Sunday, January 23, 2011

Don't Say "Improvement" Unless It Really Is

"Los Angeles redevelopment commissioners agreed Thursday to spend up to $52 million to build parking and other improvements around billionaire Eli Broad's planned downtown art museum"

Community Redevelopment Agency Panel fast tracks new Broad museum parking plan
Los Angeles Times - 21 January 2011

The context here is because of California's epic budget woes, our new governor, Jerry Brown, has proposed eliminating redevelopment agencies. As a result, these agencies are busy committing as much money as possible to contracts so they'll have something to do for the next several years regardless of what Sacramento does to them.

I'm not here to talk to you about that though (although I think it's interesting). I'm here to talk to you about the i-word in the quoted paragraph above: "improvement".

"Improvement" is planner/engineer speak for any professionally desired change to a city. But whether or not adding a parking garage to a walkable downtown  right next to a subway stop, and other pre-existing parking garages, actually constitutes improvement should be up for debate.

The LA Times article uncritically parrots the i-word, and it's really our loss, because we should think critically about how much parking Downtown LA really needs, especially right there. Anyway, just a reminder not the fall into the trap of automatically calling anything an "improvement" regardless of context, or effects.

Switching gears a bit I have something that I really would call an improvement: Long Beach's first bike boulevard. It's located on Vista St. between Temple and Nieto Avenues.

View Larger Map

The concept is it's one of Southern California's ubiquitous narrow residential streets (two lanes each of driving and parking). To optimize the street for bikes instead of cars, traffic circles have been installed in the intersections every two blocks or so. These intersections become four-way yields and as a driver you have to slow down and look around to avoid striking something, which makes you drive more slowly and carefully. There are also sharrow markings on the asphault to encourage cycling in the right direction and out of the door zone of parked cars. This 2.6 km street retrofit was constructed for under $1 million, or just a tiny fraction of the money the CRA wants to dump into more downtown parking.

Food for thought . . .


  1. Not only may the parking actually detract from the area, it is worth calculating the cost of each space. The original garage was proposed to have 284 spaces at a cost of $30 million ($105,600 per space). The revised garage plan is for 370 spaces at $52 million ($140,500 per space). These costs do not include the value of the land, which is very high in downtown. However, the costs do include nominal "pedestrian improvements" at street level.

    Over what length of time will parking fees repay that cost of space (if ever)? What will be the per-trip subsidy for drivers to the museum?

    Even more importantly, what are the opportunity costs of spending that money on parking? What combination of transit, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements could accommodate/attract the same number of visitors? The entire proposed downtown bicycle infrastructure could be completed for a minute fraction of that cost. The stalled downtown streetcar project could be 50% funded for that amount (which would have provided access to existing parking assets nearby).

    Downtown has no need for new parking. There is a tremendous need for a complete parking inventory, comprehensive plan, and better utilization of existing public and private resources.