Every American has seen photographs showing ancient European squares crammed with parked cars. The lesson those pictures impart is that even in Europe, the car must be accommodated.
But a fascinating new report from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) explodes that notion. Europe's Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation, authored by Michael Kodransky and Gabrielle Hermann, argues persuasively that a number of European cities are leading the world in a different direction — toward limiting the availability of parking and toward making spaces for automobiles more expensive. Public space is being reclaimed for pedestrians.
"Parking management is a critical and often overlooked tool for achieving a variety of social goals," declares the report, which follows a report last spring on successful parking practices in US cities.
"For much of the 20th Century, cities in Europe, like cities in the rest of the world, used parking policy mainly to encourage the construction of additional off-street parking, hoping to ease a perceived shortage of parking," observe Kodransky, global research manager for IDTP, and Hermann, a consultant to the organization.
In the past few decades, many people "grew tired of having public spaces and footpaths occupied by surface parking," they say. "In dense European cities, a growing number of citizens began to question whether dedicating scarce public space to car parking was wise social policy, and whether encouraging new buildings to build parking spaces was a good idea."
"No matter how many new parking garages and motorways they built, the traffic congestion only grew worse, and as much as 50% of traffic congestion was caused by drivers cruising around in search of a cheaper parking space," according to the authors.
Europe's Parking U-Turn reviews the experiences of ten cities that have reoriented their parking policies around "alternative social goals." Examples come from across western Europe: Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Strasbourg, and Zurich.
Among the report's findings:
"Some recent parking reforms are driven by the need to comply with [European Union] ambient air quality or national greenhouse gas targets. Other new parking policies are part of broader mobility targets encouraging reductions in the use of private motor vehicles. While London, Stockholm, and a few other European cities have managed to implement congestion charging to reduce motor vehicle use, more are turning to parking.
"Every car trip begins and ends in a parking space, so parking regulation is one of the best ways to regulate car use. Vehicles cruising for parking often make up a significant share of total traffic. Other reasons for changing parking policies were driven by the desire to revitalize city centers and repurpose scarce road space for bike lanes or bike parking.
"The amount of parking available in a city is heavily influenced by public policy. On-street parking is governed by municipal or district policy, and off-street parking is generally controlled through zoning and building regulations. These are ultimately political questions: how much parking is built in new buildings, and how much public space should be dedicated to motor vehicle parking as opposed to other uses.
"The impacts of these new parking policies have been impressive: revitalized and thriving town centers; significant reductions in private car trips; reductions in air pollution; and generally improved quality of life.
"Progress in Europe on parking reform should not be overstated. Most cities still impose minimum parking requirements on developers, and few cities have imposed maximum parking requirements. While a growing number of cities have mandated charges for both on- and off-street parking, they generally charge rates that are too low."
Nonetheless, innovation is coming to European parking practices, just as they are arriving in American cities that have been influenced by UCLA Professor Donald Shoup and his strongly argued book, The High Cost of Free Parking (reviewed here in the April 2005 New Urban News).
Here are more excerpts from the report, beginning with ideas for effective parking management strategies:
• Pricing: Traffic experts know that having 15% of parking spaces unoccupied is optimal from the per- spective of minimizing the time people spend cruising for parking. European cities are ahead of their U.S. counterparts, with most of the cities reviewed in this report setting parking fees at levels which vary at different locations and different times of day to keep occupancy rates at 85%. Some European cities like Strasbourg are also ahead of US cities in coordinating on-street parking pricing and supply with off-street pricing and supply. These measures help ensure that more desirable parking spaces are used by those most willing to pay for the privilege.
• Emissions-Based Parking Charges: Some municipalities, such as Amsterdam and about a dozen bor- oughs in London, have started to vary parking charges based on the CO2 emission levels of vehicles at the time of registration. The London boroughs base the price of residential parking permits on the CO2 emission standards of the driver’s vehicle. Cleaner vehicles pay a discount rate, while a higher rate applies to cars that pollute more.
• Workplace Levies: Nottingham, in the UK, recently decided to impose a tax of £250 per year on companies for each parking space they provide for employees. The levy, which goes into effect beginning 2012, only applies to companies with over 10 parking spaces. Municipalities across the UK are considering following suit. If all the districts currently considering the levy decide to implement it, an estimated ten million drivers would be impacted, as employers would likely pass down the cost on to employees. Other cities like Hamburg are allowing companies to provide fewer parking spaces than required by zoning regulations if they provide a monthly transit pass to employees.
