In Paris, previous parking spaces have been reallocated to many "velibs," of the citywide bikeshare program.

September 15, 2021

Equitable Streets Start with Parking Reform

In the past months, two hurricanes, Henri and Ida, devastated the South and Northeast regions of the United States, while forest fires raged in the west. Recent flooding due to record rainfall in Germany and Belgium killed more than 200 people. Tsunami and Hurricane seasons are extending. Heatwaves scorched the Middle East and South Asia. Extreme weather events like these have been discussed in the recent UN report on climate change and its impacts on the planet. 

To fight these devastating and ever unprecedented weather events, it is clear that we need a transportation system with fewer cars. Better managed parking is crucial to getting more cars off the road; by both reducing the need to drive and enabling cities to shift space to other modes, such as walking, cycling and transit.

Parking minimums come from an assumption that cars are the sole, and most efficient form of  transportation and required a built environment exclusively for the motor vehicle. Despite knowing about cars and their damaging effects, parking minimums remain a norm. Motor vehicles, in their ubiquity, are viewed as the default or preferred mode but cars have never been inevitable, just a policy choice that developers and cities make again and again.

Prioritizing parking over people 

Parking has always been fundamental to driving. While parking may be viewed as a response to driving, in reality it often serves as a motivating force. Most cities, struggling with increasing traffic, have dedicated more and more public space to driving and to free vehicle storage (parking), assuming that “parking problems” come from a shortage of parking spaces. Part of this assumption has given way to many cities providing free or underpriced parking on the street, as well as maintaining off-street parking minimums. Parking minimums require commercial and residential developers to provide a minimum number of off-street parking spaces regardless of demand. These common ordinances play a major role in creating sprawl and preventing dense and transit-oriented development. In fact, the choice to provide so much free parking has made it cheaper to drive, leading to even more traffic. This in turn has led to environments in which very few destinations are walkable, where roads are hostile to both pedestrians and cyclists, and where public transit is underfunded and therefore unreliable. Ultimately, more parking means more driving and more driving brings along a myriad of deadly consequences: from traffic violence to air quality, dangerous outcomes for both drivers and non-drivers. 

Rethinking street space

On-street parking is parking on streets which is either free or paid by meters. Off-street parking includes parking lots and parking garages; this is often regulated with parking minimums for builders. Both types of parking function similarly in terms of increased demand and the impact on cities and air quality. On-and off-street parking directly impact one another. Off-street parking reform relies heavily on successful on-street parking management: Off-street lots or garages will be underutilized as long as on-street parking is free or priced very low. While it is ideal for cities to address on- and off-street parking together, it can be more feasible to manage on-street parking as a first step.

Parking spaces are not small. In the same amount of space used to store a car, one could fit a small studio apartment, three office cubicles, 1 housing unit in India, dinner seating for 15 people, 10 bicycles, 5 motorbikes, and 2 rickshaws.
In New York City, where roughly 1 out of 5 households owns a car, there are four million parking spaces, most of which are free. The amount of road space dedicated to parking in New York City is roughly the size of twelve Central Parks.

Restrictions from COVID-19 gave cities permission to reclaim curb space, with many cities reallocating it away from car storage and utilizing it for more efficient and equitable means like bicycle lanes, bus lanes, restaurant seating, and other public uses. Not only has this reclamation led to more engaged and active streets – helping to revitalize cities during a dark time; but it has challenged long held assumptions about the dominant use of curb space to store parked vehicles. Worldwide, hundreds of kilometers of new bicycle lanes have popped up, and in many cities entire streets have been closed off to cars, transforming how people view and experience the street — in some cases overnight. Currently, the previously held status quo of parking has re-entered the conversation. As some cities begin their “return to normal,” the decision of giving more space and priority to people over parked cars can be maintained. Effective parking management plays a crucial role in this future.

In Guangzhou, on-street parking was taken over to create appealing and safe pedestrian space.

In San Francisco a parklet, where a restaurant has taken over a parking space, gives seating to many patrons.

Parking management as a Tool for Sustainable Transport

ITDP has long supported parking management as an important tool to help cities achieve a more sustainable transportation system and better utilize our limited and valuable street space for things like bus lanes, bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, and flexible loading/unloading zones. The revenue from priced parking can help fund these improvements. However, implementing parking reform has been challenging for many cities around the world, especially where drivers come from groups with political influence and present strong opposition to a change in the status quo. When the pandemic gave an opportunity to rethink the use of this space, that re-imagination ought to be realized before it’s too late.

To support better parking management, this week ITDP released an On-Street Parking Pricing Guide, a resource for cities that have made the choice to better manage parking to answer the critical question: how do we do it? The guide provides practical implementation steps and recommendations to manage parking more efficiently, with a focus on how to contract for and operate, enforce, and evaluate success of on-street parking. It also provides the foundation cities need to develop a parking program that operates in tandem with broader transportation demand management, public space, and livability goals.

Effective parking management is key to achieving sustainable transportation goals.

Throughout this week, ITDP will be sharing resources and stories on parking leading up to Park(ing) Day on Friday, September 17, 2021. We are keeping the conversation going with a webinar on September 28:  Accelerating Parking Reform in the US: Parking and Land Use

Register here.

Other ITDP Parking resources include: 


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