Good urban planning requires forward thinking as well as learning from past successes and failures. Urban planning ideals are steadily evolving, and past practices have created dicey results that today’s planners are still grappling with. In particular, decades of parking policy are increasingly being questioned in many cities, including Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore’s zoning code, including requirements for off-street parking, went largely unchanged since 1971. In 2008, parking and other requirements were reworked as part of a comprehensive zoning code rewrite. In 2015, Baltimore still suffers from plenty of parking-related issues, including the following three examples:
1) Traffic Congestion
In popular neighborhoods like Fells Point, Federal Hill, and Hampden, where residents and businesses share limited on-street parking, congestion is noticeable. Drivers get caught in congestion caused by many factors, including drivers circling a block several times looking for parking. Drivers sometimes also park in lanes that would otherwise be open to traffic. Such a problem exists on Aliceanna Street in Fells Point, and the City’s proposed solution is to restrict on-street parking to keep multiple lanes open during rush hour. However, it’s possible that these restrictions will not benefit drivers, because further limiting desirable parking may result in drivers circling the block a few more times. Commuters who previously took alternate routes may also converge on Aliceanna. In these cases, the plan would fail to improve congestion, and could even leave the area worse off than before. As the plan offers little, if any, improvement to drivers at the expense of cyclists and pedestrians, bike advocates and complete streets fans are not pleased.
2) Aversion to Transit
An article from The Journal of the American Planning Association entitled “Does TOD really need the T?” included findings that the presence of transit alone doesn’t make people ride transit as much as a lack of parking makes people ride transit. In Baltimore, there is not only just enough parking, in number of spaces and affordability, to discourage alternative modes, but undesirable enough transit, bike infrastructure, and pedestrian safety to encourage driving. The Shops at Canton Crossing is a good case study for this concept. The area is a would-be Red Line station, but the shops are separated from Boston Street and bus stops for two lengthy bus routes by a sea of free parking and disconnected sidewalks.
3) Unsafe School Children
While often reported as a driving issue rather than a parking issue, Baltimore is unfortunately known for being unsafe for school-aged pedestrians. In a five-year period, over 1,000 school-aged children were hit by cars in Baltimore City. That’s more than one kid hit per school day based on Maryland’s required 180 school days per year. The observation of one principal seems to be that dodging double-parked cars is adding to the danger. He hopes to fine parents who double-park in school zones, saying the act “leads to traffic jams and jeopardizes student safety.”
These three examples are just the tip of the iceberg. From a community standpoint, parking can be incredibly divisive and is the cause of countless disputes. Add snow to on-street parking in Baltimore, and you get an entertaining, though often disturbing, string of stories detailing arguments about who has the right to park in a shoveled spot. The true costs of bad parking policy and poor parking etiquette are still not fully understood and definitely not agreed upon within planning, engineering, or other disciplines.
What are your thoughts on the impacts of parking policy in Baltimore and in other cities? How does your city deal with its lack or excess of parking? Is your city designing for vehicles or people? Share your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.