Throughout the United States, cities are built with parking and automobiles in mind — but with public transportation being better for the environment and for cities, they’re slowly correcting this mistake.
On January 20, a new bylaw will go into effect in San Francisco eliminating the minimum parking requirements citywide, which was unanimously recommended after a review of the city’s transit, walking and cycling corridors. It will become the first city to remove minimum parking requirements for new housing and will greatly help with the new “transit first” policy.
Doing such a big move — though against what car owners want — is a move in the right direction because parking requirements add to auto traffic in cities, putting more pollution into the air and adding more congestion to the already crowded streets. Surface lots cost around $20,000 per space while garages can hit up to $50,000, according to a 2014 StreetsBlogLA article.
For decades, the Institute of Transportation Engineers has published recommendations so that developers can build enough spaces for their buildings, no matter the size. Apartment complexes need 1.6 spaces per unit, fast-food places need 9.95 spaces for every 1,000 square feet and abbeys need 0.1 space for each nun residing there. Even though these plans are based on data, it turns out that it might not be the best data to use — these guidelines weren’t meant to guide parking policies in cities.
City centres are suffering as a result of the push for more parking. Developers, required to spend millions on large parking lots that take up swaths of downtowns, overestimate the real parking needs, often times building much more than will ever be used.
Being the tech epicentre in the northern hemisphere, it’s not exactly a surprise that San Francisco is the first city to take this approach to urban planning. Uber, Lyft and Waymo are all available in the city and are taking bets that the future of transportation is autonomous — plus there’s an extensive network of light rail, train and bus routes to shuttle people around. The new “transit-as-a-service” model is being worked on more each day and in the future, we might be able to rent an autonomous vehicle to shuttle us off when it’s not being used for other purposes.
San Francisco has always been on the cusp of urban planning: stopping urban freeway construction in the 60s and building BART and Muni under Market Street, then removing the Embarcadero and Central freeways and installing bike lanes in the 90s.
This isn’t an attack on cars — as many people will claim — but an attempt to take back cities from the mismanaged way they were originally built, starting with the streets and downtown cores.