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Smart Parking Policy Makes a Difference, Even in Livable Streets Utopias

10:03 AM PDT on March 24, 2010

The evidence keeps mounting that smart
parking policy
is an essential tool in the fight to curb traffic. A
new study of two German neighborhoods indicates that managing the
supply of parking can make streets more livable, even in places that
already have great infrastructure for transit, walking, and biking.
Eliminating mandatory parking minimums, the data shows, plays an
essential role in reducing driving. 

Vauban.jpgIn Vauban, a German
neighborhood built for walking and biking, the lack of parking
requirements has helped reduce driving. Image: adeupa de Brest
via Flickr
.

The new research comes from Freiburg, the city at the center of
Germany's environmental movement and the national leader in energy
efficiency, water conservation, and green industry. Freiburg has built
160 km of separated bike routes, banned cars from the city center, and
attained an automobile mode-share about half the national average. So
when the city started booming in the 1990s, planners made sure to
channel its growth as sustainably as possible. The result was two
"eco-suburbs" -- the neighborhoods of Rieselfeld and Vauban,
which are the subject of a study published this
month
by Andrea Broaddus, a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley's urban
planning department.

Both Rieselfeld and Vauban consist entirely of walkable, mixed-use
development. Each benefit from rail and bus transit, significant
investments in bike paths and bike parking, 30 kph speed limits, and a
road network that limits space for cars. Although Rieselfeld and Vauban
are small, with about 10,000 and 5,000 residents, respectively, they
have absorbed a generation's worth of growth in Freiburg, according to
Broaddus.

There's just one big difference between the two neighborhoods:
parking.

In Rieselfeld, underground parking lots were built to comply with a
German national law, on the books since 1939, that requires the
construction of one off-street parking space for each new residential
unit. Housing became more expensive because prices absorbed the costs of
parking. On-street parking remained free.

Over in Vauban, committed local activists fought to reduce the
amount of parking, over the objections of a skeptical city and
risk-averse banks. The eventual compromise required all residents to pay
for the land that their parking space would occupy, but gave car-free
households the option of giving it to a land bank instead of using it
for parking. The households who opted out of parking now use that land
for barbecues and soccer games. They also didn't have to pay for parking
construction, saving 13,300 Euros on the price of their houses. In
addition, on-street parking in Vauban is scarce and metered.

The divergence in parking policy has made quite a difference. While
Rieselfeld has one of the lowest rates of car-ownership in Germany,
with 0.29 cars per person, Vauban has even fewer autos, with 0.17 cars
per person. That translates into more cycling and less driving in
Vauban, where automobile mode-share is five percent smaller than in
Rieselfeld.

Broaddus's findings and methodology echo the conclusions of "Guaranteed
Parking -- Guaranteed Driving"
-- the 2008 report from
Transportation Alternatives in New York City that demonstrated how the availability of
parking spaces at home leads more Jackson Heights residents to drive
compared to Park Slope residents.

The fact that most New Yorkers have access to good transit options
and walkable street grids should be all the more reason to pursue a
coherent parking strategy. Even in places that have seemingly adopted
livable streets principles across the board, parking policy is still a
powerful lever to make transportation
safer and more sustainable.

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