Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Westwood Village: from free to paid parking

Yesterday I posted about Old Pasadena, a historic district that was on the decline in the Greater Los Angeles area. As noted in the book “The High Cost of Free Parking” by Donald Shoup, businesses and the City of Pasadena developed a parking policy that transformed the area for the better.

In his book Shoup compared Old Pasadena to Westwood Village, a walkable historic district just south of UCLA and bordered by Wilshire Boulevard. Wilshire is a major transit corridor in LA. Shoup used Westwood Village as an example of how parking policy can have a negative effect on an area.

While Old Pasadena went from “free” on-street parking to pay parking and built parkades with ground-level retail, using parking revenue to improve the public realm, Westwood Village did the opposite.

Businesses in Westwood Village thought that the lack of “free” on-street parking was the primary reason for the area’s decline. In the 1990s, they lobbied the City to reduce on-street parking pricing from $1 per hour to $0.50 per hour. Also, there was no charge for parking after 6pm and on Sunday. This did not improve the situation and made matters worse. Shoup pointed out that the underpricing of on-street parking caused massive congestion in the area and lead people to believe there was no parking in Westwood Village. Off-street parking lots cost more than on-street parking, so while people thought that there was no place to park in Westwood Village, off-street lots had excess capacity.

At the same time, the public realm in Westwood Village was falling apart with broken sidewalks and dirty streets. When Shoup published his book in 2005, things were not looking good for the area, but things changed.

In 2011, businesses in the area formed the Westwood Village Improvement Association. The association assesses a levy on property in the area and uses the revenue to improve the public realm. For example, the association has rebuilt 10,000 square feet of sidewalk and has implemented a program, like in Old Pasadena, to clean up the streets.

The City of LA owns a public parkade in the heart of Westwood Village. The first two-hours of parking is free, with fees kicking in after that. This was not well known. The Westwood Village Improvement Association is implementing a wayfinding plan to point people to the City’s parkade. At the same time, the City has increased the price of on-street parking in the area to $1 per hour and extended the hours that parking is enforced with a focus on Friday and Saturday evenings.

The City of Los Angeles has been piloting a demand-based parking system in Downtown LA called LA Express Park. It uses intelligent meters which allows people to go online and find were on-street parking is available. It also allows the City to adjust the price of parking to ensure there is about 1 or 2 available parking spaces in each block.

The Westwood Village Improvement Association advocated to the City of Los Angeles to expand this program to Westwood Village. They were successful and this pilot program is coming to Westwood Village.

It is interesting to see that merchants went from wanting to have free on-street parking to lobbying for demand-based priced parking.

I had a chance to walk around Westwood Village when I was in LA last week. I noticed that things were improving in the area with many new stores opening. I still noticed that on-street parking was a bit of a mess, but the demand-based parking system should improve things.

Looking at Westwood Village and Old Pasadena it appears that a successful, walkable town centre needs to get a few things right. One is to make sure that its built form promotes walking, this means having mixed-use buildings and shops that front the street. It also mean building a great public realm with well-kept sidewalks and “clean streets.” The second is to get parking right.

On-street parking should be priced to ensure that some spaces are always available. Also an off-street public parking facility (that includes ground-level retail that front the street) with incentivise for people to use it is required.

If these policy can work in Greater Los Angeles, they can certainly work in places in Metro Vancouver.

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