New Orleans We could be in the middle of a huge social change in the urban environment and among city dwellers that is either happening now, or on the verge of erupting or blossoming, depending on your point of view, right in front of us. I’m talking about the twins never separated for long since birth: cars and parking.
Let’s bring the strands together and see what happens.
- Climate change has hit motor vehicles up the head, forcing hybrid, EV, and other smaller, more efficient cars and trucks to become increasingly on offer and popular.
- Land shortages for needed housing construction, especially affordable housing, are taking aim at parking lots as potential construction sites.
- The demand for more locations for alternative energy sources, especially solar arrays, have also targeted parking lots.
- The increasing utilization of manual and e-bikes and scooters have put pressure on cities to create more safe lanes, and that often has meant eliminating parking.
- More young people are not running to get driver’s licenses. Data collected from the Federal Highway Administration and analyzed by Green Car Congress showed that in 2018 approximately 61% of 18-year-olds in the U.S. had a driver’s license, down from 80% percent in 1983. The number of 16-year-olds with licenses decreased from 46% to 25% in the same period.
- Parking spaces are becoming a new kind of issue with cities wanting to reduce them, rather than expand them. The US has about two billion parking spots— nearly seven for every car. In some cities, as much as 14 percent of land area is covered with the black asphalt. California recently capped parking in cities with robust mass transit, and Oregon capped it for cities of a certain size.
- The continued struggle to repopulate offices post-pandemic, increasingly looks like a standoff with more hybrid work and home-based workers, reducing commutes and threatening central business districts.
Put all of this together, and you don’t need to be a futurist to understand that in cities, the trend line is fewer cars, fewer drivers and increased demand to repurpose parking spots and find higher purpose and utilization for parking lots.
Having gotten my driver’s license at 14 ½ and pushing 100,000 miles on my four-year-old pickup, I find this almost unimaginable. I can remember getting praise from a store owner on Canal Street in downtown New Orleans for my ability to parallel park at 15. The notion of not being able to drive and take to the road anytime to go anywhere I might need or want is a foreign to me as Siberia. I bought a motorcycle at 18. A used Ford Econoline van at 19, and so on and so on. I’ve never been without big wheels and the will to ride them.
If driving and parking demand is decreasing, we have to wonder if city fathers rather than urban planners are getting the message? Staring ACORN in 1970, having a car and a driver’s license was an essential term and condition of employment, only relieved later as we expanded in New York City, Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere that offered mass transit opportunities. This kind of infrastructure costs big money, and that’s a Build Back Better project of a magnitude that Congress and the President haven’t grasped.
It seems obvious that change is all around us, and it’s happening, but we’re nowhere near ready.