Monday 25 May 2009

Trying to reduce car usage by restricting residential car parking

Street scene in a new British development
I was delighted to hear on the TV a few weeks ago that Essex in the UK has realised the folly of trying to reduce the usage of cars simply by reducing the availability of spaces to park them in new residential areas.

It has been policy in the UK for many years now to provide inadequate space for cars to be parked with the idea that this will somehow result in fewer people owning and using cars.

Cars cars cars, in the way because people have not been provided with enough space to park.
The result has been a mess in new developments, such as that shown here: "The Quills" in Histon, near Cambridge where we used to live. This seemed also to be pretty much the pattern for other new developments in the area.

And yet more cars even on corners. Residents are given no reason to cycle, but also nowhere to put their car
I took these three photos a couple of years ago when we lived in Cambridge. This housing development was not yet finished, and not all houses were occupied, yet the pavements (sidewalks) were already covered in cars. The route out of this estate by bicycle is the same as the car route, and rather drag-strip like.

I was astonished then that people would buy a house in such an area and I'm still astonished. These places are made ugly by the presence of cars and everyone who lives here and owns a car has stress added to their lives because of the difficulty of parking the car.

Dutch residential parking

Dutch street scene: Design to encourage cycling. Car parking is given separate space. In addition to these spaces, these homes also have garages and extra parking at the rear.
By way of contrast, here are three photos of how new Dutch housing areas look, taking as an example the nearest new housing estate to our home in Assen. This isn't an exceptionally cycle friendly design, but rather what is now quite standard in the Netherlands. It's not a new thing, but more or less what has been normal for over twenty years.

By bike you have more routes and more direct routes than by car with routes for cars and for bikes unravelled from one another. As a result of this and the presence of many cycle-paths, cycling is an attractive alternative to driving.
Note the wide cycle paths. Also that there is adequate car parking for the cars owned by the population. Drivers are not left "fighting" over an inadequate number of car spaces.

No-one parks their car on the pavement or on the cycle path. There's no need to do so. As a result, neighbourhood conflict due to parking is very uncommon and of course cycling or walking through this area is easy.

No need to obscure the cycle-path when there is ample room to park elsewhere. Concrete setts built into the grass provide hard standing for additional visitors' cars. The house also has parking at the rear for residents' vehicles. The cycle-path is over 3 metres wide. In addition there is a separate 2 metre wide pavement (sidewalk)
It's pleasant to cycle through residential areas in the Netherlands because they are not dominated by cars.

The design encourages cycling by positive steps, not by trying to make owning a car unpleasant.

That's the difference in attitude:
  • Focus on making cycling pleasant, safe and direct as has been done in the Netherlands and it has a chance of becoming popular.
  • Focus instead on making conditions bad for driving and you'll simply end up with grumpy drivers.
Car ownership in the UK used to be lower than that of the Netherlands. Now it's the other way around.

Carrot or stick ?

More about Kloosterveen
Read more posts about this new Dutch suburb. Not only does it cater for peoples' private cars, but it is also a place where 2/3rds of primary school children cycle to school as well as virtually all older children. The shopping centre prioritizes cyclists and pedestrians and there is excellent access by public transport.

If people are provided with pleasant enough conditions for cycling then cycling becomes a positive choice for a large percentage of the population. No anti-car policies are required


Kevin Love said...

Here in Toronto such cars would be towed away and impounded by the police. It looks like the problem in the UK is a lack of adequate law enforcement.

We don't have this problem here. Numerous caraholics complain about the lack of car parking in Toronto, but they don't park on the sidewalk. The City makes a massive profit on parking enforcement due to enormous fines which must be paid by the offender to get his car back.

In many cases, the fines are higher than the value of the car, so people just walk away from their car forever.

Brent said...

The BART public transit system in the San Francisco area tried a similar approach. They restricted parking near stations in hopes of encouraging alternative means of getting to them. However, since there are few or no viable alternative ways to get to BART stations...well, you know the rest.

David Hembrow said...

Kevin, you're right that there is a lack of enforcement, but that is far from the only problem.

Because conditions for cycling are very often unpleasant, many people see no realistic alternative to driving to make their journeys.

Drivers paying an enormous amount in fines to use the roads in a way which feels to them as the only realistic way of getting about does not make for a happy society.

What is needed is urban design which makes cars optional. Perhaps even undesirable. This is not what Britain is doing.

davoz said...

But better enforcement simply makes life difficult for ordinary people who have nowhere sensible to park their car in a counrty with poor alternatives to the car.

Is it cycnical to wonder if the reason might be that it allows developers to cram more tiny boxes/'houses' on the site = makes more money?

The so-called 'eco-towns' which have nothing ecological about them and the changes in the planning regs to allow central govt quangos to overrule local decisions shows where power lies.

The corruption of democracy in the UK goes far wider than MP's expenses.

Karl McCracken (twitter: @karlonsea) said...

Thought provoking, as ever. When I read the title, I thought you were going to be advocating limited car parking spaces.

I'm curious about this whole carrot & stick thing. If you were to write a list of concrete (no pun intended) actions that make for more cycling & lower car use, what would they be? By concrete, I mean actual examples of the infrastructure & stuff, rather than concepts such as "make cycling safe".

John said...

i can certainly see how this makes sense, in theory its a good idea but without providing adequate alternative means its little more then an annoyance. true parking on walks is a problem and needs to be enforced. i wonder if there is not a bit of backlash against the cyclists and cycle users that live in these examples, because of their ability to park inside at night properly, it would make sense if everybody is pissed due to the lack of parking anyway...

