Let's say you've got a procedure scheduled at Meriter Hospital on South Park Street. You're a little nervous and the last thing you want to do is find a parking stall before you navigate your way through the hospital to your appointment.
So you drive up to the front door and a nice young person in a blue jacket takes your car for you and parks it. You have your appointment. It goes well. You come back out the front door and the nice person goes and brings your car to you. You stop on the way home to get frozen custard to reward yourself for your bravery.
What's wrong with this picture? Well, nobody except Mayor Paul Soglin can answer that question.
Last week, the Madison Common Council approved a new life for the mostly abandoned Longfellow School, which would be converted into high quality apartments. Owned by Meriter, Longfellow sits across the street from the hospital. There's a parking lot behind the school that serves as the storage site for the valet parking I just described.
As part of the council's approval, some of the new underground parking that would serve the apartments could be used during the day, when the residents are gone, for the valet parking. Soglin has vetoed the entire development -- which passed the council unanimously -- because he objects to the shared parking and he claims that this somehow violates modern ideas about "new urbanism" and "placemaking."
Actually, he's absolutely wrong. It's just the opposite. This concept of "shared parking" has been a central tenet of both new urbanism and placemaking for a couple of decades.
Donald Shoup is a professor or urban planning at UCLA and he holds doctorate in economics from Yale. He's made a career out of studying parking and he’s the author of the book The High Cost of Free Parking (reviewed here by the New York Times). Here's what Shoup says about exactly the kind of thing Meriter is proposing in the most recent edition of his book:
(Shared parking) encourages the shared use among sites where the peak parking demands occur at different times. Shared parking is inherently more efficient than private parking at every site because fewer spaces are needed to meet the combined peak demand, and each parking space is kept occupied for more of the time.
Moreover, if the mayor was really concerned about providing too much parking downtown, then why did he propose to nearly triple the size of the current Government East ramp on Pinckney Street? That's right. The mayor's capital budget would convert the current 500-space ramp to a 1,300-space underground facility, the maximum that could be built at the site because of water table limitations.
It would be better if Mayor Soglin would simply state what his real concerns are here. Soglin manipulated the vote on this project at the Plan Commission so that the shared parking would be voided if the hospital were sold to a national entity. What parking has to do with who owns the hospital is less than clear to anyone and legally tenuous at best. The council appropriately rejected it. So, now the mayor is trying to do exactly the same thing through his veto, except that he now tries to cover it in the cloak of good urban planning.
Soglin's distortion of good urban planning principles in order to try to meet some other strange objective is inappropriate and should be enthusiastically rejected by the council.
Full disclosure: I direct the Greenbush-Vilas Partnership, which is in part funded by Meriter. These views don't necessarily reflect those of the Partnership or Meriter. They are my own.