Parking Sprawl Clashes With Attempts To Reduce Dependence On Autos

Seattle is taking a stand against downtown parking sprawl.

In downtown Spokane, on the other hand, the cry is for more and more parking.

But Donald K. Barbieri, who is heavily involved in the downtowns of both cities as a real estate developer, thinks Spokane would do well to follow the lead of Seattle and proceed with caution.

The developer last week joined Spokane city planners in a “brainstorming” session on the future of downtown.

Speaking as one who just spent several million on downtown retail development, Barbieri said he is acutely aware that “parking is vital” to visitors and others who must arrive by car.

So he’s definitely not against adequate parking.

But he also believes the continued vitality and prosperity of the city core may very well hinge on whether and to what extent downtown evolves as an “urban village.”

And to that end, creation of affordable housing, neighborhood amenities, and pedestrian activities will be slowed by a level of parking development that perpetuates the use of personal automobiles.

The trick, Barbieri suggests, will be to persuade those who don’t need their cars downtown to start using mass transit instead in far greater numbers.

“There’s a natural tension that exists between the goals of creating a pedestriandriven, transit-driven downtown and the natural desire to have an automobile-driven, parking-driven downtown,” Barbieri told city planners.

“Seattle has found, and I think we are going to find here,” said the developer, “that where parking is provided it encourages people to drive.

“There is also a relationship between building costs and parking,” said Barbieri, the leading developer of housing in downtown Spokane over the past two decades. “We are trying to bring more affordable housing and rents into the core.”

But downtown housing costs escalate sharply if parking exceeds the minimum “we will need over the long spectrum,” he counseled.

In addition, said the developer, “Surface parking lots of themselves are probably a detriment to quality of life in an urban core.”

He speculated that a survey would show 40 percent of downtown Spokane outside the “really tight central business district” or core is surface parking lots, the same as in Seattle.

And this, said the developer, who holds a degree in urban planning, detracts from the visual continuity and attractiveness of downtown streetscapes. Also, it undermines the sense of safety and comfort that is important in urban core neighborhoods.

“So the specific strategy that we are going to have to face,” said Barbieri, “is: How do we make our downtown focus on promoting a transit and pedestrian-oriented community vs. an automobile-driven one? That, I think, is really going to be a tough issue?”

In spades.

For anyone less identified with the central business district, just raising the subject would invite a bloody nose from merchants.

But as Barbieri noted, “My personality has always been to create a lightning rod or two, and maybe get some good discussion going on touchy matters.”

Sure enough.

However, even the seasoned veteran of controversy edged into this topic. “I think we should look at it - carefully look at it - so it’s not threatening to private property owners,” he emphasized.

“Do we want parking to be the driver for our future developments?” he asked.

“I’m suggesting,” he said, “that we ask ourselves whether it is possible to require less parking in the long term. And how might we encourage that?”

In Seattle, a requirement that new downtown building projects provide parking will be eliminated, Barbieri said. Not only that, he predicted, “They will put a limit on parking spaces.”

Also, Seattle will prohibit additional surface parking.

And any new parking structure will be required to have only horizontal floors. This will make it easy to convert parking facilities to other uses as mass transit and pedestrianoriented lifestyles curtail auto use.

Seattle also has started to pool daytime/ nighttime and residential/commercial uses of existing parking spaces to minimize the need for additional spots.

Plus, and this is a big plus, Seattle is stimulating construction of a mix of downtown housing for all income levels.

Equally important, Seattle is reducing the waits between downtown shuttle buses to just 10 minutes, “radically” reducing the need for autos in the city core.

(Coming Sunday: Creating an urban village. Should the city of Spokane assemble blocks of blighted property for auction to redevelopers, condemning key parcels if owners refuse to cooperate?)


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

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