The pandemic calls on cities to reconsider parking

Officials in Charleston, South Carolina, have been pondering what to do with parking for nearly a decade, said Ross Appel, a city council member and land use attorney. In January, the council voted to use its emergency powers for 60 days to remove the minimum parking in its historic King Street. The policy is intended to help businesses rent empty shop windows during an economic downturn.

“Minimum parking requirements are sometimes a very expensive, risky and complicated obstacle to opening new businesses,” says Appel. In addition, the policy links land use to cars. “It’s like a built-in subsidy that perpetuates the norm of the car,” he says. Two businesses took the city on offer and the council discussed making the change permanent.

Bubbling norms are not everyone’s cup of tea. Historically, businesses can get nervous if you park with parking. In many cities, business owners have backed down against parking changes because they fear potential customers will not stop if they are unable to park. But the pandemic has changed the way a lot of money is made – and shifted their views on how to use the curb.

“Businesses have moved on to pick-up and drop-off, and to a kind of hybrid between online and brick-and-mortar,” said Vineet Gupta, director of planning at Boston Transportation. The city has therefore reserved places for delivery, food delivery, ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft, and for delivery of goods from companies like Amazon. “Businesses understand that the way we look at our code also needs to change,” he says.

Adam Baru’s two restaurants, Mani Osteria and Isalita Cantina, operate from the same building in downtown Ann Arbor. Together, they have access to eight parking spaces under the city’s new policy. The restaurants used the eateries to eat outside – there is room for almost 100 people – and to book space for those picking up. Parking is generally expensive in the city center, but for now, Baru is giving the programs, plus his team’s creativity and a timely PPP loan, to the survival of its restaurants. “It’s not like we’ve made a lot of money. But we could at least keep people employed, ”he says.

Now that the initial pandemic panic is over, cities are faced with an urgent question: if streets are not private vehicle storage, what exactly are they for? Who is it for? The city’s rapid response to Covid has enabled Oakland businesses to use parking lots as parking lots and free up street space for recreation instead of cars. But the programs facing back pressure in the city of Deep East, home to a majority black population. Some felt they had not been consulted before the city went ahead and changed their transportation systems – and that the changes were part of a decades-old attempt to oust black residents from the city.

The answer made sense to Warren Logan, the director of mobility policy at the Oakland mayor’s office. “It’s not unreasonable that black people who have been pushed to the corners of the city feel as if every little thing is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he says. “This is a historic response to trauma on systemic racism.” Now officials are being judged again.

Officials have asked community members in East Oakland what they want and what they need from a transportation overhaul; community members stressed more traffic safety. The city will now put $ 17 million in just-in-time allowance for street design adjustments to slow down local traffic. Oakland officials have learned a lot about how to quickly implement major changes, Logan says. But the ideas were the same from the beginning of the pandemic. “There is the idea that public parking is the paradigm for using public space,” he says. “And that’s shit.”


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