Tuesday, April 1, 2014


One of the many benefits to giving up personal car ownership, is that I don't to have to deal with parking. Occasionally I'll rent a car or drive one belonging to a friend, but the great thing about feet is that you get to take them with you when you go from place to place. There's no "Now, where did I park my feet?"

I don't need a valet ticket. Feet don't get parking tickets. There isn't any walking about trying to find a free space that doesn't have alternate day parking, is too close to a fire hydrant, or in a loading zone. There is no painful discovery that your feet have been towed. My feet can usually park for free, or at least for the price of a cup of coffee.

My feet are also pretty light on the earth. While I'm happy to use roads and pathways, being a pedestrian doesn't require parking spaces. In fact, I find I have started to resent parking spaces. Not only do they take up valuable real estate that cannot be used for crops, housing or parks, they increase solar heating and wreck havoc on water drainage systems. Parking spaces along roads complicate the creation of bike lanes. And there are too many of them overall. One estimate is that in the US, there are 8 spaces built for every car (obviously not in the high-density cities, so what does that tell you about suburbia?).

Aside from these concrete environmental impacts of parking spaces, the reason I find them distasteful is gut level emotional. Parking lots are like dead zones. I do a lot of walking. A lot. Walking through or near a parking lot is depressing. It's like walking across a wasteland that keeps people away from each other and the places they want to visit. Contrast the experience of walking across a big parking lot with walking on a tree-lined sidewalk with people to talk to and things to look at.

Here's some good news:
Car ownership is down, especially among young people.

Real estate developers and governments are starting to redesign the parking requirements
for new residential and commercial buildings based on proximity to transit stations.

Car and bike sharing is increasing in US cities.

How to help reduce parking spaces:
Attend town or city meetings. Gather data on the benefits of better pedestrian design to support zoning and planning issues when they come up where you live. 

Stop driving so much. When business owners see their parking lots more empty than they planned on, that data is used to size future parking lots. Walk to do your errands when you can. Take public transportation when available. Maybe an unused parking lot could be turned into a park someday.

Read The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald C. Shoup. I was shocked to discover how much parking spaces add to the cost of housing, just one little piece of the the burden of the parking infrastructure.

I'm happy to take my feet out for a walk, skirting the parking spaces and seeking out the trees, sidewalks, and people. When I get where I'm going, I don't have to leave my feet in anyone's way.

Beauty is not in the eye of this beholder.