I’m sorry that I have been bashing the parking issue to a bloody pulp and I will move on to other things, but if you want to know what is wrong with urban planning today, how unresponsive we’ve become to market conditions, and how poorly we treat our towns and cities, pedestrians and transit systems, please read this post.
I would like to add a bit of anecdotal experience of living in a large city and commuting and the insidious effect that parking minimums have on cities, generally, and transit, specifically.
I live in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Chicago. It is part of the city’s famed bungalow belt and is located in the extreme northwest side of the city. Though my part of neighborhood was plated in the 1920’s, most development occurred in the 1940’s and ’50s. As such, it was developed with the automobile in mind. Despite the fact that most homes are on postage size 25’x125′ lots (thank you 1920’s plats!), most of the commercial corridors filled in during the 1940’s-’50s and are auto-oriented.
Because my home has a back alley garage (guaranteed parking) and much of the neighborhood has easy free parking thanks to zoning that requires parking minimums, I actually drive a fair amount, much more than I’d like to. Accordingly,
“A guaranteed parking spot makes use of the automobile a more attractive option”
much to the detriment of transit and pedestrian space.
When the car takes precedence in transportation planning, other things get neglected. When retail is built into “centers” and “strip malls” and not corner stores, pedestrians and transit get neglected. And what are shopping centers and strip malls: just urban design that satisfies parking minimums.
This morning’s Atlantic Cities article on whether big box stores can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) because it “brings shopping closer to where people live” fundamentally misunderstands the problems that big box stores cause in urban communities and why many urbanites do not want them in their communities even though they may patronize these stores. Nothing about these stores’ design is urban. It is not walkable, there are no accommodations for transit or bike/pedestrians. The only way to access these stores comfortably is with a car. This development pattern drives up traffic locally on urban streets that may not have been designed for these traffic volumes. It impacts neigboring land uses through light pollution from its vast parking lots, through water runoff, and through large deliveries at night in the back of the store (sometimes facing residential neighbors).
That’s not to say that big box stores can’t work in urban areas. They can and do. When you reorient them to face the street, making it easier to access via transit, bicycle and pedestrian modes, reduce parking ratios (per square foot) and build big box stores in a more mixed use environment, they can work in a much more urban-friendly way.
This, of course, is bad news for cities and metropolitan areas. As gas prices rise higher due to peak oil, supply and demand and geopolitical issues, it is even more urgent that the U.S. plan for a multi-modal approach to federal transportation policy. The automobile as the dominant form of mobility option is not sustainable or feasible. In the Chicago region, the Regional Transportation Authority estimates that the CTA, Metra and Pace could lose up to $450 million in capital each year. In a region with a system with a $10 billion backlog of capital projects, we simply cannot afford to lose this kind of money.
As Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said once, “Elections have consequences.”
One of the most important lessons in all of this is that elections have consequences. Many people now are beginning to catch on to that. It is no secret that our right-wing Republican colleagues did very well in November 2010. They captured the House of Representatives.
If you care about transportation and urban affairs, please remember this. And most importantly, fight now and call your Representative.
Sorry to have to start this blog on a bad note, but our friends in the U.S. House of Representatives believe that transportation policy should go back to the 1970s.
You know, that era of gas shortages and rampant urban sprawl. Look, there is a reason why the Highway Trust Fund is used to fund transit. It has long been recognized that “if you build it they will come” when it comes to highway building. We’ll never build our way out of congestion and therefore, transit is a vital component of an urban area’s mobility. Forcing everyone to rely on the private automobile is unsustainable, not practical in most of our oldest cities and deeply un-conservative.