Parking Change for Better Public Space

Why parking change is a key to improving public space in cities

I was invited to speak at a conference last week in Berlin that focused on urban public space.  Many thanks to the organisers at the German sustainable transport thinktank, Agora Verkehrswende! Today's podcast episode and this article are based on my Berlin talk.

[Reinventing Parking is now ALSO a podcast. Find out how to SUBSCRIBE (it's totally free).]

They are NOT mainly about parking design and its effects in the streets. Instead, they are about how parking policy change is crucial to our hopes for better public space in our cities.  Not least is the fact that parking often gets in the way of public realm improvements. It gets in the way both physically and by worsening political barriers to change.

I argue that better on-street parking management and a push for Walkable Parking can help enormously. Don't sit back and wait for Automated Vehicles to come along. You probably know this already but anyone working for a better public realm needs to pay at least some attention to parking policy.

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I will summarize my main points briefly below.

Parking often harms the public realm

One link between parking and urban public space is that parking harms the public realm in various ways.

Direct impacts include:
  • Parking can simply occupy large amounts of public space
  • Ill-advised on-street parking designs can degrade public space
  • On-street parking management weaknesses cause nuisance parking that degrades public space.
But parking also harms public space indirectly.

Management problems make parking seem scarcer than it really is which, among other things, prompts governments to promote excessive amounts of off-street parking with parking minimums or city-provided parking.

Unfortunately, this excessive off-street parking harms the public realm too:
  • excessive off-street surface parking makes for a hostile public realm
  • garages often have large and busy driveways and/or blank walls which harm the pedestrian environment
  • frontage parking between buildings and street is especially bad for the pedestrian realm
  • excessive parking fosters high levels of car ownership and traffic.

Parking often gets in the way of improvements to public space

The key point here is that weak on-street parking management makes it very difficult to boldly convert any on-street parking to other uses.

So, to improve urban public space, we usually need to tackle parking. And a crucial step is better on-street parking management.

On-street parking is a commons in need of management

The justification for managing on-street parking as that we should think of overburdened on-street parking as an overburdened “commons” that needs management for the common good.

If not managed, it will be over-used. So let's manage it! (design, rationing, enforcement).

KEY Essentials of On-street Parking Management

I have argued before for a focus on three simple goals in on-street parking management:
  • Design (as an integral part of street design)
  • Effective and efficient enforcement
  • Rationing (best done with pricing)

Make parking management popular less unpopular

On-street parking management is often crucial for progress on urban public space. But its unpopularity is a barrier to doing better. How can we overcome this?

This was a side-track from my main argument but I did offer some suggestions. This topic deserves more detail and a future article/episode!

"Walkable Parking" can help too

Walkable Parking means seeking to have more of our parking open to the public while planning to foster park-once-and-walk districts.

In areas with conventional, site-focused parking policy, most parking is private parking on-site within every destination. This makes any excess of parking demand over supply a major problem, even if it only happens now and then at just one site in the area.

By contrast, if you have Walkable Parking in a park-once-and-walk districts, most parking is part of
the “pool” of parking for the whole area. This is efficient, so we need less parking anyway. And localized surges in demand are no problem usually. People will just park a little further away from their destination then walk.

This can also ease fears over the repurposing of some on-street parking.

I used the example of the King Street Pilot in Toronto and a wonderful tweet storm by planner Gil Meslin (@g_meslin) who used maps to highlight:
  1. huge number of residences and jobs (potential customers)
  2. huge number of public parking spaces within easy walking distance



Excellent on-street parking management and Walkable Parking are not the only secrets for better urban public space. But parking policy is a neglected part of the public space story. 

Improvements to parking policy can help open up many more opportunities for changes in our streets, including the repurposing of more parking space than is thinkable in many cities for now.


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