Parking Reformer Stories of Action and Impact

This edition of Reinventing Parking was prompted by a recent bonus episode of the War on Cars podcast which featured listener origin stories. That episode actually included Parking Reform Network President Tony Jordan. 

Tony suggested I try something similar here, so I sent out an appeal to PRN members and quickly received messages from the diverse set of people you will hear from below. I hope you enjoy them.

Scroll down for a transcript. Listen with the player below. Or subscribe to the audio podcast. This is the official podcast of the Parking Reform Network.

Lightly edited transcript of the episode

Paul Barter: First up a new PRN member with an empowering story of taking action locally, and winning.

Megan [1:09]: Hi, my name is Megan. I joined the parking reform network in January of this year. 

What really got me interested in parking was reading Paved Paradise by Henry Grabar. Last summer, it really opened my eyes to what a waste of space parking is and how expensive it is. 

I live in a small city. And I read in the news a couple months ago that there were plans to tear down a 800 space parking garage in the middle of downtown and replace it with a smaller garage and add housing. And I thought, well, this is fantastic. And then I kept reading that there was a small group of people who were vehemently opposed to this project. And the narrative that was coming across in the news was the city in the parking authority one thing, and residents of the city want another thing. And I thought well, that's not true. I live in the city and I support this project! 

So I joined the parking reform network to look for resources and to be in contact with the community that can help me, I posted my letter of support on our slack and got some feedback on how to make it better. I ended up turning that into a petition. My petition got over 100 signatures, I presented it to city council and through other aspects we want. They're going to build the smaller garage with housing and the parking reform network to thank for that. Thank you.

Paul Barter [2:33]: Thanks for that Megan. Now let's hear from one of PRN's newer board members, who turned a painful personal experience into constructive action. They're one of several people in this episode who was moved to action by a book. And in this case, it wasn't even a parking book.

Eric Arellano [2:52]: Hey, my name is Eric Ariellano. And I am a donor and board member of the parking Reform Network. 

Today is the two year anniversary of when I became really motivated by parking reform. I was biking to breakfast in Tempe, Arizona, and got hit by a pickup truck and a hit and run. It broke my collarbone for three months. Fortunately, I'm totally healed now. But it was incredibly painful and frustrating. 

One of the things that helped me make sense of the collision was reading the book. There Are No Accidents by Jessie Singer, where she explains that what happened to me wasn't just some accident, like some whoopsie-daisy. 

Instead it's built into the way that our cities are designed that they are so car dominated and we don't have things like protected by claims that we're bound to keep having collisions like this happening. 

So when I got my insurance settlement, I decided to donate $25,000 to the parking reform network, because it's the best way that I've found as a donor and volunteer to make a meaningful impact on fighting car dependency and being able to live in a more safe and walkable neighborhood, while also making progress on things like housing affordability and climate change.

Paul Barter [4:16]: You can read more about Eric and their inspiring story on the parking Reform Network website

Our next message is from someone you might recognize

Donald Shoup [4:28]: I'm Donald Shoup and I probably think about parking more often than I should. 

Employer paid parking is the first issue that I studied. Free parking increases the number of commuters who drive to work alone, which increases traffic congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions. And employer-paid parking is also unfair. Drivers get free parking at work, and other commuters who ride public transit walk or cycle to work get nothing. 

When I was literally underwater at a swimming pool at UCLA the idea of parking cash out popped into my head. Employers who offer free parking at work can also offer commuters the cash value of the parking. If they don't drive to work, everyone will be treated equally regardless of how they travel. The state could require employers who offer free parking, to also offer commuters the option to take his cash value instead. 

I presented this idea at a conference and was lucky to have a state legislator in the audience a year later, California and acted as parking cash out law. Washington DC recently copied it. 

So now I always think about parking when I'm underwater, it's a good excuse to swim at lunchtime,

Paul Barter [5:44]: Just in case anyone is not aware, as a professor at UCLA for many decades, Donald Shoup's research and writing on parking and parking policy made an enormous contribution to making people aware of how dysfunctional parking policy has been, and of the huge need for parking reform. His work was a key inspiration for the parking reform network and its members, including me and the PRN President Tony Jordan, who you will hear from at the end of this episode. 

Our next message is from someone whose parking reform efforts drew energy from a quirky local action that many of us could actually try in our own cities. 

Joel Arnold [6:25]: Hey, my name is Joel Arnold and I live in Flint, Michigan. I'm an urban planner. 

