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

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 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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