Editorial: In Concord, the future of parking is now
Concord’s supposedly self-supporting parking fund is facing insolvency, and the city’s parking garages have become not a break-even proposition but a drain. The city council has rightly decided to get expert outside help to figure out what to do, albeit at a cost of $115,000. The consultants’ report is supposed to reach the council next year, when the parking fund is expected to run $78,000 in the red.
We hope the consulting company, Nelson Nygaard and Desman Associates, consider the following factors, among others, as they analyze the situation.
Millennials, people roughly 18 to 34, tend not see car ownership as a necessity or cars as a symbol of status and independence. They consider them a pain in the butt. The “see the USA in your Chevrolet” era is over.
Though it’s not happening in Concord yet, young people, when they need a vehicle, rent one from one of the many car-share businesses now available in bigger cities. When cars are shared and kept in use rather than parked for most of the day, the need for parking spaces diminishes.
Driverless cars, along with vans, shuttles and buses, exist now. Google has racked up 300,000 miles with its driverless cars without an accident. A driverless car reached the top of Pikes Peak and a fleet of driverless vans traveled 8,000 miles from Italy to China. Volvo has designed a car that can drop off a passenger at a preset destination, park itself where told and come back when called. We believe that use of driverless vehicles will be routine in urban areas within a decade.
Urban real estate, particularly if the trend of moving from the suburbs to the city continues, will be too expensive to be used for parking lots. Clinton Street, for example, sees a steady stream of cars from the bedroom communities to the west during the morning and evening commutes. Those cars require an enormous amount of space to house.
Driverless shuttles to carry riders from remote parking lots where real estate is cheap to stops in Concord would free up an enormous amount of parking space. So would driverless cars that drop their owner off and park in a remote Concord lot and return when called.
Car ownership is expensive, particularly considering that cars spend an estimated 98 percent of their time parked. Driverless taxies and rental companies like Zipcar will make it easy for city residents to forego car ownership.
Driverless vans and buses, along with advances in power systems, electric and otherwise, will make it cheaper to expand public transportation. Such factors will cut into the demand for parking spaces and garages.
Once such alternatives are in place, cities should, and some already are, drive commuters to alternatives by making parking more expensive. Some planners say parking garages should be built with the knowledge that some of them will be re-purposed as office space or apartments.
We share city Councilor Alan Bennett’s amazement at the lack of a maintenance plan for the city’s parking garages. They are a major city investment. Just one of them, the Durgin Block garage next to the YMCA, was found to be in need of roughly $3.3 million in repairs, $1.4 million of which has already been spent.
The garages must be maintained, but the plan for their future should include the possibility that they will become less used, less necessary and more expensive for the city to own. The future of cars, and parking, even in Concord, is on the cusp of change.