Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in February 2021 as the weekly NMA E-Newsletter #633. If you like to receive this weekly one topic newsletter in your mailbox every Sunday, subscribe today!
Even before the pandemic, the war on parking was ramping up in America. The curb was escalating as the place of most conflict, and that battle has only increased. The mission to eliminate curb parking by repurposing the space for bike and bus lanes is supported more by wishful Vision Zero thinking than any serious analysis of the potential effect on traffic and commerce.
For example, the anti-car and Big Bike media continue to push the idea that if there’s more parking—there are more cars. So, let’s limit the parking to reduce the number of automobiles and trucks on the streets. Dive down a bit deeper into the linked story, and you will find a reference to a 2018 study by the Mortgage Bankers Association’s nonprofit Research Institute for Housing America. The primary conclusion of Quantified Parking: Comprehensive Parking Inventories for Five US Cities is that the investment in parking is out of balance with current demand and what it claims will be declining future demand. The five cities studied were Des Moines, Philadelphia, New York City, Seattle, and Jackson, Wyoming.
Most households in America have at least one car. Adequate public parking is essential; the nation’s economy depends on it. But that is not a concern for the anti-car people. Getting cars off the road is.
The Quantified Parking study noted above was issued by mortgage bankers who have a vested interest in future zoning and real estate development. Decreasing existing parking for new residential and business spaces creates more profit for both developers and financiers. But the real battle is still being waged over street space.
Streetsblog USA posted a February Op-Ed that states, “We’ve taken street parking for granted for a long time. It’s a luxury that comes at the cost of the poor.” The op-ed goes on to say that, for over a century, cities have been automobile-centric. Streetsblog notes that in many American cities, 98 percent of adult residents own a car. Let that sink in for a moment.
The writer, Jordan Justus, is the CEO and founder of Automotus, a company that is developing curb management technology. More on that in a bit.
Justus wrote in the post that city governments are giving a subsidy to those who can afford a car—mainly middle and upper-class car owners. Lower-income people, who can’t afford cars, are helping subsidize that space. Bringing the equity idea into the infrastructure equation is the latest tactic by those who want to get us out of cars and into rideshare and other public and private transportation solutions.
UCLA Professor of Urban Planning Donald Shoup suggests that cities should be charging market rates for the real estate a car occupies. He suggests that cities can use this cash to increase transit services or bike lanes in the city’s less affluent parts. Many Americans already spend 16 cents of every dollar earned on transportation. Paying manufactured market rates for the “privilege” of parking is just another attempt at forcing people out of their cars by making it too expensive to own and operate their own vehicles.
Curb management is also becoming in vogue. Cities, pushed by companies such as Automotus, want to reconfigure curbs to prioritize commercial use over the needs of the public. COORD, another curb management tech company, released a challenge to cities in January 2020 called the Digital Curb Challenge. It partnered with Aspen, Nashville, Omaha, and West Palm Beach. This year, the company is asking for more cities to join the effort to generate “curb profits” through active street management.
Since the pandemic began a year ago, fighting over curb rights escalated in some surprising ways. In the spring and summer, many cities around the country closed down streets to cars so that neighborhood residents could use the added space for social distancing while outside. That idea then morphed into allowing restaurants to set up additional outdoor seating that extended into parking areas at the curb. Indianapolis tried this but soon realized that it was losing a great deal of parking meter revenue.
The fight to get us out of our vehicles has kicked up a notch, and it looks like the spot next to the curb is one of the biggest battlegrounds.