Interview with Rick Williams, Parking Guru

rick williamsRick Williams is somewhat of a rockstar in the transportation, parking and land use arena. Between 1989 and 1995 he served as the Executive Vice President of the Association for Portland Progress, a business association representing the 75 largest employers in downtown Portland. While at APP Rick was responsible for the management and operation of the City of Portland’s municipal visitor parking system, Smart Park, comprised of seven parking structures and 3,500 stalls.

In 1995 Rick established his own consulting firm through which he focuses on parking management and transportation demand management programs (TDM) for business districts. He has since created comprehensive parking and TDM plans for over 50 cities. Rick also currently serves as the contract Executive Director of the Lloyd Transportation Management Association which provides parking management, transit, bike, ridesharing and outreach programs to 85 Lloyd District businesses and their 10,000 employees.

We chatted with Rick briefly about economic development, parking garages of the future, and whether any of his congestion-reduction strategies might work in Bellevue. Here’s the manuscript:

CYWB: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Rick. Would you mind talking a bit about the evolution of the Lloyd District and the development of the Lloyd TMA?

RW: The Lloyd District is a neighborhood across the Wilamette River from downtown Portland that recruited me to work with them on their transportation and access issues in 1996. At the time, Lloyd was an emerging business district that was facing serious traffic and congestion constraints because of its geography and relationship to the freeway. Through a grant, we created the Lloyd TMA, the first ever TMA in Oregon, made up primarily of business owners in partnership with the City of Portland, and Trimet, the local transportation agency.

As stakeholders we realized that to achieve our job and housing growth goals, a key economic development strategy for the district would be to enact policies to encourage transit, biking and walking.  The Lloyd District was heavily auto-oriented at the time—80% of people drove to work, and there was an overabundance of surface parking lots and minimal pedestrian and bike infrastructure. We adopted fairly aggressive goals to reduce drive alone trips, and were able to get buy-in from the community by quantitatively demonstrating that congestion would eventually limit our ability to grow jobs.

What’s unique about the Lloyd TMA is that from the beginning, the business community was in charge of making the transition occur. A lot of TMAs were formed in response to state mandates, but our TMA was formed as a forum through which an economic development plan was delivered, with many sustainable byproducts. We were able to create an economic argument for why trip reduction is good for business, and it has paid off.

CYWB: Did you encounter push back throughout the process?

RW: Of course there was opposition, but we’ve always been clear that our mission is to support economic development through sound transportation planning—we’re not just doing these things to feel good. We made the decision to prioritize existing parking for customer and visitor trips instead of work related trips, which meant eliminating the majority of free parking in the district (particularly commuter parking). Of course that was contentious. But we negotiated with the City of Portland to meter the on-street parking in exchange for a significant portion of the net meter revenue. This revenue comes to the TMA and helps support our programs that promote biking, walking and taking transit. Businesses have control of the resources and see the benefit. We also negotiated with Trimet to sell transit passes, and to correlate the number of transit passes sold to the addition of new bus routes or frequency improvements, which was a new concept at the time, and added value to the community as well.

CYWB: How are you measuring your success?

We like to tout that in 1997 about 80% people traveled by car to the Lloyd District, and we’ve gotten that number down to 43% in 2011.  We’ve affected a huge shift in how people move around.  Another measure of success is to disprove the oft-repeated claims that if you take free parking away, you’re going to hurt business. We have a 4-6% vacancy rate, which is an indication of a healthy business district. We’re not anti-car in the Lloyd District, we’ve just become more efficient in how we use parking. We’ve priced it at a rate that favors biking, walking and transit. And we’ve been able to convince property owners that there’s simply more leasable space with less parking.

When we started there were no parking maximums in the area: in 1997 developers were building about 3.5 parking stalls per 1000 square feet. The partnership plan the Lloyd business community took to the City Council in 1997 supported the establishment of maximum parking ratios and a prohibition on new surface parking lots, which was successful. Developers are now building closer to 1.8 spaces per 1000.

CYWB: Given that installing parking spaces IS so expensive, why do so many developers continue to gleefully add parking to the mix? Does the cost remain invisible to people?

RW: I attribute this phenomenon to what I call “underbuild anxiety” and a couple of things play into this. Oftentimes the local building code actually requires it, and they build it because it is a condition of development. Or developers will look at another property and say “I have to do it because they are.”

