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“Parking Craters: Scourge of American Downtowns”

I’m sure that we can all close our eyes and picture our “favorite” parking lots in Downtown Buffalo. Mine are in the Cobblestone District – the lots appear to be a sea of asphalt as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately, the lots reside where once turn of the century buildings stood. While we can’t bring back what we have lost, we can certainly move forward and build significant and useful buildings upon these vast expanses, a la Pegulaville. In order to paint a picture of the parking lot dilemma, one BRO reader has pointed out the downfalls associated with giant parking lots.

Submitted by JF:

[There is an] Interesting article in CityLab (formerly The Atlantic Cities) regarding parking craters (see here). Also see this link to Rochester’s winning the 2014 Golden Crater award.

It’s particularly bad in large Texas cities. Look at the downtown in Houston (see here) and Dallas (see here) – amazing percentage of their space used for surface lots. Just weird for a large metropolis to have a downtown that looks like a suburban mall.


 

Check out the Parking Craters video from Streetsblog – the blog pitted 16 of the worst parking offending cities against each other in a sweet 16-style tournament. One thing is for certain, and that is… Buffalo is not alone when it comes to having its fair share of Parking Craters.

 

Written by queenseyes

queenseyes

Newell Nussbaumer is ‘queenseyes’ – Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world’s largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette, and the Madd Tiki Winter Luau. Other projects: Navigetter.

Contact Newell Nussbaumer | Newell@BuffaloRising.com

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  • BuffaloAllStar

    Great article..I was suprised to not see Buffalo on the list. 
    Canalside/arena parking crater is a joke!

  • BuffaloBoi

    Franklin St. (Tupper-Chippewa St.), Washington/Chippewa St. Main/Seneca, Main/Swan

  • justannotherone

    The loss of buildings is sad.  I don’t understand why a vertical parking garage isn’t built to free up the remaining parking space to build on.

  • buffalofalling

    To build buildings, you need demand. Not falsified demand where the govt steps into the market place with pockets full of cash to entice the developer class to invest in these kinds of locations and buildings to insure higher profits but actual demand for this space as a result of some combination of population and job growth, which we have neither of. Despite the constructed narrative of a Buffalo resurgence, that’s not the case. The only resurgence is in construction because by all other measures…. income, population, poverty, segregation, education ,taxes, good job creation (not the multitude of service sectors jobs to support the govt created markets). 
    And the Pegula project is an outlier. He’s akin to Steve Ballmer who just bought the Clippers for $2B, well above its actual value. A billionaire with a passion for something and who is willing to invest in that passion and can throw out economic rationale for the emotional attachment. 
    So the parking lots, vacant lots, vacant and abandoned building will remain so as long as we have system problems here… poor business climate; high taxes; dysfunctional govt and school, high utility costs…. Govt subsidies and place-based gentrification efforts can only lead so far.

  • solonggone

    justannotherone
    Because parking ramps cost a hell of a lot more than surface lots.  Parking ramps take longer for an owner to see a return and parking ramps actually ‘develop’ the parcel whereas a surface lot could always be the next ’50 Court’…..
    Surface parking lots are bad for everyone but the people who own them and the people who use them.  If replace with a ramp, the people who use them are fine.  It’s the owners of these lots that need to be worked with. 
    By working with I mean working with them to make it beneficial and not forcing them to develop.  They are just playing the game.  Don’t hate them..change the rules.  
    Buffalo needs to make the opportunity for 4-6 large parking ramps so good that there is fighting over who gets to build them.  How that is done…who knows.  Probably a mix of incentives and breaks.  But it needs to happen.

  • LouisTully

    solonggone justannotherone Isn’t revenue so much greater in a ramp.  Longer to see a return, yes.  But numerous times greater return, no?

  • biniszkiewicz

    LouisTully solonggone justannotherone
    ramps cost in excess of $20k/vehicle to construct. That’s a lot of capital to recoup.

  • No_Illusions

    Cobblestone is going to be a hot area. After Canalside is fully built we could do bidding on those lots like we did for the Harbor Center.

    However, I don’t think the demand is there for too much development too fast. 

    The former HSBC Tower and DL&W terminals are also unsolved pieces of the puzzle. 5 years and I think cobblestone will be ripe for development. Right now we need to properly focus on the important nearby projects.

    The NFTA really needs to look into expanding the metrorail to the new Green Energy Campus. The right of way is already there at the terminus of the metrorail. This project would help facilitate movement between these exciting areas. The Medical Campus needs a Southern Park and Ride.

    For the naysayers, just go to UB South’s Park and Ride lot during the workweek. Its 98% Full. Has to be at least 500 spaces.

  • fast, cheap intervention: road diets for all downtown streets, starting with oak & elm.  four oversized lanes, two in each direction should become 1 parking lane on each side, 1 bike lane in each direction, 1 travel lane in each direction, 1 turning lane in center. like on hertel.  can be done for the cost of paint. 
    like this:

  • the cognitive dissonance at the heart of the problem is that people want to spend time in places that are not ruined by automobiles.  (this is why advertisers always plop cars in the midst of inaccessible wilderness & desert.)  and people want to use their automobiles to get to these places.  
    we cannot have it both ways.

