ULI Northwest Blog

‘Yoda of Urban Planning’ Talks Parking

By ULI member Viet Nguyen with Frause

The Urban Land Institute hosted a luncheon on Tuesday, February 19 to chat about the art and science of parking with legendary Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, Donald Shoup.

Gathered in Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center were some of the Washington State’s transportation and land-use glitterati, looking to hear some words of wisdom from Professor Shoup, who has been described as the ‘Yoda of Urban Planning.’

The ULI collaboration with King County’s Right-Size Parking Project brought out a wide diversity of minds, from some smaller architects and developers, to policy analysts at the Puget Sound Regional Council.

Kerry Nicholson, ULI Northwest Chair and Senior Managing Director at Legacy Partners, kicked off the show with introductions and let the attendees know that “parking can be very expensive, very emotional.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine

After sipping from his glass of ‘Marc Rubio Water’, King County Executive Dow Constantine challenged his team to think about how to smartly grow the built environment and strike a balance between parking supply and parking demand.  He stressed that King County would not allow “outdated standards to guide our decisions about the character of our environment.”

Professor Donald Shoup began with an observation about urban planning professors belonging to one of two types:  dogs who run in packs and chase moving cars, biting tires or running with their heads hanging out; or solitary cats who check parked cars, marking tires and brood about the economics of parked cars.

Shoup noted that with cars are parked 95 percent of the time, it might be worthwhile to have a few more cat professors.

Noting that the true cost of parking had not been fully captured in the over-paved sprawl of Silicon Valley, Shoup demonstrated some interesting ideas for street-facing workforce housing which could be built on the Cisco System’s Campus parking lots that would improve the streetscape, create a stronger sense of community, and reduce commuting trips for employees.

According to Professor Shoup, the primary issue was that land-use codes had a tendency to require more parking than was actually used in the space.  City codes that kept street parking free or cheap and sought to prevent spillover parking effects actually distorted the parking market, creating perverse incentives such as cruising around the block to find a free parking spot at the Pike Place Market.

Parking guru and UCLA Professor Donald Shoup

Shoup suggested three solutions:  finding the lowest parking price that leaves one or two vacant spaces on each block – around 85% parking space occupancy, returning meter revenue to the neighborhood that generates it, and removing off-street parking requirements when a building’s land-use changes.

In one example, Shoup noted where returning meter revenue to the Old Pasadena business district actually helped to revitalize an area than had been going downhill for years, but has now recovered beautifully.  With 690 meters operating until midnight every day and on Sunday, parking meters yielded approximately $1.2 million annually for the fifteen blocks of Old Pasadena – approximately $80,000 per block.

Following the discussion of the art of parking, Rick Williams, lead consultant to the Right Size Parking Project, introduced the audience to the science behind it all.   In building the Right Size Parking Calculator, which has analyzed over 200 sites across King County, his team has determined that parking stalls are overbuilt in King County by an average of 35% – with a parking stall to unit ratio of 1.4:1, when a 1:1 ratio would be more suitable.

(L-R) Rick Williams, Rick Williams Consulting; Eric Shields, City of Kirkland; Linda Abe, Su Development; Kerry Nicholson, Legacy Partners; and Donald Shoup, UCLA

The show ended with an expert panel fielding some interesting questions, including one concerning the impact of right-sized parking on finding financing for a development.  For Kerry Nicholson, the Right Size Parking Calculator was the perfect alternative to commissioning extensive parking studies to help ease those financial concerns.

For More InformationRight Size Parking Calculator


Program Materials:


Photos courtesy of Chuck Wolfe.

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