When space costs the earth
Raising parking rates in the most congested areas will free up space by inspiring thrifty drivers to park farther from their destinations.
Cars are parked near empty spots at a residential building. Photo: AP

Parking space for idling cars is a menace our cities can never afford. Such space makes the car users lazy. Wedded to their cars, they do not want to walk even a few paces. They promote the babalog culture, an elitist cliché which has lost the nasty sting it used to carry in those pre-liberalisation days. Parking lots add to the city’s meaningless sprawl and density, something a people-intensive nation like India can do without.

This scourge has to be fought tooth and nail. Our city planners are doing a great disservice by dedicating multi-floor parking lots for the convenience of car-users.

‘Creates more harm’

Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, terms parking requirements as a curse on the country. “Parking requirements create great harm: they subsidise cars, distort transportation choices, warp urban form, increase housing costs, burden low-income households, debase urban design, damage the economy, and degrade the environment,” he writes in his book, The High Cost of Free Parking.

Every apartment that sells today has a price tag that carries the cost of land required for 6-ft. by 14 ft. car, the cost of almost a small home that we fail to provide to the urban poor. Similarly, every drive-in that pops up in our constricted urban space adds the cost component to every takeaway pizza, steak or kebab that we happily munch.

“Parking appears free because its cost is widely dispersed in slightly higher prices for everything else,” explains Shoup. “Because we buy and use cars without thinking about the cost of parking, we congest traffic, waste fuel, and pollute the air more than we would if we each paid for our own parking. Everyone parks free at everyone else’s expense, and we all enjoy our free parking, but our cars are choking our cities.”

In 1961, when the city of Oakland, California, started requiring apartments to have one parking space per apartment, housing costs per apartment increased by 18 per cent, and urban density declined by 30 per cent. It’s a pattern that’s spread across the U.S. Someone needs to work out the cost in the Indian context.

Idle spaces

According to Patrick Siegman, a transportation planner, who is a principal with Nelson Nygaard Consulting Associates in San Francisco, parked cars occupy more space than actual working space required by people in an office or diners in a restaurant. Since offices and restaurants work during specific hours, most of the time these spaces remain idle. It may also be the case that mall builders build parking lots for the busiest day — may be the days prior to Deepavali or Ayudha Puja — but on normal days they are filled with just half their capacity or less. Naturally, the cost of the idle spaces is passed on to the buyers via rents.

Looking for the elusive parking space around shopping malls and busy downtowns too creates hassles. A parking slot is never available for the asking, say, for a family being driven for shopping to Abids in Hyderabad, M.G. Road or Brigade Road in Bangalore or T.Nagar commercial area in Chennai. So, slow-moving cars looking for a parking space keep circling around the area, creating gridlocks, and this takes away one lane from the busy roads.

Shoup studied a 15-block district in Los Angeles and found that drivers spent an average of 3.3 minutes looking for parking, driving about half a mile each. Over the course of a year, Shoup calculated the cruising in that small area would amount to 950,000 excess miles travelled, equal to 38 trips around the earth, wasting about 47,000 gallons of gas, and producing 730 tonnes of carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming.

Now have a look at how some schools vans bringing kids to those elite schools in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai are allowed to park two lanes for the busier part of the day for no cost. Who ultimately suffers? It is the city folk daring to enter the business districts in these metropolises.

Bring in creative ideas

Traffic planners should come up with creative ideas. Free to ride ‘hop-on-hop-off’ maxi-cab shuttles could be run between commercial areas and metro stations. They could have request stops for users.

It is time we too linked street parking to the rentals or market value of land, so that it can compete with lots and garages. Raising parking rates in the most congested areas will free up space by inspiring thrifty drivers to park farther from their destinations and will motivate our babalogs to walk a few paces to catch the bus or train. It will also enable our neo-elites to stay in touch with the aam aadmi, briefly though.

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