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Point of View

Parks or Parking Spaces?

John Van Horn

We celebrated PARK(ing) Day in late September. It’s the day when activists around the globe take over on-street parking spaces and turn them into mini-parks. They put down grass, install potted plants, and invite people to sit and enjoy the urban landscape, having clawed back a bit of beauty from the asphalt-covered street.

Over at the American Thinker blog, Peter Wilson has deconstructed PARK(ing) Day as a plot by environmental activists to attempt to alter society as we know it.

I don’t know the deepest thoughts of Rebar, the design firm in San Francisco that started the program, but I do know that certainly Shoupistas and their ilk are not shy in discussing reducing traffic, congestion, fuel consumption, and moving people from private cars to other means of transportation by raising parking fees and reducing parking requirements.

Urban planners have been doing this for years. Maybe not to “remove” the private automobile, but to design cities so they are more livable, with dense housing areas and open park-like expanses. Work and shopping/play areas would be in walking distance, and high-speed light rail would whisk people to venues and beaches and mountains without the need for stinky cars and buses. China has built cities like this, starting from scratch. Of course, no people live in them, but that is only a detail.

Cities in the US already exist, and now planners are attempting to adjust our lives to fit their vision. One of the ways to do that is to do away with cars, and one of the best ways to do that is by making it difficult to drive and park them.

Remember that in the late 1940s and ’50s, cities were adjusted to fit cars. Those who remember “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” know that the famous Red Car lines in Los Angeles were removed and freeways built so evil auto, tire manufacturers and oil companies could make a killing selling to suckers who wanted to drive.

Now the reverse is happening.

Those who know better than the masses are deciding that we should not drive cars but should walk and bike and live near work and schools and shopping. If we want to travel, we go when the schedulers at the rail office or bus line tells us when we can. We have come full circle.

Americans are fickle. We seem to be a group who want to do things on our schedule. We are a huge country with huge cities, and we have venues and shopping centers and stadiums and the like, and we want to visit them when we want to do so. We love our cars, and part of freedom is the ability to get in our car and drive it where we want to go when we want to go.

There’s a $26 billion industry called parking that provides jobs for tens of thousands of people. It also provides a service for everyone who owns a car. You would think that we should have something to say about altering behavior by changing how parking is made available.

Parking planning always seems to be run by people who are not in the parking business. There are conflicts — business wants more free parking, residents want less. Politicians want whatever gets them elected. Few actually look at the entire problem and begin to understand how to deal with it.

Why not start with the concept that people do have cars, and we need to figure out how to deal with them, rather than trying to move them out of their cars.

We also might want to find out just what people want.  You know, actually ask drivers and residents and parkers. My guess is that most would want a free space always available in front of where they want to go. Who wouldn’t?



But what about alternatives — valet programs, automated garages that park twice as many cars as regular garages on the same space. Garage sharing — office building during the day, local restaurants, clubs, theaters and residents during the evening.

Rethinking traffic, making main streets one way (as in New York City) perhaps only during certain hours. How about really promoting carpooling so about 15% of the cars are off the freeway? (It seems that if you remove that small number, there will be no traffic jams.) A friend once told me that if water cost more, there would be more than we would ever need.  Soo…

Some groups feel that they have to take away to make things work.  I’m not sure that’s the case. The market tends to fix problems, if there’s a financially viable reason to do so. Maybe we should let it.

As for Rebar and the organizers of PARK(ing) Day, maybe they just like small parks. Whatever floats your boat. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

•••

This little ditty is obviously British; I hope it doesn’t lose something in the translation.

The Parking Officer’s Funeral

As the coffin was being lowered into the ground at a parking officer’s funeral, a voice was heard screaming from inside:

“I’m not dead, I’m not dead! Let me out!”

For the briefest of moments there is a deafening silence as the small group of mourners look at one another for some inspiration as to what to do next.

With a wry smile, the vicar spoke for them all when he leaned forward, and while nosily sucking the morning’s cold damp air through his teeth, muttered, loud enough for all to hear:

“Too late, mate, the paperwork’s already done.”



John Van Horn is Editor of Parking Today.

Contact him at jvh@parkingtoday.com.

Article Abstract from November, 2012




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