We Can Do Better Than Promote Paved Parking

By JAMES KENNEDY

PROVIDENCE — In advance of the college basketball season, city government has been doing plenty to put us back into competition for the Final Four.

With a parking crater 15,000 spots big, and with Providence willing to go the distance to promote all that parking, we stand a good chance of winning next year’s Streetsblog Network Parking Crater Final Four. The competition starts out with 16 contenders, and readers vote on which cities deserve to be promoted. This year’s finalists were Cleveland and Tulsa, Okla.

Not to be outdone by any wimpy Midwesterners, Providence Arts, Culture & Tourism made this great video to support our city’s standing in next year’s competition for worst parking crater.

That’s the way to do it, Providence!

There’s a lot to be won. After Tulsa crushed Cleveland in the final match of the 2013 season, its City Council voted overwhelmingly to ban surface parking from its downtown. Turns out, this is a competition Tulsa didn’t want to win again.

There are lots of things we can demand of Providence, ahead of the season, in order to get it into shape:

• Providence should put parking meters on all curb parking spaces. An average curb parking spot costs $15,000 — some parking in Providence costs a great deal more. With about four spaces per car nationwide, America’s parking spots cost more than its cars. Offering that space for free, which is still the case for many on-street spots, means the city has to keep taxes higher and services sparser.

• Providence should require, at minimum, that existing surface parking be depaved and covered with gravel or vegetation, so as to reduce stormwater runoff pollution. I’ve recently started working Newport, and have noticed that many parking lots there are gravel. If Newport can do it, why not Providence?

• Providence should tax surface parking lots more heavily than actual businesses. The mayor announced in his last State of the City Address a plan to give tax breaks to parking lots that redevelop into other uses. That’s an improvement over the status quo, but still has problems. By giving a tax shelter to landholders who redevelop after years of delinquency, the city leaves the tax burden on existing businesses. It’s akin to the failing younger brother who gets ice cream for his first report card C while his sister gets nothing for years of straight A’s. The city would do better to tax new buildings the same as old ones, but tax existing surface parking at a much higher rate. Owners can pass the cost to parkers, choose to redevelop or take the hit to their bottom line. The result would be development that doesn’t overburden preexisting businesses or provide an unfair tax shelter.

• Providence should tie its boast of 15,000 downtown parking spots to policy. New surface parking can be banned, but even new garages should have to be balanced with parking disappearing somewhere else. The city can gradually make the number of permits for off-street parking smaller, until it reaches a balanced state of affairs.

Providence resident James Kennedy runs the blog Transport Providence.