Could Wichita be a better city if we charged more for parking? Maybe so, expert says.

If Wichita charged more, and more intelligently, for parking, the city could be a better place, according to a national expert who will be speaking here Tuesday.

“We force the private development market to build housing units for our cars, but not for our people,” said Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy for Nelson Nygaard, a San Francisco consulting firm that advises cities around the globe on transportation issues.

“We assume that parking is something that it’s important to give away for free, even though it’s expensive to build,” Tumlin said. “So, in the United States, while we have not socialized things like health care, we have socialized housing for cars. That’s very strange.”

Tumlin notes that there’s an economic cost to providing parking and if it’s free, that’s potential money that could be better spent on something else.

For example, in a 2015 presentation at the University of Oklahoma, he cited Pasadena, Calif.

Money from downtown parking is plowed back into the business district where it’s generated, including nightly steam-cleaning of the sidewalks. That’s helped make Pasadena — long a Mecca for sidewalk cafe dining — one of the most successful commercial districts in Southern California, he said.

“Having parking is absolutely essential for any functional (community area), particularly downtown,” Tumlin said. “But the question is, what’s the optimal amount of parking and how should we best manage this incredibly expensive capital asset?”

One way to manage it is to charge for it — more during peak demand and less during slow periods. And Tumlin is a big advocate for smart parking meters that take credit cards and can flag a motorists’ cell phone when the meter is about to expire.

Tumlin will be expanding on his views during a presentation called Parking 2.0, scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Wichita Art Museum, 1400 Museum Blvd.

The talk is sponsored by Health ICT, in collaboration with the Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita, Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Downtown Wichita, a corporation that handles the city’s economic development in the core area.

The seminar is free and open to the public.

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