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HomeGateway PlanCity PlanningGetting rid of parking in Arcata: A social engineering experiment

Getting rid of parking in Arcata: A social engineering experiment

For further reading, see “Gateway Street Parking: Why it will be inadequate


Our world as it is now

At some point in the future — perhaps in 20 or 30 or 40 years — we, as a society, may happily exist without personal vehicles. But we’re not there now. We rely on our cars to go to work, to buy food and supplies, to help our children with school and play, for recreational needs, to visit friends and family, for deliveries and for people in the building trades, to take care of people in need, and so much more.

We can agree that improvements to public transit are necessary and wonderful, and that better bicycle pathways are crucial and delightful. Still, in the current climate, how many of us are going to be giving up our cars entirely? That is to say: How many of us are not going to own a car, period.

Some people will be able to work near where they work, but the vast majority of Arcata residents will not. People commute to their jobs. Any improvements in bus routes may not show up for ten years or more. So where does that leave us?

Social Engineering

There’s a commonly proposed notion that if the powers that be (i.e. a city government) makes it more difficult to use a car, then people will use their cars less. That is, if traffic moves more slowly; if there are fewer parking spaces and locating a space to park becomes time-consuming; if the cost of a personal parking spot becomes expensive… then people will at some point choose to not own a car.

Is this a reasonable belief? That if there is an inadequate supply of parking spaces in Arcata then people will be discouraged from owning a car. I don’t think so — not at all. 

And what will people who need to have a car do? Well, they won’t live in the Gateway Area, that’s for certain.

Is the Gateway Plan discriminatory to older people?

You bet it is. The emphasis is on walking and riding a bike. Which is great, for people who can do that. And for people who don’t have, say, a daughter or grandchildren in McKinleyville or Fortuna or Santa Rosa. 

Zipcars to the rescue, maybe

I’m a big fan, at least in concept, of ZipCars as a way of reducing car ownership. Or Uber and Lyft, in theory. ZipCars are vehicles that can be rented by the hour. In some cities they are parked all over town, ready for use. Renting a ZipCar is about $11 an hour. This may sound like a lot (i.e. $22 to go to Costco and back), but it includes gas, maintenance, and some level of insurance. If a person is using a car just once or twice a week, it can be much less money than owning a car, making payments, buying tires, and so forth.  Unfortunately there are only two ZipCars available (when last I checked) in Humboldt County, stationed at Cal Poly Humboldt.  For the concept to work, we’d need at least two hundred or so, with parking stations scattered around the city.

The new proposed Gateway Code says:
There’s a Maximum number of parking spaces

In the proposed standards for parking spaces, below, please note that there is both a minimum number of parking spaces required — Zero — and a maximum. In the proposal, the maximum number of parking spaces that a developer could provide for the tenants in the Hub and Corridor districts (the central area of the Gateway Area) is 1 parking space for every 4 units. 

Here’s the code, as it is proposed:

Let’s look at some scenarios for the main central districts of the Gateway Area, the Gateway Hub district and the Gateway Corridor district. Let’s say a developer wants to build one of the following:

      • 100 studio and one-bedroom apartments, with an average size of 400 square feet. This would be a building about the size of Sorrel Place. Potentially there’d be around 150 adult-age people living there. There could be zero parking there. Or there would be a maximum of 25 spaces for the 100 apartments.
        That’s 25 spaces for 150 adult-age people. That is one parking space for every six tenants.
      • A building with 20 two-bedroom apartments — conceivably over 40 people of driving age living there. Again, there could be no parking at all. There would be a maximum of just 5 parking spaces allowed by this code. That is one parking space for every eight tenants.
      • A restaurant. Let’s say the size of Dead Reckoning, on J Street, or the Sushi Spot, or Campground on 9th Street, or Japhy’s in Northtown. A restaurant in a 1,000 square foot space might have seats for 35 or 40 diners and require a staff of six. That restaurant could be built with no parking at all. Or it could have a maximum of ONE space ! (The code maximum is 1 space per 1,000 square feet.)

These are New York City numbers, and we are not in New York City.

Without a place to park, will people say good-bye to their cars? Or will they try finding a place to park on the street. Well, that’s a problem too. In the effort of planning bulb-outs for safer pedestrian crossings and making bike lanes separated from traffic, the amount of on-street parking has been severely reduced. Overall in the Gateway area, the on-street parking will be an estimated 50% of what it is now. In some blocks, we’ll see on-street parking of less than 25% of current amounts.  See Gateway Street Parking: Why it will be inadequate here.

As a principal of one of the largest local builders wrote to Community Development Director David Loya:

“I am in favor of encouraging people to use cars less, but ‘encouraging’ in this sense means providing not enough parking, so that people are essentially blocked from owning a car. Again, top down social engineering. You may encourage away, but you need to stop using that word when you mean denying people a choice.”

Given all this, what will happen? Basically, a mess. Tenants in the Gateway area will attempt to park their cars in adjacent neighborhoods to the east and west. People with children or with jobs where public transit is impractical – and older people whose bicycling days are in the past — simply will not be able to live in the Gateway area.

And thus the Gateway zone will have become exclusionary, with practices that in effect eliminate large sectors of our population. People are essentially discriminated against, for what is considered as the greater good for Arcata as a whole.

I am in favor of encouraging bicycling and walking. And I am in favor of creating more housing – provided that it’s a decent living space with a price that’s accessible to good workforce people.

But to have as a condition of supplying that housing that there can be only one parking space for every six to eight residents – that I do not care for.

And my guess is that developers will feel the same way, and they simply will not build.

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