sprawlnation:

SN: From the Economist comes “Parkageddon”. The concept seems so simple but so few cities in North America seem to be onboard. Size is not a distinguishing factor here, all population centers should be aware of the impact that parking has on their environment from both a health and aesthetic standpoint. Cities should be designed for communities to gather not as Walmart parking lots.

How not to create traffic jams, pollution and urban sprawl; Don’t let people park for free

…parking influences the way cities look, and how people travel around them, more powerfully than almost anything else. Many cities try to make themselves more appealing by building cycle paths and tram lines or by erecting swaggering buildings by famous architects. If they do not also change their parking policies, such efforts amount to little more than window-dressing. There is a one-word answer to why the streets of Los Angeles look so different from those of London, and why neither city resembles Tokyo: parking.

For as long as there have been cars, there has been a need to store them when they are not moving—which, these days, is about 95% of the time. The parking problem in the US can be loosely traced to 1923, when Columbus, Ohio began to insist that builders of flats create parking spaces for the people who would live in them. “Parking minimums”, as these are known, gradually spread across America. Now, as the number of cars on the world’s roads continues to grow, they are spreading around the world.

The harm caused begins with the obvious fact that parking takes up a lot of room. A typical space is 12-15 square metres; add the necessary access lanes and the space per car roughly doubles.

The more spread out and car-oriented a city, as a result of enormous car parks, the less appealing walking and cycling become. Besides, if you know you can park free wherever you go, why not drive? The ever-growing supply of free parking in America is one reason why investments in public transport have coaxed so few people out of cars, says David King of Arizona State University. In 1990, 73% of Americans got to work by driving alone, according to the census. In 2014, after a ballyhooed urban revival and many expensive tram and rapid-bus projects, 76% drove.

Free parking is not, of course, really free. The costs of building the car parks, as well as cleaning, lighting, repairing and securing them, are passed on to the people who use the buildings to which they are attached. Restaurant meals and cinema tickets are more pricey; flats are more expensive; office workers are presumably paid less. Everybody pays, whether or not they drive. And that has an unfortunate distributional effect, because young people drive a little less than the middle-aged and the poor drive less than the rich. In America, 17% of blacks and 12% of Hispanics who lived in big cities usually took public transport to work in 2013, whereas 7% of whites did. Free parking represents a subsidy for older people that is paid disproportionately by the young and a subsidy for the wealthy that is paid by the poor.

A few crowded American cities, including San Francisco, have watered down their parking minimums. One shrinking city (Buffalo, in New York state) has abolished them entirely. But most of the country seems to be stuck with a hugely costly and damaging solution to the parking problem. And the American approach to parking is spreading to some of the world’s fastest-growing cities.

SN: Click through to the article for more examples and proposed solutions. It’s worth the read.

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