Friday, December 21, 2012

Who owns the street outside your house, and who gets to park there?

Parking. It's a dilemma for cities, towns and even hamlets. The more you make accommodations for drivers (that is, most adults) who need to park vehicles, the uglier and less functional you are likely to make your city.

Yes, you can find exceptions: Parking decks lined on all sides with stores or condos or offices. (Want examples? Visit the Gateway area of uptown along West Trade Street across from Johnson & Wales University.) But those projects are notably more expensive than your basic surface lot that slicks a coat of asphalt over the dirt. That's one reason a large chunk of uptown Charlotte, beyond the main corridors, is a dead-zone of surface parking lots. Fully one fifth of First Ward is covered with surface parking lots. In a city with some 75,000 uptown workers and limited transit service, people are going to drive. Just saying, "Don't drive," is not a helpful option.

On-street parking in College Downs will be restricted. Photo: Corbin Peters
As many have noted – with UCLA planning professor Donald Shoup maybe the most prominent among them – free parking isn't. Wal-Mart may be surrounded by acres of "free" asphalt for you and your Camry, but Wal-Mart has to pay for that land and for the paving and repaving. The parking cost is built in to the price of what you buy there. Even if you don't shop at Wal-Mart, you pay for their lot, because as a taxpayers you foot the bill for storm drainage systems and anti-pollution measures to accommodate the torrents of rainwater that run off, most of it carrying pollutants.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Region's planning footprint set to expand

How sane is transportation planning in the Charlotte region? Depends, I guess, on how you define sane. Plenty of sane people take part in the planning, of course.

But the organizing device, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (a.k.a. MPO,) is not configured in any sane way. For instance, the MPO for Charlotte – you know, the city of 750,000 or so in the middle of the huge metro region – does not include Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln or York counties. It now includes only a portion of Union County and a teeny sliver of Iredell. This Charlotte-area MPO is known as MUMPO – the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization.

That's about to change, bringing a modest improvement. Based on the 2000 Census, the federal rules that define what can/should be in an MPO mean the Charlotte-area MPO must expand. It's all based on what's called an "urbanized area," which is a "metro region" which is not the same as the many, many other "metro regions" you may have heard of, such as the Centralina Council of Governments' region, the Charlotte Regional Partnership's region, the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute's region, etc.  (Want to see a mash-up map of all those regions laid atop each other? Try this link.) Note of clarification here, added at 2:44 p.m.: Unlike many metro regions, MUMPO plans ONLY transportation projects. It's a separate organization from the Council of Governments, which is ostensibly a regional planning group. Sort of. And of course, one of the first things you learn in Planning 101 is that land use planning and transportation planning are, or should be, joined at the hip. Whatever.

So I'm sitting at the policy-wonkish session of the Charlotte City Council's Transportation and Planning Committee, hearing a report on MPO expansion. Here's a link to download the proposed new map. Pictured above is a small version of the map.

The good news: Expanding the MPO is much smarter than not doing so. It's not expanded out to what it should be (for Pete's sake, why not include Cabarrus and Gaston?) but it's clearly better. After all, as MPO secretary Robert Cook just told the panel, Marshville is now considered part of the "urbanized area."  As is all of southern Iredell County, north to north of Interstate 40.

But will the name change?