  • kingofbuffalo

    As long as cities want density without viable public transportation systems there will always be cars occupying urban centers. People need and want to move around their urban areas. No rails equals paved wastelands. It’s simple. Either we beef-up the public transportation or we make parking lots beautiful…and I believe we can make parking beautiful with landscaping, small retention ponds that look like lakes and putting parking underground to service large buildings. Parking lots, as long as we need them, don’t have to be ugly. When we stop having a middle eastern war that costs 180 Billion a year we can bring more viable public transportation infrastructure to our cities.

  • whateverr

    solonggone justannotherone
    I’d doubt that proactively adding more multi-story new parking garages in downtown as solong & justanother suggested would substantially increase new builds on current parking lots beyond what would happen anyway regardless.
    When real demand for new builds has happened, downtown parking lots or vacant parcels have been easily available – like at Webster Block for Pegula, new Catholic Health HQ, roughly half of Del North /Uniland project, or Issa’s city tower that never happened but was easily able to acquire a parking lot on which to build.
    All that IMO helps illustrate that downtown’s parking lots & vacant lots are due to lack of private sector demand to build on them.
    Above is part of why I’m skeptical of a claim in the Chris Jacobs “Move East” idea that moving police&fire HQs would be certain to quickly result in new private sector property-tax-paying projects at those sites.  (unless those buildings/sites have much more demand than downtown’s current # of vacant buildings, parcels, parking lots?)

  • whateverr

    Perhaps a related point is Larkinville’s success in attracting some tenants who were formerly downtown, and its website bragging about http://www.larkindevelopmentgroup.com/about.html‘.  
    If prices for parking directly downtown are ever artificially raised somehow, without demand growth causing it, that could motivate even more tenants (current or potential) to alternatives away from directly downtown.
    If anybody in private sector wants to build new parking garages downtown, they can.  
    Ironically it’s possible the Green Code might eventually make doing that less appealing if, as some speculated, the GC ends up mandating that all new parking garages must have 1st floor retail space even while there’s a surplus of such space.
    However for public sector $, I don’t think the govt should divert taxpayer $ to new  parking garages away from more important spending in govt budgets.

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    No_Illusions 
    “Cobblestone is going to be a hot area. After Canalside is fully built we could do bidding on those lots like we did for the Harbor Center”
    Well said. I give it 5 years.

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    whateverr 
    I can’t tell you how many times one of the top three selling points of any downtown event/development is free, or on-site parking.

  • solonggone

    whateverr justannotherone
    I see it as a two step process.  
    1 – You find a way to build enough ramps to make the spaces in the surface lots not needed. 
    2 – You start to tax the surface lots that remain as if they were a mid-rise ‘C’ class space or similar.  
    Make it so the only way for an owner to be able to afford the tax rate on a parcel is to actually develop that parcel.  
    http://streets.mn/2012/12/10/tax-land-not-buildings/

  • solonggone

    kingofbuffalo
    I don’t agree with the idea of making parking lots beautiful.  Landscaping only works for so long.  It’s not a park.  It’s a place to park cars.  Huge difference.  
    I think the key is to make parking ramps functional.  It’s rather simple.  You make the ground floor of ramps open to commercial space.  
    The first image is the ground floor of a parking ramp.  That’s an art gallery that hosts events.  Walking past it you would never know it was a ramp unless you looked up.
    The second image is an aerial view of a parking ramp that is wrapped with condos on two sides.  On the street level of these two sides you would have no idea a parking ramp is behind the condos.  
    This is how you solve parking in a city.  Ramps due not have to be eyesores and ramps do not have to be the only use of the block.

  • whateverr

    solonggone
    re your step #1, I just see it very differently than you do about whether that huge expense to build that many new parking garages downtown would be good use of taxpayer $ compared to other needs here.  Aside from that, higher parking fees if all downtown parking became garage-based due to dictate not demand would, I’d guess, motivate tenant shifts to Larkinville type non-downtown alternatives that offer abundant ‘free’ surface parking to employees & visitors… thus backfiring on goal of more occupancy downtown.
    re #2, land value tax, I’d be very open minded to trying that because it has some advantages over property taxes.  However, in the few places were it’s been tried the results have been in dispute and in some cases the assessment process controversial.  
    The whole concept’s impacts seem much more theoretical than demonstrated, so far.
    I wouldn’t expect that it would greatly stimulate new building demand in downtown Buffalo, not enough to noticeably reduce the # of unbuilt-upon parcels.
    (fwiw, despite that blogger you linked advocating it for MN, I don’t think anywhere in MN is now doing a land value tax?)

  • whateverr

    solonggone
    re your step #2, land value tax, I’d be very open minded to trying that because it has some advantages over property taxes.  However, in the few places were it’s been tried the results have been in dispute and in some cases the assessment process controversial.  
    The whole concept’s impacts seem much more theoretical than demonstrated, so far.
    I wouldn’t expect that it would greatly stimulate new building demand in downtown Buffalo, not enough to noticeably reduce the # of unbuilt-upon parcels.
    (fwiw, despite that blogger you linked advocating it for MN, I don’t think anywhere in MN is now doing a land value tax?)

  • NYC5475

    No_Illusions The NFTA and Western New York Railway Historical Society are looking to run a heritage trolley between Canalside and the Heritage DiscoveRY Center, which is across the river from the Green Energy Campus, utilizing the DL&W right-of-way the RR used to access the terminal. It wouldn’t take much to extend a few hundred more feet to the campus.