Monday, April 11, 2016

Traffic folly: Rush hour parking restrictions

This is the fifth in a series of explorations of urban spaces which were  ruined by traffic engineering and need to be saved by better urban design.

When it comes to reversing car-centric policies, parking plays a central role. Typically, a people- oriented urban policy would ask for less parking. Scarce parking options discourage the use of the car for shopping errands and commuting alike. A good example is Manhattan or Washington DC, where getting rid of the vehicle is a bigger problem than driving it.


From the perspective of a people-centric policy, Baltimore's transportation policies have approached the issue of parking mostly backwards. A large number of downtown parking garages provide ample car storage, luring people to use the car for commuting and events.

Sometimes, though, less parking is the problem: To make the ride into the city extra easy, arterials (on the periphery and in the core) have severe restrictions on parking. This policy in particular, favors commuters over residents.

To picture how hostile to residents rush-hour parking restrictions really are, one has to consider that urban living usually doesn't have the suburban driveways, parking pads or attached garages. A 15' foot wide rowhouse, a common abode, isn't even enough to mathematically allow a full size car for each house in the block to park in front. So, on-street parking is a sought after amenity for urban residents who have a car.

If the rush hour restriction begins usually at 7:30 in the morning; a resident is required to leave the house at precisely that time and go to work or find a new spot for the car in a side street, no matter whether the resident has a job, is ill, is a shift worker or is mobility impaired. Nothing in this city works as efficiently as parking enforcement. Enforcement staff and tow trucks are at the ready at 7:30am sharp. In the afternoon, the issue repeats itself at 3:30 or 4:00pm until 6:00 or 6:30 pm, the times vary slightly from corridor to corridor.

One would imagine that a City that tries to lure 10,000 households to settle inside its borders would do just about anything to make life in the city easy and comfortable. The rush hour parking restrictions are neither easy, nor comfortable. And they don't only penalize those existing or potential residents who own a car.  By bringing moving buses, trucks and  cars closer to the windows of the residence and closer to pedestrians on the sidewalks, for example waiting for a bus they penalize especially those who don't drive. Bringing noise, pollution and danger closer to those who deserve to be protected does not improve quality of life or make life in dis-invested communities attractive
Edmondson Avenue in the fifties, after removal of trolley tracks,
with  three lanes of traffic
Edmondson Avenue now, tiny sodewalks, restricted
parking (photo: ArchPlan)

There is no bigger insult than a big amount of slush splashed on a group of waiting transit users by a suburban car driver who has just left his heated garage and is speeding down the curb lane.

Rush hour parking restrictions work only, if the restriction area can be used as a full traffic lane during peak hours. For that the parking lane must be at least 10' wide, 9' for driving and 1' for the gutter. That is 2-3' wider than a regular full time parking area would have to be.
Rush hour parking controls, which ban parking on one side of a street during the morning and evening rush so more traffic can flow in the peak direction, are incompatible with most if not all types of bike lanes. (Chicago Streets Blog)
In changing its traffic follies from the fifties, for a more pedestrian friendly Baltimore, the City should convert those rush hour driving lanes to full time parking lanes. That would leave about 2-3' of extra space for bicyclists and allow the construction of "bulbs" in the 7' parking zone at intersections for a shorter pedestrian crossing distance, space for bus stop shelters and protected locations for street trees.

All this isn't rocket science. With a screwdriver and a bucket truck those offending signs could be removed overnight, with some paint the lanes could be reconfigured without much cost; and for those bulbs, they could be initially tested with railroad ties. No big traffic studies needed. Just do it for a three months test period, see what happens.
Peak-hour parking restrictions for general purpose travel should be limited or converted to other uses. Peak-hour lanes in urban areas, especially those that are directly next to the pedestrian's path of travel, should be avoided. Peak-hour parking restrictions also limit the use of many other beneficial treatments, such ascurb extensionsparklets, and bikeways. (NACTONational Association of City Transportation Officials)
One can pretty safely predict that in most cases the traffic could easily be accommodated without curb-lanes. Should a case arise, where traffic really collapses or where communities would be upset about some of the effects, the matter could easily be reverted in a specific area. Midtown and Mount Vernon, who fought for full time parking on Calvert and St Paul Streets, accomplished their goal years ago. The predicted doomsday never materialized. Let other communities have the same benefit!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Links:

Greater Greater Washington
Aliceanna Street: Baltimore Brew

Permanent parking, bulb outs and bike lanes (Uplands)
(photo: Gerald Neily)