Every City Believes They Have A Parking Problem
October 26, 2015

Complaining about parking is useless. Every single city I have lived in thinks they have a parking problem. People that complain about parking because their business is not successful need to acknowledge that there are bigger problems than parking. The problem of a failing downtown is that there is really not that much downtown that is worth the effort of going there. If you focus on creating a place people want to go, more likely than not, people will figure out the transportation issue.

For example, parking is the number one complaint about downtown Conway, Arkansas. Yet, the city closes off the main street for a weekend for their annual festival, and the organizers claim 100,000 people from around the region turn up;

Toad Suck Daze in downtown Conway, AR.

They parked at a friend's house, they parked a couple of blocks over and walked. If you create a place people want to go, these things happen to solve themselves. The same thing happened in Hoboken, New Jersey several weeks ago.

Washington Street in Hoboken during normal hours. We need all of that parking, otherwise how can our customers get here?

The same Washington Street during the Hoboken Fall Arts and Music Festival. Somehow we took away on-street parking and exponentially more people managed to show up!

A parking lot in Hoboken. Off street parking is essential for customers to get to your business, but we turned it into something nicer, and look at all the people that figured out a way to get here!

You need an anchor that draws people in. In this case, the festival was the anchor. Parking is not an anchor, nobody says "I am going to visit this parking spot!" Parking is a tool, just like your traffic lights, your bus stations, etc. as a way for people to get to the anchor.

The anchor does not have to be one specific building (if your town's only supermarket was downtown, people would figure out a way to get downtown when they needed to go to buy groceries), but the environment in general. For example, one night, I ate out with my parents in Little Italy, we had this view;

We could have gone up to any Italian restaurant up the street for a decent meal, but it would not have the charm of being in cozy Little Italy, so we went 35 minutes out of the way for dinner. You can not get that atmosphere in the suburbs. If our street is dead, we need to take a holistic view of the street to say why people do not want to go there. (Is the streetscape pleasant and unique? Are the countless things to do once you are there?)

If we really fall for our own false belief that parking is the problem, what is easiest "solution"? Knock down buildings for more parking? The problem is, for each less building we have 1 less reason to go downtown, and people will still complain about parking. So we chase our tails more, and end up with one or two buildings per block, surrounded by parking:

Detroit.

The end game of this approach is that you end up with a crummy imitation of the suburbs that is both unpleasant to walk and unpleasant to drive, few to no anchors to draw the people in, rents will fall because there is nobody walking around, and you have cannibalized your own city.

The question we should be asking is not "What can we do to make it easier to come downtown?" but "What can we do to give people a reason to come downtown?"


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roeland • 10.29.2015 • 17:12 PM (MDT)
There’s another side to this story. Many *people* also think every city has a parking problem. That goes as follows: Let’s assume there is something to see or do in one of the buildings in the city. There will always be at least some part of the people who will come by car. And let’s assume that building doesn’t have an off-street parking lot. Now you can observe some curious things around this building: (1) A lot of the people driving in will expect to find a carpark on the edge of the street within a few metres of the building. Of course this is not going to be the case. There’s only so much cars you can fit on that street edge. And nobody realises that parking a few blocks away and walking 5 minutes will be faster than circling around for a spot closer to the building for 15 minutes. (2) Everybody expects that carpark to be free. There’s often some carpark buildings or underground carparks nearby, but they’ll charge a few dollars so nobody is going in there. People might not realise they can save a lot of time by spending those few dollars. Maybe it’s some kind of optimism — “surely that was just bad luck and I’ll find a spot on my next lap around the block” So what you’ll see is a lot of cars endlessly cruising in circles around the block to find a parking spot, and empty parking spots within just a few minutes walking up the street. And then the drivers can go on complaining about lack of parking. The city of Auckland actually tried to get more people to visit the city centre by building more car parks. And of course that was a failure. Their current strategy to (1) try building some streets which are actually a nice place to walk and shop around, and (2) allowing people to live in the city centre (allowing apartment buildings to be built) is more successful.