#11: Healthy Communities are willing to make tough choices.

Free Parking

One step in the transition to pedestrian friendly streets

The streets in many neighbourhoods don’t have sidewalks or pathways.

Why?  Cost – I’m told.

But if we’re short of funds, why are so many streets wide enough for two lanes of traffic plus parking on each side? Or – put another way…why do we offer free parking in residential areas?

The answer is so simple that I’m surprised that it took me so long to ask the question.

The reason I took so long to ask the question is that I – like everyone else was brought up in the age of car culture. No… more than car culture – car entitlement. We assume that providing every possible convenience for car owners is just a given. That everyone would support it. That we all benefit – so it’s all good.

But as soon as you ask the question you start to see it from a different angle.

Who is paying for these two extra lanes of asphalt? (Not just building it, but snow clearing and maintenance.) All of us, of course.  And who uses the asphalt?  Well the guests of the property owners, and increasingly, the property owners themselves. Why enlarge your driveway to accommodate your three-vehicle lifestyle when the city gives you free parking?

On one short street near us one owner, who runs a Lawn Care business, routinely parks at least one of his work vehicles on the street.

Everyone uses and everyone pays – right?

Well no … just car owners use that asphalt.  Pedestrians don’t use it.   So why don’t the people who use cars pay for their parking spots? Why do I get to pay?

Well of course this is just one of a thousand ways in which we support, subsidize and encourage car use. I live in a condo – in an area with no reasonably close on-street parking. We have to provide visitor parking for our guests. We have to pay for it while my taxes go to paying for visitor parking for homeowners who are richer than I am.

That’s it in a nutshell.

The solution. Well, take that four-lane street. Divide it down the middle.  Assign one side for cars and one side for bikes and pedestrians (Did I mention that, like so many of our streets, there is no sidewalk. Then I get to use it when I drive and when I walk or bike.

Let the property owners provide parking for their excess vehicles and guests – the way I already do for mine.

Tax fairness and environmental action – all in one – at a fairly low cost to the taxpayer.  The real cost will be for the ones who use the parking. Why is that not fair?

We haven’t even begun to seriously discourage car culture. We could start by stopping the subsidization of the destruction of our planet in a hundred little ways.

**For a serious examination of this issue check out the work of Donald Shoup, the author of "The High Cost of Free Parking".