Within the discussion about my recent post on pedestrian angst there was a bit of ‘back and forth‘ in relation to the vexed issue of on-street parking. On street parking, whether we’re talking about the city centre, implementing bus lanes on arterial roads or dealing with commuter parking in inner suburbs, is a very heated and controversial topic. There are so many different points of view on the issue:
- Traffic engineers hate on street parking because it uses up road space that could otherwise become additional capacity as well as increasing ‘friction’ for the through movement of vehicles
- Public transport planners often hate on street parking because it uses up space that could become bus lanes
- Urban designers are a bit mixed on the issue, but understand its potential to act as a buffer between pedestrians and moving traffic and also its potential to add friction and therefore slow traffic down
- Local shopkeepers absolutely worship on street parking and think the removal of a single space anywhere near them will mean the certain death of their business, regardless of how often the parking spaces are actually used and regardless of the availability of parking on nearby side-streets
- Local residents feel the space outside their house on the street belongs absolutely to them and will vigorously oppose any efforts to remove the space, plus they will whine incessantly if the space is being used by commuters or by people visiting nearby shops/offices
- Transport economists will obsess endlessly over different pricing possibilities to best utilise parking spaces, ignorant to the fact that most people would rather have a root canal than shell out a single cent for parking
OK so perhaps I’m generalising a bit here, but needless to say it’s a pretty passionate debate on all sides. Furthermore, our traditional approach to on-street parking has been pretty blunt. Generally you can either parking as long as you want for nothing or you can’t park at all. In the relatively few places with timed parking, it’s generally a pretty safe bet that you’re not going to get caught unless you park for WAY over your allocated time, and even in the city centre after 6pm you can dump your car on the road side for as long as you like for nothing.
Where I probably sit on the issue is somewhere between the urban designers and the transport economists, while also recognising a dose of reality from the shopkeepers in some situations. I do think on-street parking has many of the benefits urban designers sometimes like about it – it narrows down the street, it shields pedestrians from moving vehicles, plus it supports “pop in” shopping.
But I also think we need to recognise the ‘value’ of our on-street parking spaces to a far greater extent. In places with high demand for parking, someone using up a space for hours and hours is denying many people the opportunity of utilising that space. The classic example is having the parking spaces outside a restaurant being used up by the staff of the restaurant, putting off potential customers. While this is perhaps a simplistic example, it highlights the need to properly value the parking space. Another classic example comes from the USA where many cities stop charging for parking during the Christmas shopping rush to supposedly encourage shoppers downtown. The perverse outcome of this is that everyone parks for much much longer than they would have otherwise and parking spaces actually become much harder to find.
In essence, on-street parking should be all about short-stay parking. Perhaps as long as you aren’t using the space for more than 10 minutes, you should be able to use it for free. But if you want to park on street (in a place with lots of parking demand) all day long, then the cost should be eye-watering enough to put you off from doing so. You really should be in a parking building, or catching public transport for such trips.
In other places where there’s a battle between whether we should have on-street parking or bus priority measures, we should look at the times of day when each different use delivers the greatest benefit. If we’re still shifting huge numbers of people on the bus along Dominion Road between 9-10am or between 6 and 7pm, then that is likely to deliver a greater benefit than enabling a few people to pop in to some shops without having to walk a few more metres from a side street. At other times when the buses aren’t being held up by congestion in the general lane, then perhaps the greater benefit can be achieved through allowing on-street parking. The transport economist in me suggests we could probably find a nice way of measuring this in a fairly rational manner.
I think Auckland Transport are starting to understand that a more nuanced approach to on-street parking is necessary. Their parking plan for the city centre made a lot of sense in many ways, perhaps apart from highlighting that the point of the very high prices for long-term parking was not for revenue-gouging, but instead to send a strong message that those people will be far better off in a parking building. Obviously we must also get rid of minimum parking requirements everywhere, but that’s a separate (if somewhat connected) issue.