Resist knee-jerk parking fixes in Tacoma’s Stadium District

Erik Bjornson is a Tacoma attorney and occasional News Tribune opinion contributor.
Erik Bjornson is a Tacoma attorney and occasional News Tribune opinion contributor.

Tacomans should be proud of the improvement, walkability and renewed vibrance of the Stadium District, perhaps the most improved area of Tacoma over the last 15 years.

Once cursed with vacant buildings, empty parking and general disinvestment, the district now has significant new housing filled with new residents to support a wide range of new restaurants and businesses.

One of the primary reasons Stadium District is attractive and walkable is because of the large number of apartments and businesses in a small, dense area arranged with nearly continuous frontage.

But with the district’s success, finding a place to park is predictably getting more challenging. Gone are the days of virtually unlimited space when one could count on parking right in front of the business they chose to visit and leave their car for the day or even an extended weekend.

That so many people want to park in a business district is an extraordinarily good condition to have, similar to a restaurant whose line stretches out the door for those seeking a coveted table.

As good as this can be for Stadium and Tacoma generally, however, it’s important for the limited parking to be managed well for the benefit of residents, business owners and visitors alike.

Tacoma needs to transition from a suburban mall parking methodology to an urban one.

There are many steps the city should take to alleviate the parking shortage in Stadium.

First, two-hour limits should be extended in the area and then actually enforced by the city.

Second, more spaces could be created by replacing swaths of parallel parking with angled parking.

Third, the city could encourage private businesses and churches to start sharing or leasing their parking lots to create additional capacity.

Presently, numerous private and church-owned parking lots remain empty even when the rest of Stadium is experiencing peak parking demand.

If these steps are taken and there’s still insufficient space for people to park, Tacoma should implement a paid parking system similar to that in downtown Tacoma.

Following the accepted best practices of other cities, Tacoma should set the parking rate at the lowest possible level that would leave one out of seven spaces empty (15 percent).

The city should resist any harmful knee-jerk actions such as building (or requiring to be built) surface-level parking lots or parking structures for new developments.

Such 1960-era, car-centric suburban policies are largely responsible for the decimation of downtowns throughout the country, including Tacoma.

As renowned parking expert Donald Shoup points out: “minimum parking requirements subsidize cars, increase traffic congestion and carbon emissions, pollute the air and water, encourage sprawl, raise housing costs, exclude poor people, degrade urban design, reduce walkability and damage the economy.”

In a 2016 Washington Post op-ed headlined “How parking requirements hurt the poor,” Shoup describes in detail the exclusionary effects parking requirements have on lower-income residents.

“Cities require parking for every building without considering how the required spaces place a heavy burden on the poor. A single parking space, in fact, can cost far more to build than the net worth of many American households.”

Structured parking spaces typically cost $50,000 to build while forcing developers to construct larger, fewer and more expensive housing units.

By managing parking in the Stadium District using best practices from comparable cities, Tacoma can help the neighborhood rebuild itself in a vibrant, environmentally sound and economically inclusive manner.

Erik Bjornson is a downtown Tacoma attorney and North End resident who occasionally writes for the TNT on urban design issues.