Is a city for people or for cars?
I just returned from Ottawa, where I spoke to the Association of Municipalities Ontario about the benefits bicycling has for communities. Specifically, they asked me to address the thorny issue of parking and other accommodations for vehicles. My message was one that runs contrary to what most local chambers of commerce and developers would tell you: build less parking. In fact, try to reduce whatever amount you already have.
I told them that I've never visited a successful city that has free and ample parking and doesn't have at least some traffic congestion. Show me a city where it's hard to find a parking spot, and I'll show you a successful place.
The most successful cities in the world are reducing -- not increasing -- parking availability for cars in their downtowns, while at the same time they're struggling to keep up with parking demands of cyclists. Copenhagen has steadily reduced the number of parking spaces in its downtown each year for the last four decades, and Paris has eliminated 9% of its parking since 2003. In some cases, street parking being is replaced by bike or transit lanes, and those spaces are being replaced with a ramp. But in other cases, car parking spaces are simply being eliminated altogether.
The Canadian transportation ministry has published a case study that concludes: "In many cases, managing parking effectively can increase property values, enhance business opportunities, mitigate developer impacts, provide opportunities for active and sustainable transportation and improve traffic circulation."
But won't this be bad for downtown businesses? No, not if it's implemented correctly. Since Copenhagen started to cut back on parking, shopping in the central district has increased fourfold.
The city of Madison has an upcoming opportunity to face this issue. Soon the city will have to make a decision about how big to build the underground ramp that will replace the aging Government East Garage on South Pinckney Street. It could replace the 500 or so existing spaces, or build a ramp almost three times as big. The smart thing to do will be to barely replace the existing spots or, if more are built there, reduce the number of spots in other places downtown by the same amount.