The average car moves just 5% of the time. To improve cities, focus on the other 95%
In Ireland people ask St Anthony to help them find parking spaces. In Chicago, if you shovel the snow from a space, it belongs to you. In Shanghai people beg their parents to reserve spaces by sitting in them. Everywhere parking is a big reason law-abiding people pay fines to the government and a cause of screaming rows between strangers. More important, it profoundly shapes cities — usually for the worse.
Parking spaces seem innocuous, just a couple of lines painted on asphalt. Multiplied and mismanaged, though, they can create traffic jams, worsen air pollution and force cities to sprawl. The cost and availability of parking affects people’s commuting habits more than the rapid buses and light-rail lines that cities are so keen to build (see article). Next to other worthy policies like congestion-charging and road-tolling, parking is also easy to change. The fast-growing metropolises of Africa and Asia, especially, need to get it right, before they repeat the West’s debilitating mistakes.
In many cities people can park on the street for nothing, or a pittance. In Boston most parking meters charge just $1.25 an hour; in Chennai the rate is 20 rupees (30 cents) a day. Because the number of people who would take advantage of such terrific deals, rather than pay a market rate to park in a garage, exceeds supply, drivers end up circling the block. Researchers have found that much traffic consists of drivers looking for spaces. The record is held by the German city of Freiburg — in one study 74% of cars were on the prowl.