The Not-So-Distant Future: Cities in 2020, Part 7

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We continue our walk through Weis and Arnesen’s paper, “Thriving as a City in the Year 2020” with a closer look at parking.

Posted By Megan Wildhood

Nov. 6, 2012

Last week, we looked at ways to update the current street-grid system for dealing with traffic.  This week, Weis and Arnesen take a look at another aspect of modern city life that is contributing to the traffic problem, among others: private parking in dense, urban areas:


             Private parking lots do not belong in the middle of a vibrant urban core.  They are never integrated with the traffic ovals that feed into downtown parking, and they encourage shopping around for the best parking rates, further exacerbating both traffic congestion and air pollution.  Modern cities offer uniform parking availability: all lots marked with the universally recognizable P, all charging the same rate and all equipped with uniformly automated parking fare equipment that any driver can navigate, regardless of language skills.

            This may sound simplistic, but it’s a critical step toward planning and creating the kind of urban center that will thrive in year 2020.  Planning for parking in a way that expedites the movement of people into and out of the core is as important as designing the street ovals and connecting spurs to move traffic fluidly.  The objective with both streets and parking is to move traffic into and out of the central core quickly and efficiently, avoiding any excess driving time and excess energy wasted in shopping for the best parking deals.  It also assures that parking lots are placed underground in locations that feed directly into the commercial pedestrian zones, and that are fed from the traffic oval that surrounds the pedestrian district.

            This mandate does not preclude underground parking lots that already are in place to serve office buildings, specifically to serve the occupants and clients of those buildings.  It does preclude these existing lots being available for public parking.  All public parking spaces are, just that, owned and operated by the city, to provide a fast and uniform parking service to downtown visitors (Glazer and Niskanen, 1992).

            Finally, a sure sign of urban decay is the spectacle of above-ground parking.  What parking lots remain, after transit systems and housing density obviate most of this demand, should be underground and out of sight.  Above-ground development in great cities is infinitely too valuable to waste on parking.  It’s not needed, and it’s an eyesore that diminishes the appeal of city life.

The uniform rates will also cut down on air pollution and wasted gas – according to a recent study, a person can spend as much as 30 minutes a day looking for affordable parking, the effects of which really add up!  In Seattle, an app that lets you pay for parking by phone so you don’t have to remember to plug the meter has been proposed, which is still being debated in the Council because of the programs cost and potential for lost revenue.  Whatever the City Council decides, is is clear that a more systemic answer, like the one Weis and Arnesen, is needed since the problems with private parking do not stop at convenience. Not only will making all parking public more affordable and less of a headache for the average city commuter, standardizing the location of all of these lots underground will contribute to the urban green space Weis and Arnesen recommend for healthy, sustainable cities.  

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