There’s also a pervasive urban/suburban cultural divide, and oftentimes developers don’t see where they’re at. When you live in a suburban area, you probably should have more parking, but what works in an urban area is often quite different, as are the economics of parking development.

We’ve shown that we can make a surplus of parking profitable by using existing facilities in multiple ways. A lot of our structures in the Lloyd District were overbuilt because they were constructed in the 1970’s. We’ve removed a lot of employees out of those facilities by encouraging non-drive-alone modes. We’re now giving the surplus parking back to attract ground level businesses, and create short term parking for new customers. We have great partnerships with developers, and have found that they’re not afraid to be flexible and diverse with the parking packages they offer new tenants.

CYWB: What’s the bicycling situation like in the Lloyd District?

RW: In cooperation with the partnership we set the goal of achieving a 10% bicycle mode share by 2015, and as such, determined that every building should have parking stalls to allow for 10% of their employees to bike to work. We have used revenue generated through our parking meter funds to cover the cost to purchase and install parking racks, lockers and bike cages in private buildings, up to our 10% goalthe individual building just had to provide the space. In 1997 there were only 239 bike parking spaces in the district, and today we have 2,000. It was a tough sell in the beginning because when we began there was less than a 1% bicycle mode split and no bike infrastructure to speak of. You often heard “there’s no way I want bike racks here; no one would use them.” However property owners eventually bought into the 10% bike parking goal because they started to buy into the economic equationtranslating less parking built into more leasable area, more efficient use of existing parking and more attractive, marketable, cost-effective options for tenants and their employees.

Underscoring this is our partnership with the City, who played a crucial role in making investments in bike infrastructure in the public right of way (e.g., bike lanes), which supported and leveraged the investments we were making in bike infrastructure on private property.  In 1995 there were no bike lanes in the Lloyd District and today we have bike facilities on five streets, making it safer for people to bike around. The TMA also organizes and hosts around 15 bike events each year in the district, which continues to educate and assist people who make the decision to bike and further complements our bike infrastructure.  You have to have all three legs of the stool in place, or it won’t work (bike spaces, bike lanes and education).

CYWB: Do you see any similarities between the Lloyd area and the city of Bellevue?

RW: I see many similarities between the two. Lloyd was a very suburban district when we started and very much the “other downtown,” for the City of Portland. We’re the east side, you’re the east side. We have Oregon’s largest mall, a convention center, lots of hospitality and a sports arena. Much like Lloyd, Bellevue is a commercial center with newer construction, a fair amount of residual surface parking, and relatively low ground floor residential where there’s a lot of potential to bring the drive alone rate down.

CYWB: You’ll soon be coming here to speak with property owners, developers, and parking lot operators. What strategies have you found to be effective when talking to these groups about rethinking their parking strategies?

RW: There are a lot of changing trends in the parking market, particularly with regard to what customers want, which is not to have an “either or” choice. We need to break that cycle, and I always encourage property managers to look at offering transit and parking products that would grant their users a degree of flexibility.

There’s a relatively new concept called the Half Pass that allows for 11 days of parking during the month, which recognizes that there are people who still need to drive but don’t want to have to choose between parking and a transit pass. You’ve got tolling soon coming to the Seattle area, and the Half Pass would be a great way for people to avoid having to pay $7 for tolls every single day.

Pricing things in this way takes into account changes that are occurring in the region, or nationwide. Furthermore, people are rational economic creatures and you can have the best transit system in the world, but if you have a transit pass that costs more than a parking pass, people are going to continue to drive! People think the parking equation is difficult, but it’s really quite simple. Look, 30% of people who are 18 years old don’t even have a driver’s license! That’s an astounding statistic, and is indicative of where things are headed. We can help properties add components to their toolbox in order to better reflect these changes in the market.

CYWB: How do you demonstrate the added value of the work you do at the TMA?

RW: We are an organization that values sustainability, but our primary purpose is to grow jobs, add tenants and create new development. The byproduct is the feel good sustainability stuff. That’s the story of our TMA, and I think is the reason why we’ve been so successful.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 at 5:40 pm and is filed under Carbon Footprint, Parking. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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