A dialogue seems to be emerging as more cities take up the battle over parking. Boiled down, the battle amounts to this: The suburbanites want it and the urbanites don’t. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Ingra Saffron, who sides with the urbanites, said her inbox was flooded with unpleasant comments after she reviewed the new Barnes Foundation and criticized its decision to build a surface parking lot. “The parking lot and driveways visually strangle the architecture and, worst of all, cut off the building physically from the city it is meant to serve,” she wrote.
But many suburban dwellers say that parking lots are essential for enjoying the city. Without parking lots, those living outside the city limits find it difficult to commute into urban centers. Recognizing this, Saffron says that some parking lots are necessary, but that they should be built underground whenever possible so as not to take up valuable city space. Aside from parking structures being eyesores, they also detract from the economy, she says:
Once people park their cars, they’re less likely to sprinkle money around town. Drivers go straight to their destination, then head home when they’re done. In contrast, visitors coming from the station may buy a coffee, admire a shop, or examine a restaurant menu. They become participants in the life of the city.
In a recent post on The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Brad Plumer says that when people start to use public transportation during times of rising gas prices, they tend to stick to the habit even after prices fall. Backing up these claims from the American Public Transportation Association with numbers, he writes:
APTA estimates that if gas prices spiked from $3.50 per gallon to $4 per gallon, overall transit trips would increase by around 289 million trips. But if gas prices then sunk back down to $3.50 per gallon, overall transit trips would still be 200 million higher than they were originally.
Ridership on public transit is swelling in some major cities—such as Philadelphia—he says. For Saffron and other urbanites, that should be good news, but the increase in the numbers of riders is causing overcrowding. Allotting more money to the transit budget seems like it would be the simple solution to this problem, except the federal government provides money to public transit through gas-tax collections.
So, the parking wars sit at a standstill. If existing transit systems can’t up the number of rides they provide each day, and parking lots can’t be moved underground, someone is going to have to come up with another solution, or declare a truce. Urbanites and suburbanites, prepare your battle gear.
Read Saffron's full article on the use of surface parking lots in cities on The Philadelphia Inquirer website.