My parking story of something that has motivated me more to do this work is actually a friend of mine here in Flint. He does a bike tour about Flint's history of terrible parking policies, and will bike you around the city to show you all these locations that historically had plazas and buildings and businesses and schools that were all torn down during urban renewal and into the 1970s and 80s for surface parking, always thinking that more parking would solve our problems. 

It's just one of these almost tongue in cheek events to show how ridiculous our obsession with parking is. It's a great event. And it's something that motivates me to see that there's a lot of change that needs to be done. 

Here in our own city, we completely passed the new zoning code in 2022 that cut a lot of our parking minimums in half and abolish them in our downtown. So we're making good progress and that progress keeps me going. 

But one interesting thing that is always fun about this is a citywide bike tour all about terrible parking policy here in Flint, Michigan.

Paul Barter [7:40]: Our next parking story is from a previous episode of Reinventing Parking. It is the planning academic, Liz Taylor, from Melbourne in Australia. She stumbled into making parking her research focus for a decade or so.

Liz Taylor [7:54]: I was at the time studying more the political dynamics around chains and the increases in Melbourne. So a lot of the inner parts of Melbourne have, you know, had increasing construction of apartments. Of course, the neighbors don't always like it. 

But in this case, the neighbors in Toorak, which is a well heeled suburb of Melbourne, had put together a poster to mobilize community opposition to the construction of towers, which I think is important to note were literally next to the train station. The poster said "Fight the towers or kiss your car park goodbye!".

And that equivalence, which I still see now, that any increase in housing is an increase in cars, and specifically that increase in cars is a direct threat to your own car's occupation of public streets space, is definitely the way I found my way into this. 

It has been incredibly contested for years around change and anxiety about people arriving and population increases. So there's definitely that but it's also the fact that population increases have meant basically increases in cars. The growth in car ownership and car use in Melbourne has far outstripped growth in dwellings or population. 

So people do have that experience of cars in Melbourne. You can't actually submit a planning objection to people buying a car but you can object to apartments going up next door and that's the sort of equivalence that people feel. 

 They also, I think, have a desperate belief that if you can just stop the apartments being built that you'll be able to park your car at the front door.

Paul Barter [9:29]: Next we have a PRN member whose concerns over the impacts of parking, were clarified by books, and then eventually led to a career shift.

Jonathan [9:39]: My name is Jonathan and I got involved in parking reform after moving from Lincoln, Nebraska to Providence, Rhode Island, where I taught high school math for a year and taking the bus to work every day. 

I spent a lot of time looking out the window and then sort of seeing how the cityscape was shaped by what Jane Jacobs refers to as missing teeth - buildings with parking lots, surface parking lots more buildings - sort of an uneven landscape that prioritizes the car over the person. 

 I picked up Walkable City by Jeff Speck, and very quickly ran into The High Cost of Free Parking [by Donald Shoup], where I sort of went headfirst into learning about the different effects on parking, cheap parking, abundant parking and really found myself captivated and constantly aware of the abundant or underpriced parking wherever I went afterwards. 

So since then, I took a career shift and have become more directly involved in local Transportation and Parking as a career and hope to continue that path as I go forward.

Paul Barter [11:00]: Laura, who is next is another new PRN board member and office bearer. And like Megan earlier, she also mentions Henry Grabar's book Paved Paradise.

Laura Fingal-Surma [11:11]: Hi, I'm Laura Fingal-Surma, based in San Francisco. I'm a Parking Reform Network board member and service treasurer, which means that I strategize about how to get money for PRN, how to spend it, and how to report on it. 

I'm also founder of Urbanist Ventures, a project to scale urbanism through startups. I have what I call ADU level expectations for the first decade of Urbanist Ventures. So I was very surprised to early on connect deeply with a team of founders over the high cost of building parking garages, even for deep pocketed Google. And they actually had a solution. It blew my mind and exceeded my wildest dreams for where Urbanist Ventures might lead. I became obsessed and have dedicated an irrational amount of time to the success of this particular company, which is called Swyft Cities. 

It wasn't long after that I was radicalized by Paved Paradise. My background is in the building industry. And I've been a YIMBYing since before we called it YIMBY. So I already knew the parking issue and didn't expect to get that much from the book. But it was absolutely riveting. I couldn't stop talking about it. I was telling everyone about it, including my Southern California in laws who really didn't get it and responded, yeah, we need more parking. 

PRN had been all over the news and all over my Twitter feed. My impression was that this would only be possible with ample resources. So it actually took some digging to even realize that there was a Laura shaped hole in the organization. It also turned out that I had already met Tony, way back in 2017 at a YIMBYTown conference. 

