Want to have a better commute? Less congestion? Lower housing costs? How about more walkable communities?

NOTE: pick the correct link

What if there was a way to do all this more effectively and efficiently? What if this new way reduced congestion by 30%; made transit, walking and biking more accessible; and, frankly, was a better use of our limited public and private monies?

Parking is the key. But perhaps not in the way you’re thinking.

Changing the policies that govern our off-street and on-street parking, and managing both these resources more effectively, can produce all these benefits while helping to make parking more accessible for those who truly do need it and less necessary for those who don’t.

Fundamentally, parking today is expensive, poorly managed, and subsidized to such an extent that it makes all other trip options less desirable. The only way it is artificially cheap or free is because everything else is more expensive.

Creating and maintaining parking requires resources for construction, land and operations — each of which is costly and far from free. Nationally, constructing a parking space can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for surface lots, to $20,000 to $80,000 for structured and underground parking spaces. Thus, even a small parking lot can easily add up to $50,000.

However, here on Oahu, parking costs even more to construct, and we are all paying for it whether we’re aware of it or not.

The cost of constructing parking in Honolulu is the highest among other U.S. municipalities. 

For example, it cost approximately $23.5 million to build the 930-stall parking garage at Walmart on Keeaumoku Street. That estimate does not include the value of land in Hawaii.

As of 2017, the average cost of an acre in Honolulu was $4.3 million. That goes up to $16 million in the urban core where this Walmart is located (on par with New York City, San Francisco, etc.).

If you add up the value of those 3.38 acres using both the cost of construction and the land, that’s a staggering $76.3 million, all for car storage at a discount store where no customers pay for parking.

Perhaps even more discouraging is this parking structure is consistently not fully utilized — not even at lunch nor in the after-work rush.

The Walmart parking garage on Keeaumoku Street is often underutilized, even during lunch and after-work rushes. Derek Ford, Island UAV LLC

One of the most critical side effects of our current parking policies is its contribution to higher housing costs. It’s estimated parking requirements in residential buildings add $225 per parking spot every month.

In more expensive markets, that number could easily be $350 per month, potentially adding up to almost $5,000 per year for a two-spot unit.

Astonishingly, many residents are paying that cost without using the spaces. A recent study by Ulupono Initiative examined the utilization of parking garages built in the last 20 years across urban Honolulu.

Peak Demand

Matching the findings from the Urban Honolulu Parking Master Plan, these garages were only 70 percent occupied at peak nighttime demand. The number of parking spots was two to three times greater than the number of dwellings.

One example is a 380-unit condo in Honolulu with more than 700 spaces, of which almost 200 were empty despite a 95% occupancy rate. Two hundred parking spaces could easily be two to three floors of wasted space in this tower, just adding to the cost of housing. Consider again that this is occurring in a city with one of the highest land values in the country.

A recent blog post by the Sightline Institute illustrated how significantly parking requirements alter a developer’s plans. With current parking requirements in Portland, Oregon, the most profitable proposal is for high-cost townhomes in the range of $700,000.

Removing the requirement allows the developer to propose mixed-income $280,000 condominiums. The implications this has to the feasibility of creating more affordable housing is clear.

Many believe parking is necessary and that they can’t live without it. But Hawaii is one of the most densely structured communities in the nation, where 25% of our trips are less than a mile. In reality, 30% of our community today manages to commute by means other than a solo car trip — meaning the options are there, we just have to choose them.

We act as if a parking space is necessary for every single trip for every single purpose every single day. What’s worse is that we pretend not to pay for it.

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