Council President Darrell Clarke once remarked, "This is Philadelphia. People drive to the corner store. This is what we do.” This attitude is common in his Council office, and it leads them to seriously misunderstand--and misrepresent--the interests of 5th District residents.
The context for that quote is a Council hearing where Clarke was questioning, four years after the fact, why the Zoning Code Commission that rewrote Philadelphia's 1950's-vintage zoning code between 2007 and 2011 had wanted to reduce the number of parking spaces that city government statutorily requires developers to include for each dwelling in a new or renovated building.
The reason was that parking is expensive for builders--anywhere from $20-50,000 per space--and that cost gets passed through to tenants via their rent to the tune of $150-300 a month. Since not everyone drives, the policy forces many people who don't want or need parking to pay more for housing. It's a costly and regressive practice, and at the neighborhood or city level, it acts like a fertility drug for car dependence and traffic congestion.
Many of our peer cities have been eliminating or further reducing parking requirements in their base zoning, but in Philadelphia, decline-era relics on City Council like Clarke and 3rd District Councilmember Jannie Blackwell have been pushing a bill that would double them.
The Council President didn't agree with this idea when it was proposed by the Commission, he didn't like it when it made it into the final bill, and he kept fighting it after it passed. "'All-About-the-Car' City Council Fights Philly Zoning Code Reform," is how Next City summarized Clarke's rearguard effort to hike parking minimums in 2012 as the ink was barely drying on the City's new zoning code.
So it wasn't surprising to read in PlanPhilly that Clarke's office is still on this hobby horse, and raised the issue once again at a Civic Design Review meeting for Goldenberg Group's The View II project near Temple.
The project is being built by-right--meaning it conforms to the zoning code--but development projects of a certain size are required to undergo a Civic Design Review session where they receive design feedback from neighbors, the Planning Commission, and others. As Jake Blumgart reported, community members turned out to want to use this session to complain about what they saw as inadequate parking in the project (90 spaces for 352 dwellings.) That's the legal minimum the zoning code requires--three spaces per ten dwellings, roughly.
Representatives from Goldenberg say the parking they built at The View I is only half occupied, with most tenants choosing not to lease a parking space for $89 a month. Clarke's office theorizes that tenants aren't leasing this parking because of the price, and are instead parking on streets nearby.
“I do think that being a former [Temple] student myself, it’s the price of parking that keeps students from using those parking lots,” said [Clarke staffer Jeffrey] Young. “But the price associated with it, most students don’t have it. If you charge $5 a month for parking, the lots would be full and there will be 100 people on the waiting list.”
Young said that the students don’t utilize the public transit, especially the bus system, around the complex.
“I know that there is a view within planning that you are going to discourage parking,” said Young. “But people are still going to have cars….Those developments around public transit are well intentioned, but the expected outcome isn’t happening.”
But it's actually Clarke's office that's out of touch with the reality at Temple, and they couldn't be more wrong that students aren't utilizing transit.
Temple's big 2016 Transportation Survey revealed that a whopping 67.7% of students report using transit, while only a third of students use a car as their primary means of getting around.
About 14% use the bus system, at higher rates than faculty and staff, who are much more likely to drive to work. In every single category, students are taking up much less street space per capita than faculty, staff, and--we'd wager--nearby homeowners. It's time to reevaluate what is causing the curb parking shortage--the unpriced street parking around campus.
The mistaken belief in Clarke's office that everybody drives to the corner store is leading them to positions that are harmful for affordability and transportation progress in the 5th District. While they say students can't afford to pay $89 a month for on-site parking, pay attention to what their solution is: they want to force all tenants of new buildings to pay an extra $150-400 a month hidden charge in their rent, to cover the cost of a parking space they may not need or want.
That's regressive, and it undercuts Clarke's rhetoric on the issue of housing affordability.
Clarke and his staff like to believe that they're more in touch with their District than some egghead planners, but when they say everybody drives to the corner store and nobody uses SEPTA, the data show they're the ones who are out of touch. The 5th District has fewer car owners than any Council District. If none of the people they're talking to on a daily basis are transit riders, who exactly are they talking to?