Parking: The Elephant in the Room

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Parking is the elephant in the room when it comes to urban redevelopment.  Typically, urban areas areas have constrained parking.  This becomes a bigger problem for cities pursuing redevelopment strategies.

With condos and other high-density development being “all the rage” in many cities,  these areas are inevitably headed for increasing parking constraints on current residents.

Gentrification aside, there is likely to be opposition to these types of development due to parking restraints alone.  Most planners (I hope) seek to have community input in redevelopment/revitalization projects.   I’ve sat through plenty of planning board meetings where parking variances were approved for higher density residential development in cities despite boisterous residents’ concerns.    How do we engage communities effectively without taking their parking concerns into consideration? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “pro parking space required for every bedroom in the city.” Limited parking encourages people to carpool, walk or take transit (if those are viable options), but I admit that when I’m driving downtown with my family (kid included), I get pretty pissed off if I can’t find parking.

ParkingHow do we determine if these projects really deserve a parking variance?  Is it fair to further constrain parking in areas where parking is already a problem?

Cincinnati Mayor, Mark Mallory made an interesting move by signing a zoning amendment that eliminates residential development parking requirements and has reduced them for others.  This move will reduce development costs and helps further a Streetcar project for the city.  I think this was a bold move that may yield promising results, but I do wonder how good these results will be.

There are other areas who are, at least, working on “Smart Parking” to ease parking concerns.  San Francisco completed its “smart parking” pilot program in December 2013 (and London is following suit by initiating a “smart parking” system).  The program involves sensors being installed on the streets.  “Each sensor in the ground detects when a car is parked on the street above it.”  The data is released through a smartphone app, thereby ridding us of driving around for several minutes searching for a spot.

Maybe cities can try a gradual reduction in parking requirements for development, combined with new parking technologies, to help us address the elephant in the room.  Either way the community needs to be a part of the conversation.

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