Should we use Parking to Alter how we Live?

Friday (Sept 21) is PARK (ing) Day. Its the day when activists across 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 American Thinker, Peter Wilson has deconstructed PARK(ing) Day as a plot from environmental activists to attempt to alter society as we know it. Read about it here. 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 Soupistas 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 in the late 40s and 50s, cities were ‘adjusted’ to fit cars. Those who remember “Who Killed Roger Rabbit” know that the famous red car lines in Los Angeles were removed and freeways built so evil auto and tire manufactures 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 seems 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 to 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 (like in New York City) perhaps only during certain hours. How about really promoting car pooling 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.


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One Response to Should we use Parking to Alter how we Live?

  1. Great column, John. The folks who want to change all our behaviors also seem to assume several things: all environments are alike (cars need to be removed everywhere), transit has the ability to absorb all the extra trips if more cars were banned, and removing traffic lanes for bicycle lanes will convert former drivers to cyclists going to work. It reminds me of the planners who want to replace driving to university campuses with riding public transportation — in cities where there is virtually no public transportation! This is a country of infinite variety, and a lot of that was made possible by the automobile. For many folks, for many reasons, it is here to stay.

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