I had spent seven years building the machine behind YIMBY Action. And I couldn't resist volunteering to help take PRN to the next level. 

I've been having a blast working closely with Tony, Eric, Kevin Hardman, and the board ever since. It's going really well and we already brought in the first major institutional funding for PRN thanks to Arnold Ventures. 

One of my favorite PRN moments has been my not so secret scheme to make our parking sign stickers into real signs, especially because I think it'd be a good fundraiser. I recently tweeted about it. You all loved it. I think it's going to happen. Stay tuned!

Paul Barter [13:06]: It's so great to hear from so many people bringing their energy and experience to the cause. It's no wonder we have so much momentum now. 

And on that theme, the next message is from PRN's new policy director.

Daniel Herriges [13:21]: My name is Daniel Herriges and I'm the policy director for the parking reform network. 

I lived in Sarasota, Florida for a little over a decade. And when I moved there, back in 2010, downtown had a pretty significant number of surface parking lots that were generally privately owned. A lot of them were really sparsely used. A lot of them were in poor condition, kind of crumbling asphalt, and they were just these unpleasant voids these like hot, ugly, lifeless voids in the middle of what was otherwise a really great downtown. 

And I watched that transform over the decade that I lived there. 

A lot of that transformation was spurred by city level parking reform where they installed meters on the major public streets downtown. They started pricing municipal garages and they sort of worked to kill this expectation that well, if you're going to come downtown, you really need to have free parking right at your destination. 

They moved toward a model where okay, you can park maybe you walk a couple blocks, but you're parking ones and then you're enjoying this vibrant, walkable, mixed use district. And businesses took the cue a lot of those surface lots ended up being developed upon others turned into pay lots. 

What's exciting to me is you can take someone who isn't a policy wonk who doesn't really think about parking reform and just show them, "see how much nicer this place is now", and they get it, they really do.

Paul Barter [14:49]: And if you want to know more about Daniel and his new role in PRN you can read more at the PRN website

And now we head back across the Pacific for a message from another Australian PRN member, who has written a book, Rethinking Parking, which is full of fascinating parking reform thinking, as well as case studies from Canada, the US and Australia.

David Mepham [15:16]: Hi, I'm David Mepham and I am an urban planning consultant and author of the book Rethinking Parking

I came into parking quite accidentally, through my work doing urban accessibility planning. I see parking is impacting on every element of the urban environment, impacts on every Urban Policy and imposes costs across the board, and particularly in relation to accessibility. 

So I'm interested in places like designing places that are accessible for everybody, including older people, younger people, people with disability and parking is one of the things we just tend not to see. But it's always there as a significant barrier to a better place, access experience. 

I think though, we living in a time where new parking technologies and the rise of the shared mobility economy have provided some great new opportunities to do things differently. We're starting to get organized through groups such as Parking Reform Network, and I think we're finding other planning and urban design groups deciding to take parking more seriously. So it's a great time to be in parking.

Paul Barter [16:40]: Next we have another PRN board member, and one of the architects of Oregon's statewide parking reforms.

Evan Manvel [16:50]: Hi, my name is Evan Manvel and I live in Salem, Oregon. I work for the State of Oregon. 

I am so thrilled that Oregon is leading America's efforts to reduce costly parking mandates. I've gotten interested as somebody who makes the climate crisis my central policy challenge to address in life. 

And I've seen all the other benefits that we can get from parking reform, including more affordable housing, more walkable cities, less car dominated places, etc. 

I think the most exciting moment in my apartment reform journey so far was when we reached the point when most Oregonians live in places where they don't have parking minutes, and hearing the stories back from those communities and the people who can have housing, and that people can expand their businesses, and hearing from people who are interested to see if our reforms apply to them. And sometimes hearing the excited answer is yes. Or there's more work to do when the answer is no. 

The work continues at the great community. I'm thrilled to be part of the parking reform network. And

Paul Barter [18:02]: Now let's have another moment from an earlier episode about the back story of another very effective parking reformer Ashley Salvador in Edmonton, Canada, who came to parking reform via the issue of accessory dwelling units ad use. 

"Was it your involvement in the ADU issue, the garden suites issue that took you towards parking policy as an interest in your in your work?"

Ashley Salvador [18:28]: Yeah, I would say that's a really big part of it. You know, I'm an urban planner. And I've always had an interest in land use, of course. 

