Parking management as the strategy for Baguio City’s parking problem

Back in history, Baguio City was physically designed by the Americans for 25,000 people. Today a hundred years after Baguio City is populated by more than 300,000 with more or less the same basic infrastructures then. What are the possible urban infrastructures that can address this population especially transportation and mobility?

And it’s growing every minute! How Baguio has transformed from being a mountain resort to its present state of dishevelled development is comparable to the inconsistent care of the neglected child: Paminsan-minsan paliguan at pakainin, hindi kumpleto ang bakuna, kung saan-saan natutulog, at kung kani-kanino nakikisama. In short, napabayaan. If the thousand-year old pine trees at Burnham Park could speak, I believe this is the sum of the City’s story they will tell.

At the LGPMS website, the 2009 State of Local Development for Baguio City is not a hearty treat for the City’s citizens and fans: Economic Development Index, 2.50 (Poor); Environmental Development Index, 3.29 (Fair); Social Development Index, 3.78 (Fair). Its core development challenges: Elementary participation is quite low; Income per capita is extremely low; Polluting industries are present. Air quality is at stake; Presence of illegal occupants on forest land. Forest resources and wildlife habitat are at risk.

In the 2007 Competitiveness Ranking of Philippine Cities, Baguio City was not in the top list among midsized cities (i.e. population of more than 200,000). The criteria used are: Cost of Doing Business; Dynamism of the Local Economy; Human Resources and Training; Infrastructure; Responsiveness of LGU to Business Needs; Quality of Life.

Even without the statistics, people could tell the difference between good and bad development because development impacts on the people, their communities, their lives. It is not abstract. Today more than ever, the City is being challenged to develop sustainably. Majority of its remaining trees are within the City’s watershed and cutting down the trees in favor of land development (without a plan for regeneration) could mean desertification and Mayan-like destabilization.

Infrastructure wise, the City is classified as an Highly Urbanized City but many of its communities still lack basic infrastructures and where these are present rehabilitation is an utmost need, such as for sewage and drainage and solid waste. Also, the city has aged and there are sections and infrastructures within the CBD that are in long need of facelift and renewal. As discussed in the article on Curritiba BRT, the City’s transport infrastructure network needs re-planning and -design.

But on top of it all, these plans may be the best ever but if population growth is not made an overt part of development planning, unchecked population increase will continue to exert pressure on scarce land and resources. The plan and infrastructures will be beneficial for up to a certain number of population. Beyond that certain number, more infrastructures are needed but which in consideration of the City’s carrying capacity cannot be accommodated. Sustainable development is therefore hinged on population management. (This is something the Bishops don’t get apparently.)
Is the multi-level parking proposed by SM in Baguio City an answer to the City’s parking problem?

For me, the solution will depend on how the problem of parking is perceived and understood by planners.

The paradigm – parking management – discussed in Parking Management: Strategies, Evaluation, and Planning by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute is exactly what I had in mind. The Institute differentiates between the old supply-driven parking paradigm and the new parking management paradigm:

Old Parking Paradigm (Supply Driven Parking)

“Parking problem” means inadequate parking supply;
Abundant parking supply is always desirable;
Parking should generally be provided free, funded indirectly, through rents and taxes;
Parking should be available on a first-come basis;
Parking requirements should be applied rigidly, without exception or variation;
Innovation faces a high burden of proof and should only be applied if proven and widely accepted;
Parking management is a last resort, to be applied only if increasing supply is infeasible;
“Transportation” means driving. Land use dispersion (sprawl) is acceptable or even desirable.

New Parking Paradigm (Parking Management)

There can be many types of parking problems, including inadequate or excessive supply, too low or high prices, inadequate user information, and inefficient management;
Too much supply is as harmful as too little;
As much as possible, users should pay directly for parking facilities;
Parking should be regulated to favor higher priority uses and encourage efficiency;
Parking requirements should reflect each particular situation, and should be applied flexibly;
Innovations should be encouraged, since even unsuccessful experiments often provide useful information;
Parking management programs should be widely applied to prevent parking problems;
Driving is just one type of transport. Dispersed, automobile-dependent land use patterns can be undesirable.

I don’t have detailed background information of the SM proposal for parking development in Baguio City aside from It plans to construct the parking tier in front of the University of the Cordilleras but it is apparently of the old supply driven paradigm. And in exchange for what? More cars being comforted? The same Institution cited that the old paradigm perpetuates the Cycle of Automobile Dependency:

source: Victoria Transport Policy Institute

The alternative presented is the new paradigm which looks at the problem as a parking management concern. The Victoria Institute defines parking management as policies and programs that result in more efficient use of parking resources, presupposing that available facilities are used inefficiently and should be better managed. It offered strategies in parking management some of which that could be applied in the City are:
(a) Shared (as opposed to Reserved) Parking. Around the Baguio CBD, the standard practice among building and business owners is to cordon off their parking spaces to non-clients, even if in any given hour only one to three vehicles are utilizing the five- to ten-slot parking space, or spaces are vacant and idle on off-peak days.
(b) Increase Capacity of Existing Facilities, such as use of currently wasted areas and there are several within the CBD. The old PNR site, a derelict vacant lot now, has been sold to SM but for many years was left idle. No one from City Hall has thought of reserving the lost for remote parking, regardless of whether it will be managed by the private sector. Now that SM owns the lot, it plans to build a satellite mall there (again!) which is now among the burning issues being debated along with the Camp John Hay development. Unfortunately City Hall nowadays has not been acting as a good public steward, decision-makers over there having been brainwashed into the mall-as-the-best-economic-indicator mentality.
(c) Mobility Management/Transportation Demand Management, defined as strategies that increase transportation system efficiency by changing travel behavior. One tactic is done in tandem with employers, such as installing flexible work arrangements like working at home or teleworking say two weeks monthly. Another tactic is, shuttle service as employed by Texas Instruments and PMA to encourage workers to leave their cars at home on weekdays. Or, carpooling and ridesharing. When my family was in Brunei, it was there where I experienced neighbors sharing and offering each other rides especially when people are going to the same place so that only one or two cars will be used. Unfortunately, Filipinos have quite lost the value of sharing and offering even among neighbors of a barangay or subdivision yet Filipinos are supposed to be Asia’s most hospitable (or, perhaps Filipinos need to re-learn that charity begins at home?).

In effect, parking management implies: effective communication between and among the City’s public sector, private sector, civil society organizations, and citizens; change in mental models toward travel and transportation.

The SM proposal for parking in the City is to me another pre-packaged solution to the problem, using the old ‘no parking space then build one’ paradigm. At the surface, it is the solution but if the problem is probed a bit deeper the prober will come to see a whole new vista. I’m for Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) and if this is the scheme in the SM proposal well and good, but in the lack of contextual or bigger picture understanding of the problem, supplying a new parking facility may not be the optimal or best solution right now considering that there is much to lose (i.e. loss of green space, lessened biodiversity, change in local climate, threatened groundwater, etc.). City hall, the private sector, and families should do parking management first and see if the parking problem will be halved after. Most times the problem is as simple as neglect of little things which after some time pile up into big significant things.

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