A common refrain of this series is the notion that an awful lot of our existing paved street area is over-dedicated to fast through traffic. That is, we have too many lanes on most of our roads that are set aside for cars moving really fast through our neighborhoods. The consequences of this are important to consider:

  1. It gives priority to people who live a remote distance instead of people who live in a neighborhood. 
  2. The trade-off always involves less comfort and safety for pedestrians, cyclists or transit users.
  3. Giving the nod to fast-moving traffic harms storefront businesses along those streets.

The final point is an important one to consider when looking at rush-hour parking restrictions. In many communities, the idea of not allowing parking from 7-9 AM or 4-6 PM is perceived as a good compromise. During high-traffic times, all lanes are dedicated to moving cars, and during slower times people can park on the street. Sounds like a win-win, right?

Except, it’s actually more of a lose, lose in most situations.

Any business that actually sits up on the street, as we aim to do in walkable neighborhoods, relies extensively on on-street parking for its customer base, (this is to temporarily put to the side the other benefits of on-street parking, which will be discussed in a separate piece). That space is the most valuable to a business, and ultimately to a city, as it is convenient and accessible especially for impulse buying. To some folks that may sound trivial, but to a business owner impulse buying and a convenient way to access their customers are fundamental to survival. Some retail consultants in fact have stated that each curbside space is worth $300,000 annually in retail sales.

And so, it’s clear that these spaces mean a lot. So why then can’t we just compromise and allow traffic to move quickly in rush hour? Because that’s precisely when those business need access to the curbside spots. Rush hour is the exact time when the most people will drive by a business, notice it and potentially stop to buy something. If the curbside spots are made unavailable, our human nature will kick in and we will just drive by.

The trade-off will mean slower commutes, especially for those traveling a long distance. Beyond the philosophical question of why some neighborhoods should have their quality of life sacrificed for those that are more distant, the bigger question is don’t we want to encourage thriving commerce in our walkable areas? If the answer is yes (I certainly hope so), then we need to look to maximize the opportunities for their business success, and job #1 in that regard is to enable on-street parking at all hours. And in many cases, this can be done simply by removing a sign.

No Parking

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3 Responses to Recapturing valuable pavement on the Path to Prosperity: Remove Rush-Hour Parking Restrictions

  1. Casey Frank says:

    It almost goes without saying that the faster the auto traffic goes, the less safe it is for pedestrians. It’s possible that the curbside parking space is directly only partially responsible for the $300k in annual sales that you referred to. The rest of it may come from the safer pedestrian environment created by slowing down auto traffic. This is speculation on my part. I’d like to dig into the research if you’d care to post a link.

  2. Kevin says:

    Hi Casey-
    I first heard the number in a presentation from Bob Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group in Birmingham, MI. Bob is a retail design specialist. Not sure his original source – might have been a ULI deal.

    Thanks,

    Kevin

  3. Tom says:

    hmm… Traffic does not move only through retail areas, it moves through residential, industrial, blighted, etc. Retail considerations should not dominate the decision making. And what percentage of “storefront businesses” are seeing volume at 7-9 a.m. anyway? Must we accept increased congestion so bakeries and coffeeshops can provide convenient parking to their patrons? Why? As to your other points: 1. Define “remote distance.” Do commuters lose status when they travel 10 blocks from home? 20? 2. Pedestrians, perhaps. But surely mass transit is a beneficiary of extra lanes. I miss rush hour parking in Chicago. It seemed a reasonable way of dealing with temporary and predictable volume increases. (It also provided a window for more reliable street cleaning.)

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