DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles has a well-known love affair with the car. Yet in Downtown, a number of residents are eschewing auto travel, opting instead to walk, take mass transit or ride a bike. Meanwhile, surface parking lots are being snapped up by developers and the city is designing more bike lanes on heavily trafficked streets.
Now, there is another manifestation of the trend: a growing number of housing developers are incorporating bicycle parking in their buildings, often at the sake of car spaces.
Veteran developer Sonny Astani has proposed including 744 bike parking spaces at his G12 project at Grand Avenue and Twelfth Street — the complex would include just 595 car stalls. Developer Mack Urban plans to build 402 bike stalls and 382 car parking spaces in the first phase of its upcoming South Park mega-project. Forest City is proposing a combined 446 bike stalls, and 507 car slots, at its two-building project near the Herald Examiner Building.
The moves follow an ordinance proposed by the City Planning Department and passed by the City Council last year. It mandates that developers include greater amounts of bike parking in new residential and commercial projects. Critically, the ordinance also includes an incentive: By adding additional bike spaces, developers can decrease the amount of required car parking, which is expensive to build.
With thousands of Downtown housing units in the pipeline, the ordinance could impact car parking in the Central City, while serving as a foundation to increase bike infrastructure and ridership.
“The city has had a bicycle plan in place, based on thorough studies about how to best support transportation in an area with growing density,” said Tom Rothmann, a senior city planner and author of the bike parking ordinance. “We have had minimum requirements for auto parking for a long time, but space is limited and we think this offset for bike versus auto parking is going to really change the way people approach traveling in the area.”
The approach has garnered mixed reactions in the real estate community, with some cheering the opportunity to save money by building less car parking, and others viewing mandated bike spaces as another expense on top of their plans to accommodate residents with multiple cars.
Forest City Director of Development K.C. Yasmer praised the policy but, like many, questioned its long-term effect.
“The ordinance is well-intentioned, and having bike parking is a good thing for a healthy urban center,” said Yasmer. “The question is whether potential residents can give up their cars, and whether some developers are willing to play along.”
Reduce the Ugly
The city calculates car and bike-parking requirements based on a project’s floor area and number of units, though density, proximity to transit hubs and other factors can affect the requirements. Last year’s ordinance effectively increased the ratio of bike parking stalls, and expanded the requirements to properties with commercial, industrial and manufacturing uses of less than 10,000 square feet.
In addition to increasing the bike parking minimum, the ordinance allows developers to eliminate one car stall for every four bike parking spots created. Up to 10% of the auto parking can be replaced on a residential project (or 15% if the property is within 1,500 feet of a transit facility). The figures are higher for non-residential projects.
Reducing car parking helps developers cut back on one of the most expensive aspects of a new building. Simon Ha, a managing partner at architecture firm Tate Snyder Kimsey and chairman of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council’s planning and land use committee, said auto parking requirements can negatively impact the size and design of a project on a tight budget.
“Auto parking takes up a lot of space and is incredibly expensive to construct, especially with subterranean parking. That’s why there is a proliferation of above-ground parking podiums, many of them ugly,” Ha said. “Bike parking, on the other hand, is far more compact and simpler to design. You just need a swath of empty space.”
Yasmer notes that increasing bike access has indirect benefits, such as increased activation of street-level storefronts.
“That’s something that is going to help Downtown in the long run as it becomes more walkable and more connected with transit,” he said.
Despite the benefits, some developers worry that buildings with limited parking will push away potential residents. Many households own two or more cars, and the developers of higher-end luxury complexes in particular are still building approximately one car stall per bedroom.
The situation has been noticed by Jim Ries, senior vice president of development consulting firm Craig Lawson & Co. Ries, who has worked on Downtown projects for the Hanover Company, Sonny Astani and others, said some developers are hesitant to reduce car parking when many renters demand it.
The issue is complicated by the restrictions of the city Planning Department’s Downtown Design Guide, which discourages Central City projects from building as much auto parking as in other parts of Los Angeles. For some developers that want to create as much car parking as possible, the bike parking incentive isn’t much of an incentive at all, but rather an additional expense in terms of both money and space.
“I’ve had pushback from clients saying that it’s just too much bike parking they’re being forced to build, and that the location requirements for the bikes are hard to meet,” Ries said. “Coupled with the Design Guide restrictions, the bike mandate is creating havoc for some developers.”
Go Even Further?
On the other side of the issue are planning experts who say the city isn’t going far enough to support developers who want projects to have even less parking.
Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA and one of the country’s leading experts on parking, calls the ordinance a good step toward curbing the “insanely high” amount of off-street car parking in Downtown. Still, he thinks eliminating minimum car parking requirements would help create a denser community that emphasizes mass transit, biking and walking.
“Downtown is the worst of both worlds — it has density, but everyone also has cars. It doesn’t make sense for an urban community,” Shoup said. “People who want to live in Downtown should have to compromise on this. Off-street car parking requirements are ultimately hurting Downtown’s ability to be vibrant and grow for people.”
Rothmann said the car parking minimums have historically hurt some smaller Downtown projects that might not even need automobile space — the requirements made projects economically unfeasible. That changed, he noted, with the 1999 passage of the adaptive reuse ordinance, which allowed developers to skirt certain code requirements such as minimum parking.
More than anything, Rothmann believes improvements could come with a tailored approach that takes into account the density and transportation goals of a neighborhood. He suggested Downtown in the future could utilize off-site residential parking or build city-owned parking structures such as those in Old Town Pasadena.
Both bike infrastructure and off-street parking requirements in Downtown will be reviewed as part of the city’s ongoing revision of the antiquated zoning code, Rothmann added.
Though it has been a little more than a year since the ordinance was passed, its effects on Downtown remain to be felt. The impact may not be known until the next wave of residents arrives — with or without their cars and bikes.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014