“Free parking is at the root of many urban ills: congestion, sprawl, wasteful energy use and air pollution.” – Donald Shoup,
Parking may not be an obvious urban design issue, but it affects the traffic patterns, environmental health, and landscapes of our cities. As the population in Austin, Texas continues to skyrocket, the city certainly expresses some growing pains when it comes to parking. Within the last year, metered parking hours were extended in the downtown area, and here I offer three reasons why an increase in paid parking is a good thing.
1. Addressing the actual cost of parking
Firstly, parking is not free, it’s subsidized. Parking spaces are primarily paid for by employers, by businesses, and by taxpayers. Personal vehicles are privately owned; why should the others pay for them to occupy valuable land?
One innovative solution that communicates the true cost of parking to consumers is the “smart parking meter” implemented in San Francisco, CA. The pricing for this meter fluctuates according to the supply and demand of parking. Although Austin is far from overhauling its relatively new meter system, the program grants food for thought on future regulations.
2. Alternative land uses
Personal vehicles are parked 95% of the time, and require 4 parking spaces each. What else could be occupying that space? Bus stops, green space, and public space encourage pedestrianism, and therefore, are more sustainable as well as more enjoyable alternative land uses. From an economic stand point, it makes far more sense that public money be allocated to public uses and not private.
3. Environmental impact
[caption id="attachment_12804" align="alignright" width="400" caption="Map of Paid Parking in Central Austin- All other street parking between Cesar Chavez and 10th Street, and between IH-35 and Lamar Blvd. is limited to 3 hours."][/caption]
Increasing the cost of parking encourages responsible car use. Drivers who must pay for parking will make less, but more efficient, car trips. This pattern reduces individual carbon food prints, and decreases pollution and congestion in cities. Less traffic and higher air quality are something all Austinites can agree are positive impacts.
Currently, a portion of Austin’s street-side parking revenue funds projects such as sidewalk and street improvement. What are some other ways in which Ausinites would like to see this money spent?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.