• Earmarking/Ring Fencing: Revenue generated from parking fees goes to support sustainable trans- port goals. Barcelona, Strasbourg, and certain boroughs in London funnel revenue from parking fees to transit projects rather than putting the money into a general fund. Political buy-in can be earned with this type of initiative because the public sees how money from parking charges is spent. In Barcelona, 100% of parking fees go to support the city’s bike sharing program.
• Parking Supply Caps: Both Zurich and Hamburg froze the existing parking supply in the city center. When a new space is built off-street, an on-street space has to be removed, so it can be repurposed for other needs like widened sidewalks or bikeways. This type of cap-and-trade was implemented in Hamburg in 1976 and in Zurich as part of its “historic parking compromise” in 1996. Zurich went even further. Outside of the zone where the parking cap applies, the City of Zurich only allows developers to build new parking spaces if the surrounding roads can absorb additional traffic without congestion, and the air can handle additional pollution without violating ambient air quality norms. This policy has helped make Zurich one of the most livable cities in Europe.
• Parking Maximums: Historically, most cities required developers to build a minimum number of new parking spaces. Residential buildings had to include at least one, if not more, parking spaces per residential unit, and commercial developments had to build a minimum number of parking spaces per square meter depending on how the building would be used. European cities today are abolishing these parking minimums in town centers and placing new ceilings on the number of new parking spaces they can build. In the past, planners thought that requiring developers to build more parking would transfer the cost of parking supply onto private developers. Unfortunately, it also created a perverse incentive for developers to build more parking than the market required and stimulated car use. Paris abolished parking minimums and several other cities established zone-based maximums. Dutch cities, following the national “A, B, C” policy introduced in 1989, divided themselves into three types of zones: areas with excellent transit access and poor car access (designated with the letter A), areas with good transit access and good car access (B), and areas with good car access but poor transit access (C). Each zone had its own parking minimum and parking maximum. New develop- ments in zone “A” could only build a few parking spaces. In zone “B” they had to build a moderate amount of parking within a specified range, and in zone “C” they could build even more parking, but again within a specified range. Many cities outside of the Netherlands, like Antwerp and Zurich, also reduced parking maximums and minimums in locations proximate to transit facilities.
• Regulating the Location of Parking: While most cities regulate where parking can occur during different times of the day, European cities have used this regulatory power more frequently for the purpose of encouraging transit use and creating vibrant street life. Many cities push parking to peripheral locations, while giving transit passengers and cyclists more convenient access to popular destinations than private motorists.
• Striped Lines: Stockholm uses painted lines to mark reserved spaces for vehicles with disability privileges. Individual spaces were once marked for all vehicles, but now this is only done for special cases. Entire sections of curbside are demarcated with one large box sometimes taking up an entire street as the latest practice. One large box encourages smaller vehicles to squeeze into the limited space. In this way the city optimizes revenue from its pricing program.
• Repurposing Public Spaces: Copenhagen has transformed its city center by creating high-quality pedestrian districts and high-quality bicycle paths by eliminating hundreds of parking spaces. Danes can be seen riding their bikes and lingering in public spaces on the coldest, snowiest days of the year. As the urban planner Jan Gehl has remarked, Copenhagen eliminated winter in just 40 years. Removal of on-street parking from historic districts and central shopping streets has become a signature feature of many European cities. This is often a boon for business, too; shops within the pedestrian precincts generate more income than those outside. Treating street space as a valuable public asset, by reclaiming it from cars, can lead to much better land uses. Reducing the number of on-street car parking can be a way to encourage the use of other transportation modes by transform- ing former spaces to bicycle paths or wider walkways.
• Street Geometry: Strategically arranging existing parking spaces can help make other street users more comfortable. In Zurich, alternating parking spaces on two sides of a narrow street act as a chi- cane that slows vehicle speeds. Amsterdam has zones called woonerfs that use parked cars to create a winding passage which forces vehicles to move at a pedestrian’s pace. Paris and Copenhagen have bike lanes that are protected by parked cars — these act as a barrier between the cyclists and moving traffic. Copenhagen and Antwerp have play-streets that allow children to safely spend time on the street without the threat of getting hit by a car—trees, benches, and other physical obstructions cue vehicles that they are guests in the space.
ITDP, whose slogan is "promoting sustainable and equitable transportation worldwide," can be reached on the Web here. The organization's headquarters is at 9 East 19th Street in New York.