Obviously, in the middle of this crisis, with lockdowns in place and ICU beds filling up, parking policy (like most things) isn’t important. We have much bigger fish to fry: maintaining a functioning health care system and supporting millions of people thrown off the payrolls are at the top of the list.
But we will make it through this, and when we do, the post-Coronavirus world is going to be very different. It’s too soon to say exactly how. But there are a few good hunches we can work on that indicate parking policy and parking reforms will still be important on the other side of the tunnel.
Cars aren’t going away
Whatever degree of normalcy we return to, we can be certain that plenty of people will continue to drive. Given the likely concerns about personal space and contact, it’s likely that people might choose to drive more. Even in walkable neighborhoods, people may choose to consolidate more trips to avoid going out as much, meaning that loading a car with groceries once a week might be preferable to making several trips on foot or by bicycle.
Curb management will be critical
While we can expect that many people will continue to drive, their behavior won’t be the same as it was before. More people will be picking up or dropping off goods. Folks may linger less. Who knows when mass events, movies, and concerts will resume at previous frequencies.
Perhaps we will see more options for people to reserve business-district parking spaces. Some services might move toward appointment-only access to reduce mingling and waiting. Many restaurants are offering curb-side pickup; we have yet to see how cities will accommodate queues and high-turnover parking on restaurant rows.
Deliveries, deliveries, deliveries
Amazon and online grocery shopping are booming, accelerating trends we’ve seen for some time. Making space available for delivery trucks and other services will take on a renewed importance. Cities should consolidate and streamline delivery services however possible, perhaps by working with companies to create more cargo hubs and hygienic package pickup locations (think:generalized Amazon Lockers).
To charge or not to charge?
We’ve already seen some cities reducing parking rates and limiting enforcement. Some of this is just compassionate common sense. If a city’s goal is to keep people inside, it is counterproductive to enforce non-safety-related parking restrictions. But there are different considerations when it comes to paid on-street parking and public garages.
Performance-based parking management means adjusting prices for demand. If demand is way down, due to a pandemic or a recession, then it makes sense for parking rates to fall as well. Unfortunately, most cities with demand based parking rates only adjust rates a few times a year. This is insufficient to manage demand in times of rapid change, like recession and recovery. Also, if there’s no mechanism to raise rates again when/if demand resumes, then cities should be wary about reducing it in the first place.
While the crisis is on-going and we are asking people to practice social distancing, efforts to bring more customers to business districts would be counter-productive. One approach cities could take would be to allow a 15 minute grace period on metered streets while demand is very low to accommodate pick-up and drop-off, but otherwise maintain parking rates as normal.
Municipal parking structures won’t pay for themselves. If they can’t be repurposed into something more helpful or productive in these times, then they should be closed or continue to charge.
Repurposing the Right-of-Way
I hope cities are stocking up on green and red paint.
As cities focus on the needs of connecting essential workers to jobs, this may be an opportunity to repurpose the right-of-way for bike lanes and transit priority. If we want people to maintain safe spacing we will need to expand transit service (and this is worth the investment) and give more space to people biking on busy routes. Do it while no one’s parked there!
Telecommuting is here to stay. Even if most office workers go back to work, the time and trouble companies will have invested in telecommuting and meeting won’t go to waste. Once your employees know that they CAN sometimes work from home productively, it will be harder to prevent them from doing so.
Cities should consider the possibility of requiring a certain percentage of the workforce to telecommute, perhaps on certain days of the week, both to manage congestion and to justify good policies like parking cash-out, parking maximums and reduced parking minimums. Rapid shifts in mode split, needed years ago and finally here, should not be taken for granted. Every effort should be used to preserve the progress made. It’s a potential silver lining to this tragedy.
Don’t give up hope
These are scary times and the future is uncertain. Take care of yourselves and don’t give up hope.
If parking reform is something that sparks joy for you, learn more about the Parking Reform Network. When the world starts moving again, we’ll be ready to shape it in ways that provide for more equitable transportation, more affordable and abundant housing, and serious climate action.