However, it has become a part of the conversation around “greener cities”, and firmly too. More cities around the world are considering the question: do we need all these parking spaces? And in light of more significant pressure to cut emissions and achieve more climate-friendly areas, more than a few are finding answers in the negative.
The conversation is not without controversy, however. While many believe fewer parking spaces leads to fewer cars on the road (which they consider a good thing), others believe the move to remove parking spaces is too drastic a measure. In this regard, Oslo residents famously staged a demonstration against the move.
How do the arguments stack up? In this article, we’ll consider the pros and cons of removing parking spaces in city centres. Does it make all that much sense? Let’s find out.
Remove parking spaces? Seriously?
Before we launch into the arguments on both sides, it’s useful to look a bit into the background of the question.
City planning officials have been considering an important issue for many years now: how to make cities greener, safer and more sustainable. Although several measures have been considered (and implemented), cities like Oslo still found themselves with quite a lot of work on.
It was only a matter of time before attention turned to parking spaces. Here’s why. According to research, motor vehicles are parked 95% of the time, on average. Other research indicates that drivers spend only about 1 hour on the road on average and the rest of the time, the car is parked. Needless to say, all those parked vehicles take up a lot of city space, much of which is highly valued and sought after.
Apart from this, due to limited real estate, most drivers spend an inordinate amount of time searching for parking spaces. One study showed that drivers spend an average of 4 days searching for parking spaces yearly, consuming more than 1 million barrels of gasoline while they’re at it and releasing some severe CO2 into the atmosphere.
As a result, city officials set their sights on eliminating car spaces, thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the road. So, rather than drive right into the city centre, commuters will have to make use of parking options on the outskirts and take last-mile options into the city centre. These include trams, bikes and the good old stroll.
Several cities have implemented some variation or other of the moratorium on parking spaces. Oslo, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and London are some of the cities to have tried variations of the idea at some point or the other.
Amsterdam, already famous for its pro-bike, anti-car policies, announced in March 2019 that it would systematically reduce inner-city parking spaces. The city planned to reduce the number of people allowed to park in the city by around 1,500 a year, with a target of eliminating up to 11,200 parking spaces by 2025.
Rather than revoke permits, the city will refuse to replace any permits that are given up when drivers give up their cars, move out of the city or die. What happens to all the space that gets freed up? The city plans to invest these in more bike parking spots, wider sidewalks and lovely, shady trees.
So, how does the idea to remove parking spaces measure up?
First off, why does it make sense to remove parking spaces from urban centres and the inner city? Here are some reasons.
It helps reduce pollution
Reducing pollution is a big one for most city planners. In one research that studied the neighbourhood around UCLA’s campus, it was found that the average driver spends 3.3 minutes looking for a parking space every time.
Within that period, and based on the number of parking spaces there, the study found that the time spent looking for a parking space amounted to about 950,000 extra miles per year. In addition to this, the drivers would have burned more than 47,000 gallons of petrol in the same period, emitting 730 tons of CO2.
Considering the data, it makes sense that eliminative parking spaces will remove the need to spend so much time looking for them. In turn, this helps eliminate pollution at least in that respect in each city. But what about cities like Amsterdam where only 22% of journeys take place by car, and most use electric vehicles?
It helps reclaim valuable real estate
And this is a big problem for most cities around the world. In Tippecanoe County, Indiana, for instance, a 2010 study found that there was an average of 2.2 parking spaces for each registered car and each was empty for most of the day.
According to some estimates, more than 30,000 square kilometres of land is devoted to parking in Europe. In the US, that’s up to 27,000 kilometres of prime land. The biggest problem is that much of this land is incredibly limited and very valuable, with parking spaces there even costing more than a vehicle, in some spots.
By eliminating parking spaces and repurposing that land, the city can make better use of its space, like Amsterdam is doing.
Improve city life
Another important reason for eliminating parking spaces is to enable a better experience for city residents. Urban life is usually notorious for poor work-life balance, lack of inclusive spaces and generally unsafe environments, especially with all those vehicles zooming by.
Removing parking spaces enables city planners to include initiatives that improve the lives of city residents. People can walk or bike to their destinations within the city centres, fatal accidents due to motor vehicle collisions will be practically eliminated, and families can be safer in this environment.
The newly reclaimed spaces can also be repurposed into cultural centres, parks and other facilities that promote inclusion and a better life overall.
As solid as the arguments for sound, the idea to remove parking spaces is not unimpeachable. For some, moving to eliminate parking spaces is almost like saying “let’s kill all the lawyers to reduce the number of lawsuits”.
There are two problems in one here. First, how do you get around in a new, repurposed city centre when you are physically challenged. Many people rely on car transport to move even the shortest distances (such as hospital or therapy sessions). Won’t eliminating parking spaces and vehicle movement affect them adversely?
Second, cities vary in size. How do you implement this same policy in bigger cities when it works most effectively in places that you can easily bike or walk? After all, you cannot be expected to ditch your car and bike or walk to work when the trip takes more than a couple of hours.
Another big question is, how do you manage crises and large scale calamities in a city centre where the fastest means of locomotion is a battery-powered bicycle? Since many city centres are planning to make their roads narrower and prohibit vehicle traffic, what happens if someone needs medical help urgently?
Even when the help needed is not medically-related, what about other emergency response services such as police, firefighters and the like? If cities do not plan for possibilities such as these, eliminating car parks and repurposing roads may be a tad hasty.
It doesn’t ‘really’ solve pollution problems
There may also be concerns as to whether eliminating parking spaces really makes a dent in climate change problems. While there are some cities where the major cause of pollution stems from vehicle traffic, these do not constitute the majority.
Pollution and climate change may be attributed more to unsustainable manufacturing and lifestyle practices too numerous to count. How much of a concern should the elimination of parking spaces really be compared to these?
Although there are questions whether removing parking spaces is really all that necessary, one thing we cannot ignore is the results. Since making its move to eliminate parking spaces, cities like Oslo have witnessed a drop in trips made by car and a decline in air pollution.
No matter how the discussion eventually shapes up, it’s certain that cities will continue to examine more ways through which they can make their centres safer and greener. Will they be effective? Only time will tell.
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