Walking the Walk

Urban design from the front lines

Kevin Klinkenberg

Using urban design to make our lives more enjoyable and create wealth

This site is for all those interested in the making of cities and towns, and especially the lives of the humans that inhabit them. Kevin Klinkenberg is an architect and urban designer who's practiced from coast-to-coast. 

Recapturing valuable pavement on the Path to Prosperity: Remove Rush-Hour Parking Restrictions

A common refrain of this series is the notion that an awful lot of our existing paved street area is over-dedicated to fast through traffic. That is, we have too many lanes on most of our roads that are set aside for cars moving really fast through our neighborhoods. The consequences of this are important to consider:

  1. It gives priority to people who live a remote distance instead of people who live in a neighborhood. 
  2. The trade-off always involves less comfort and safety for pedestrians, cyclists or transit users.
  3. Giving the nod to fast-moving traffic harms storefront businesses along those streets.

The final point is an important one to consider when looking at rush-hour parking restrictions. In many communities, the idea of not allowing parking from 7-9 AM or 4-6 PM is perceived as a good compromise. During high-traffic times, all lanes are dedicated to moving cars, and during slower times people can park on the street. Sounds like a win-win, right?

Except, it's actually more of a lose, lose in most situations.

Any business that actually sits up on the street, as we aim to do in walkable neighborhoods, relies extensively on on-street parking for its customer base, (this is to temporarily put to the side the other benefits of on-street parking, which will be discussed in a separate piece). That space is the most valuable to a business, and ultimately to a city, as it is convenient and accessible especially for impulse buying. To some folks that may sound trivial, but to a business owner impulse buying and a convenient way to access their customers are fundamental to survival. Some retail consultants in fact have stated that each curbside space is worth $300,000 annually in retail sales.

And so, it's clear that these spaces mean a lot. So why then can't we just compromise and allow traffic to move quickly in rush hour? Because that's precisely when those business need access to the curbside spots. Rush hour is the exact time when the most people will drive by a business, notice it and potentially stop to buy something. If the curbside spots are made unavailable, our human nature will kick in and we will just drive by.

The trade-off will mean slower commutes, especially for those traveling a long distance. Beyond the philosophical question of why some neighborhoods should have their quality of life sacrificed for those that are more distant, the bigger question is don't we want to encourage thriving commerce in our walkable areas? If the answer is yes (I certainly hope so), then we need to look to maximize the opportunities for their business success, and job #1 in that regard is to enable on-street parking at all hours. And in many cases, this can be done simply by removing a sign.

No Parking
No Parking