With urban populations rising, and transport a major cause of CO2 emissions, car-centric urban planning is unsustainable. Outright bans are controversial, so Amsterdam plans to gradually reduce parking permits, freeing up to 1,100 spaces per year; 10,000 by 2025. Reclaimed space will be used for bikes, pedestrians, green areas and recreation.
Cities like Zurich, Copenhagen, Paris, London, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City have adopted similar measures, congestion charges or vehicle restrictions. Even the auto-loving US is coming on board, with cities like Minneapolis and San Francisco eliminating minimum parking requirements.
But for policies to succeed, people need to see the benefits. So, what are they?
Community and green spaces–from parks to public squares–make people feel more connected, and nature reduces stress levels. San Francisco’s Livable City says exchanging parking, driveways and garages for trees, storefronts and walk-up housing means neighborhoods feel safer, greener and more accessible to all. The city’s parklet scheme even allows people to propose alternative uses for parking spaces.
The American Planning Association states, “Lack of housing choice and affordability hurts people and limits communities' prosperity.” Removing parking requirements from housing developments makes them more affordable to build, buy and rent and stops people being forced out of inner cities.
A common complaint is that reduced parking hurts trade. However, UK charity Living Streets found shoppers on foot can spend significantly more, saying “When streets are regenerated to boost walking, there is a corresponding impact on retail turnover, property values and rental yields.”
National health services also save when sedentarism and pollution-related illnesses are reduced. The European Environment Agency warns European city-dwellers not only suffer noise pollution, 90% are exposed to levels of air pollution deemed damaging to health. This remains the single greatest environmental health risk in Europe and a major cause of premature deaths. Living Streets also found concern about air pollution puts parents off walking children to school. Less parking also means less cruising drivers searching for spaces, reducing air pollution and risk of accidents.
Less traffic improves public transport, and static cars are not an optimal use of curb space. Tokyo–which has high rates of bike and public transport use–understands this and comes down hard on drivers parking outside designated areas. The explosion in fold-up or electric bikes means many cities need more bike parking and lanes, taken from road space, not sidewalks, to avoid conflicts with pedestrians.
The ITF Forum suggests a shift from low- to shared-occupancy transport significantly frees up parking space. Shotl’s projections show how it could be repurposed. Our goal is to reduce private car ownership by providing sustainable alternatives and improving access to public transport.
A number of cities are trialing different incentives to reduce car numbers. However, there is no ‘silver bullet’ and viable alternatives must be in place for initiatives to succeed.
Setting up a cloud of virtual stops to find the balance in terms of maximum walking distance -taking into consideration distance, time and even comfort- is a routine task for DRT planners.
Covid-19 has brought the world to a grinding halt, affecting lives and businesses. But this enforced hiatus is also an opportunity to take stock, so we can be better prepared next time.