walkability by creating surface parking lots and preventing reuse of older building. In Old Pasadena today, parking is free for the first 90 minutes in its public parkades and $2 for each additional hour to a $6 daily maximum. Monthly parking is also available. On-street parking is $0.75 to $1.25 per hour with no time limit.

Shoup credits Old Pasadena’s parking policy as the primary reason for the revitalization of that community. Old Pasadena is also on the MTA Gold Light Rail Line.

Me at a parking meter in Old Pasadena. Click image to enlarge. Meter text notes that money collected is used to improve the area.

During my trip to LA, I had the chance to visit a friend who lives in South Pasadena. We decided to go to Old Pasadena for lunch. I wanted to see with my own eyes what Shoup talked about in his book. I meet at my friend’s house and we drove into Old Pasadena. One of the interesting things I noted was that like most people parking, we went straight to one of the parkades. There was no cruising for on-street parking. This is important because cruising for on-street parking is a major source of congestion.

One of the other things I notices was that all the parkades actually looked nice and they all had ground-level retail. From my observations, it seems that Old Pasadena’s parking policy is working. On top of that, the public realm in Old Pasadena was in great shape.

So what lessons from Old Pasadena can be used in places like Downtown Langley? For one, it is critical that money be invested in the public realm to attract redevelopment. Pasadena was able to do this by installing parking meters in Old Pasadena and leveraging that funding to improve the area.

Secondly, where there is perceived lack of parking, pricing parking should be considered. For on-street parking Shoup recommends that parking should be priced to ensure about 1 or 2 empty parking spaces per block. Many of the same issues in Old Pasadena can be seen in places like Downtown Langley. The current on-site parking requirements in Downtown Langley limit redevelopment potential.

Finally, to help with redevelopment and improve walkability, a central parkade following the example of places like Old Pasadena should be built.

Old Pasadena is a great example of how smart parking policy can transform a community for the better.

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