How to restrict parking without protest

Parking takes up a lot of space on valuable land that the community pays for. Zurich has tackled the problem successfully.

The Swiss city of Zurich was one of the first in the world to tear up its traditional parking policy. In 1996 it took a ‘historic decision’ to freeze the number of parking spaces in the city. ‘After that date, before a new parking facility could open, another one had to close’, explains city spokesman Heiko Ciceri. ‘The majority of the new spaces have been created underground, giving us more pedestrian areas and recreational space for residents.’

Zurich city parking

A car park in Zurich

Zurich also sets a maximum for the number of cars allowed on the city’s roads. When road surface sensors detect that the maximum has been reached, the traffic lights around the city stay on red. This may cause congestion on the ring road, but inner-city traffic jams are a thing of the past.

The council had expected protests from residents, but the opposite proved true. ‘They love it’, says Heiko Ciceri. ‘They’ve got a liveable city in return. Of course, that all depends on excellent public transport to give residents an alternative way to get from A to B.’

Liveability in Los Angeles

This comes as no surprise to Donald Shoup. As Professor of Urban planning at the University of California he identified the problematic aspects of parking 20 years ago. His 1995 book ‘The High Cost Of Free Parking ’ describes how much space parking actually takes up. In the city of Los Angeles – with all its housing issues – almost 14% of the space is used for parking.

‘People see it as their right to park the car exactly where they need to be and some folks get furious when they think that right is being taken away,’ says Shoup. ‘But when they see the improvements it can bring to the city, the protest dies down.’

Shoup advises municipalities around the world to take parking off the street if possible, to charge a realistic price for underground facilities and to use the money for neighbourhood liveability projects. ‘I’ve never seen furious protests from residents about getting more clean, green spaces with terraces and playgrounds nearby.’

City-centre residents subsidise motorists

Anyone who think’s city-centre parking is a nightmare now, had better prepare for worse. Take the Netherlands: in some parts of central Rotterdam you pay € 4 an hour for parking. Compare that to € 5 an hour in Utrecht and the € 7,50 an hour tariff that Amsterdam will introduce in May 2019.

Other cities are even more expensive. Take New York. The Global Parking Index 2017 (which compares the costs of over 50 million parking spaces around the world) lists two parking facilities in New York which would cost you € 27,50 an hour. OK, so that’s the most expensive parking space in the world. But on average in New York you should expect to pay € 14,50 per hour.

Put simply, parking costs the community money. Parking facilities have to be built and managed, and parking spaces have to be fenced off, cleaned, kept secure and well-lit. The more money a municipality spends on this, the less it can spend on other tasks. ‘In fact, the residents subsidise motorists’, says Shoup.

Parking does cost more in the centre of popular cities. ‘A parking space covers around 12 m²’, says Giuliano Mingardo, a researcher in transport economics at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. A parking permit for a central canal location in Amsterdam costs € 535 per year, ‘but that’s disproportionate when you consider the high rents charged for canal-side apartments.’

It’s no different for cities like New York, London or Bangkok. Yet politicians rarely have the nerve to hike parking prices. They fear angry responses from citizens and worry about damage to the local economy. Yet there is enough academic research to show that a high parking tariff has no influence on customer numbers or retail turnover. In fact, Mingardo argues, councils can attract more shoppers and day-trippers through investment in attractive city centres than through pleasant parking prices. After all, nobody decides to take the car to a shopping mall just because the parking is free, they go for the selection of retail outlets.’

Image and text adapted from: Volkskrant article Parkeren indammen zonder protest