Is a vote for light rail a vote for fewer - and more expensive - downtown parking spaces?
It appears that way, according to a lengthy analysis of Salt Lake downtown parking and transit conditions.The study is to be presented to the city Planning Commission Thursday. City planners will use it to help rewrite the zoning ordinance and a downtown master plan, said planner Doug Dansie.
Conducted by two local engineering firms and a Michigan-based consulting company, the study strongly recommended a light-rail commuter train and increased bus transit. It said increased mass transit is "inevitable" if the central business district is to grow and effectively handle increased traffic and parking demands.
"After realizing the inevitability of these, it will be extremely important to implement development policies that encourage mass transit," the study said.
Among those policies is a ceiling or limit on downtown parking development. Limiting the amount of parking will cause demand and prices to go up, forcing commuters to take light rail or the bus, the study said.Developers could also pay into a transit fund what they would have paid to build and maintain parking, the consultants recommended.
But, the study said planners should provide ample short-term parking to accommodate downtown retail development. "Parking should be regulated in a manner where its use for short term is encouraged and its use for long term is discouraged.
"The most important factor for encouraging these types of developmental regulations will be to support the implementation of the light-rail transit," the study said. "If the light-rail transit system is implemented, city planners will have no problem encouraging" its use.
Not surprisingly, the Utah Transit Authority agrees.
UTA is working on the final Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed light-rail train running between Sandy and downtown Salt Lake City. Either next year or in 1992, Salt Lake County voters will be asked to increase UTA's share of sales tax by one-quarter cent to fund the $225 million transit project.
"We are supportive of the study," UTA spokesman Craig Rasmussen said. "There needs to be a balance between parking and transit. Right now we need to balance out what we see as sufficient parking in the downtown area."
The study doesn't say, however, sufficient parking exists or ever will. Indeed, it shows deficits ranging from moderate to extreme depending on how the block is used - residential, commercial, industrial. Currently, an 80-block area of Salt Lake City including downtown has a total deficit of 7,481 spaces.
The Planning Commission has already adopted the recommendation that mass transit is the answer to a lack of parking. A recent decision reducing parking requirements for the new Jazz Arena said the long-term goal of parking reduction is promoting use of mass transit, including buses and light rail.
But Chairwoman Lavone Liddle-Gamonal said the commission is divided into two camps: those who plan on light rail coming and those who don't.
Among those who advocate light rail in future planning is commission member Ralph Becker.
But, while the Jazz Arena decision may imply "recognition of the support for mass transit," Becker said that doesn't mean inadequate parking is the tradeoff.
"I know it (sacrificing parking for mass transit) has occurred in other cities, but I haven't seen that beginning here," he said.