by Brent Warren, TC Blogger

How about taxing parking lots to pay for transit? That’s an idea that is being proposed in Massachusetts, and one that anyone who has ever been to downtown Columbus might ponder as a way to fund future transit improvements here.

Downtown has, of course, made great strides in recent years, with projects like Neighborhood Launch on Gay Street and the Annex at River South on Front Street filling former parking lots with great-looking residential buildings. However, there are still enough parking lots downtown to significantly affect the walkability and vibrancy of the area. This map from Cole at Biking Columbus shows all the surface parking in downtown (the map is surface parking only, and does not include parking garages):

ParkingLotMap

And Cbus Cycle Chic did a rough estimate of parking and found downtown has about 73,000 parking spaces, or almost one for every worker.

Owners of surface parking lots currently face a low tax burden since they are taxed on the appraised value of the land plus improvements and not on the development potential of the land. Landowners have little incentive to develop parking lots since they are paying very little in taxes (and would pay a lot more if they put buildings at these locations). There have been countless discussions in Columbus and elsewhere about how best to fix this problem, including a two-rate system that would tax land at a higher rate than buildings.

However it is done, taxing parking lots could be a way to fund transit improvements by imposing a small penalty on a form of land use that, while serving a function, does not contribute to the type of vibrant downtown that many of us want to see.