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Want an affordable city? Look at your parking first.

Angie Schmitt loves traffic. Or rather, she loves to study how traffic affects the vitality of a city. She writes passionately on the issue in Streetsblog, and is regularly profiled as an expert in leading publications and broadcasts across North America.

We connected with Angie, because we wanted to chat about a topic near and dear to those on the South Island – housing affordability. Do car-centric road systems impact the price of homes? What about parking? Bike lanes and transit?

Angie’s insights were profound, and the examples she cited (both positive and negative) were inspiring.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts or opinions of the organization.

BIG IDEAS
Everyone has driven through a downtown area and come across a massive surface parking lot. These ‘parking craters’ depress the area around them, because they repel pedestrian traffic. So why do they exist? Because developers need to create a certain number of parking spaces before regulators will give them license to build.

One parking space can cost $40,000 to build, if the cost of real estate is included. And two parking spots can be about the size of a one bedroom apartment. For every two spaces, you’re foregoing an apartment for a resident.

In some municipalities, parking has been unbundled from the price of apartments. If you want a parking space, you pay extra. If you don’t, your apartment costs less. In some instances, unbundling has reduced the cost of apartments and condos by up to 20%.

Buffalo NY made the news recently because the city reversed the requirement to build parking with every new building. It’s a radical move, but a conscious effort to revitalize the downtown, and lower the cost of downtown living.

In Nottingham UK, the city reduced parking subsidization by levying a fee on parking spaces employers provided their employees. Despite an initial outcry, this move pushed people into using transit and bikes – and business in the downtown core actually increased!

Massive project regulation takes time. But pop-up projects don’t. Groups like Team Better Block convert downtown ‘dead zones’ into thriving pedestrian hubs with simple measures like painting parking lots, putting in benches and planters, and inviting pop-up retailers and musicians in to lure pedestrian traffic. The result is a more attractive, revitalized downtown block, better revenue for merchants, and proof that a walkable downtown works.

Some say creating less car-friendly downtown areas discriminates against those living in suburbs and exurbs. But if less parking / more expensive parking is combined with smart transit policies, more people come downtown. Suburbanites, like everyone else, also respond well to incentives. Make parking expensive, and make transit easy and affordable.

The tactical urbanism movement is a response to government foot-dragging when it comes to creating more pedestrian-friendly downtowns. These movements can be as grass roots as locals demarcating bike lanes using small potted plants. As it turns out, drivers hate running over potted plants! Often, these ‘uban guerilla’ movements lead to government adoption of the changes.

QUOTABLE QUOTES
“Rethink your street spaces! In some cases it makes sense to rezone car lanes into bikes and transit. This incentivizes bus passengers, as they get where they’re going faster than the logjammed single-occupant vehicles.

“Certainly, desubsidizing parking with regulation takes time. But you can accelerate change simply by raising the price of parking. In Boston they raised prices, drivers suddenly found parking spaces, and more people were incentivized to leave their cars at home.”

” What Team Better Block can teach us is that it pays to create a minimum viable product, or MVP. Try things one block at a time.”

“There’s a direct correlation between making a city liveable, making it affordable, and making it more friendly for transit, pedestrians and bikes.”

“Seattle has reduced the number of trips into the city by car by 50%. And they’re about to invest $53 billion in light rail. The secret? They made it more convenient and attractive to ride transit.”

“Cars are part of our lives. But cheap parking, and the congestion it brings, needn’t be. In cities like Boston, a rise in parking meter rates actually had a positive effect for drivers – for the first time, they found it easy to get a parking spot.”

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