Why do we have all this unused parking?

I worked the evening shift Saturday night at the Tribune, and while I was walking back to the office from my dinner break I took this picture of the Gateway parking lot:

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As you can see, the entire parking lot is empty. This is “P4,” or the fourth level of the parking garage. The fifth level usually looks about the same.

I took this picture about 7 p.m. on Saturday night, a time I would expect this lot to be packed. After all, here’s what this lot serves:

• A seven story office building

• One of Salt Lake’s larger music venues for touring bands

• An IMAX theater

• A regular megaplex theater

• At least a dozen restaurants

• Several bars, which are within a couple of blocks

• All of the stores at the Gateway mall, which close at 9 p.m. at the earliest and would have been open when I took the picture.

In other words, there are a lot of destinations within a block or two of this parking lot, and many of those destination should be at their busiest at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night.

And yet this level of the parking garage doesn’t have a single car in it. I have parked here before and even at its fullest I’ve only ever seen this lot at 40-50 percent capacity. There may be times when it’s packed — Utah Jazz games, for example, which take place nearby — but the vast majority of the time this parking lot just sits empty.

This lot is also really expensive; it’s part of a five story garage — the lower two or three levels actually do fill up during the day but empty out in the evenings — that support the seven story office building above. Sometimes you hear about parking stalls that cost tens of thousands of dollars to build; these are those stalls.

My point here is that we’ve gone completely overboard with parking construction. We’re oversupplying it to the point of absurdity. I’m sure an array of factors produced this situation — over optimism about the mall, a desire to build the capacity to handle maximum use, etc. — but this is really insane. It hurts the businesses that rent here because they have to subsidize the parking via higher rent, it hurts the property owners because they have a lot that isn’t paying for itself, and the idea that we have to build this kind of thing slows down development.

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4 comments

  1. walkableprinceton

    People don’t like parking in garages because it’s usually more expensive than the street, you have to drive up and down a load of ramps, and many scary movie scenes are set in multi-level garages. I bet all the on-street spaces nearby were taken.

    • jimmycdii

      They were! The weird thing here is that unlike most of SLC, this area doesn’t have much on street parking. So if people wanted to park on the street they would have had to park much further away. Which is interesting; I wonder how far people would have been willing to go to avoid the garage.

      • walkableprinceton

        Quite far I would think. People really hate driving up all those ramps. If they aren’t reasonably certain they’ll get parked on the first two or three levels, they’ll just skip the garage- unless things are really desperate.

  2. Joseph Scott

    The question isn’t if a parking lot is ever empty, the question should be how often is it empty. This goes back to capacity planning again, what is the peak utilization, and is there enough capacity to handle it.

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