But when it comes to the conversation around the elimination of parking minimums, in particular, through my work with YEG Garden Suites, we'd often run into individual homeowners, Edmontonians, who would talk about how much of a barrier parking minimums were to their individual projects. You know, I'd meet someone who lived just off of a rapid transit route, who was a cyclist and didn't even own a vehicle and they were being forced to build parking into their backyard homes and into their at us. So that definitely got me more interested more passionate about seeing that regulation changed.

Paul Barter [19:09]: The next message is from another academic member of PRN, for whom streets were his pathway into an interest in parking and in parking reform.

Calvin Thigpen [19:20]: Hi, this is Calvin Thigpen from San Francisco, California. 

I first got interested in car parking reform in grad school when I was introduced to the concept of "sneckdowns" - the phenomenon of fallen snow revealing how little of our streets are actually used by cars. 

One day as I was biking through Davis, California in the spring, there was pollen blanketed on the ground as the temperate weather version of a sneckdown. 

And thinking about that led me to read a fantastic study by Marc Schlossberg and Dave Amos in Eugene, Oregon, where they conducted field observations of on-street car parking and evaluated how the space could alternatively be used for things like bioswales and gardens. That inspired me to conduct some residential car parking of my own in Davis, California, despite my PhD work being focused mainly on active transportation. 

At this time, my first son was a newborn. So I devised a data collection instrument on my smartphone to collect car parking occupancy data during our daily and nightly walks. I ended up publishing a couple of papers on residential car parking. And nowadays, I continue to think a lot about parking for cars, as well as bikes and scooters, as we imagine the future of transportation in our cities.

Paul Barter [20:47]: Now, let's hear from a Parking Reform Network member who comes at the issue via his role in an allied nonprofit group, which is how a huge amount of parking reform work actually gets done.

Pete [20:59] My name is Pete, and I'm working on parking reform in Chicago as part of the Urban Environmentalists of Illinois. 

Like most major US cities, Chicago has both a housing crisis and the climate crisis and parking mandates make both of these worse. So far, our group has been reaching out to the elders in Chicago to survey their attitudes on parking policy. We have some ongoing conversations with folks interested in removing parking requirements. 

We also have a large and growing petition demanding an end to parking mandates in Chicago. 

And maybe most exciting, we just published a letter to the editor in the Chicago Sun Times about the harm parking mandates do and it's gotten some great responses. 

And what motivates me is that the urbanist movement in Chicago has grown a lot even over the just the last one or two years. We've still got a ton to do. But I think we're getting close to the point where we can make some serious changes. And I'm excited to make sure that parking reform is one of those changes.

Paul Barter [21:49]: I guess I should also tell you about my parking reform origin story, at least the short version. 

In the 1990s and the 2000s, as a graduate student, and then as an academic, and with roles also in several nonprofit organizations, my efforts were focused on car dependence and metropolitan urban transport systems and how they varied around the world. 

Parking kept coming up, but every time I looked at it, parking just seemed too confusing and too difficult. But reading both Donald Shoup's work and Todd Litman's writing on parking sparked my curiosity. 

And made me wonder if the North American and European debates about parking were relevant in other parts of the world. 

So I managed to get some funding, and started looking into that with a focus on Asia where I live. That was in 2009. And the short answer was, yes, parking reform and Shoupista thinking are relevant, but with a few interesting local twists in each country. 

Since then, most of my efforts have been on parking. And it's been great to see more and more people also getting interested in joining forces to make a difference. 

That's enough for me. 

And now finally, last but not least, let's hear from the PRN President.

Tony Jordan [23:15]: Hey, everyone, it's Tony Jordan, president of the Parking Reform Network and one of the founders. 

I've been involved in parking reform for quite a while as you can learn about on other Reinventing Parking podcasts

But what keeps me going, and the best part about parking reform I think, is the great people I get to meet as a result of working in this advocacy area. Not only do I get to interface with pro housing, people like YIMBYs, and other people trying to build more homes, but also people who care deeply about transportation and the environment. 

By the time someone learns about parking reform, and then takes the extra effort to become active in an advocacy organization, or with PRN in order to make their community better, or provide a better future for their children, or to improve access to our cities, they've really gone through a little bit of a gauntlet. And by the time they show up in the PRN slack, or meet with me at a conference, it's just such a privilege to engage with people who care so much and think about things so thoughtfully. 

So, yeah, that's my parking reform story for this podcast, and I can't wait to meet more of you.

Paul Barter [24:38]: That's it for this episode. I hope you found it useful and inspiring. Until next time, bye for now.

Edited with the help of Descript. Transcribed with the help of

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