Erik Sandblom said...

I have to disagree with you on this David. The BBC article is about the size of the spots, not the number of spots. Secondly I have to question the judgement of those buying cars that won't fit in their parking spots, and those buying houses too small to fit their car. It's up to the car owner to find a suitable spot, and if they don't, they get ticketed and towed. Simple as that.

You're probably right that the councils are not doing the right things to promote cycling, but I assume they have reasonable provisions for public transportation and walking.

I understand Groningen is a hassle to drive in because you can't drive from end to the other, you always have to go around. You can't make it easy to drive everywhere, or you will have so much car traffic that you scare away pedestrians and cyclists.

I don't feel that high car ownership is part of the answer. If the idea is that people seldom drive, why assume that everybody has a car? Modern carpools are a better idea. You book the car over the internet and unlock the car with a smart card.

Anonymous said...

I agree that parking enforcement is sorely missing throughout the UK. But more serious IMHO has been and is still the complete lack of consideration for cyclists at all stages of the planning, construction and renovation of such areas.

David Hembrow said...

Erik: The size of parking spaces and particularly garages has also been a problem for people in the UK.

It's true that Groningen is split into four so that it's impossible to drive from one side to the other direct through the middle. It's true that it can be difficult to find parking for cars in the centre of the city, and that this is part of what has given the city the highest cycling rate in the world. However, there is plenty of car parking at people's homes.

I agree with you that high car ownership isn't desirable. But that's the point. This is part of a policy which has successfully lead to lower car ownership.

The clever thing is that it has done so without irritating a large part of the population on a daily basis. When you look at the UK you find that policies are irritating motorists without providing any good way of getting about without a car. It's not just cycling, they're not providing well for public transport or walking either. For many people there, driving is felt to be a necessity as it's the least terrible way of getting about.

Anyway, talking of Groningen, I'm working there today and have to get on my bike now. So that's all.

Sexify: The complete lack of regard for cyclists in British planning is exactly the issue.

David Hembrow said...

Oh, and before I go there myself, here's a link showing a modern residential street in Groningen. Plenty of space for neat and tidy car parking. Not many cars.

It may seem a paradox, but people see that they have a choice here. And doesn't it look a lot nicer than the pictures from the new estate in Cambridge ?

Kevin Love said...

There is zero car parking where I live in Toronto. There is zero car parking where I work in Toronto.

To rent off-site parking is about $225 per month. The nearest place to do that is about 300 M from where I live and 200 M from where I work.

So to drive to work, I would have to pay $450 for parking and walk 500 M to and from the car each way.

It is much easier and faster to bike to work.

David Hembrow said...

Kevin: There are a few places like that in the UK too. However, they're not popular with everyone, and they've not done much to make cycling a big part of the transport picture either in Canada or the UK (which have respectively 2% and 1% of trips by bike).

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for driving, living in such a place seems to me a bit like self flagellation. If at some point in the future I should need to drive a car for some reason, I don't want a load of hassle or expense.

That's what is so interesting about how it is here in NL. The policy here is much more successful than anything that's been achieved by "punishing" drivers. Staggering numbers of people choose to use bicycles and they do so not because they've got no parking spaces for cars or because they are being charged money to park, but because it's more convenient and more pleasant to go by bike. Carrot instead of stick.

Besides, garages are jolly useful in order to be able to store lots of bicycles !

OldGreyBeard said...

But you also have to stop people converting the garage into a room at a later date

zmau said...

Kevin, Toronto concept of zero free parking sounds vary interesting to me. What about these $225 and $450 per month ? Is it market price on some private parkings, or city politics ?
I think people should pay what they use, and that should be a good way to allocate space optimally.
So, what about transport in Toronto ? Do many people pay those prices to use a car in the city ?

Brian M said...

while I agree with some of your points, you are missing pretty seriously the bigger picture in places like Toronto. How can one easily provide easy cheap parking in the central business district of a dense, international business capital like Toronto? Similarly, one pays dearly in places like Manhattan and San Francisco as well. Are you arguing these cities should accomodate more parking, more cars? How can that work? What impacts on air quality, on demand for freeway infrastructure, are you willing to make.

In these cases, it IS legitimate public policy to ACTIVELY discourage private automobile use. For those who cannot survive without their two tons of steel and plastic, there are sterile suburban office parks and cul de sac subdivisions which can accomodate them.

But in a metropolitan business Downtown Toronto is not small town suburban Holland. It's not self flagellation, it's living in a metropolitan, no national, business center. if one MUST drive, one should expect to pay dearly for the privelege.

David Hembrow said...


Your points are not without merit, but consider one thing. How successful have Canada's policies been in reducing dependency on cars ? The answer is of course not very successful especially when compared with a country where "parking hell" looks like this.

Most of the impacts that you are talking about (on air or freeway infrastructure) come about due to use of cars not ownership per se. Cars are over-used because they offer a degree of safety and convenience which is greater than that of other modes, not simply because people own cars. The successful policies of the Netherlands reverse the aspects of convenience and safety to make cycling attractive enough that it becomes a mode of transport used by everyone, whether they wish to live in the city centre or in the suburbs (suburbs don't have to be "sterile", they can be rather attractive).

By comparison, trying to reduce the use of cars by making it awkward to park is at the very least a rather blunt measure. It's akin to trying to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy by making it inconvenient to get sex advise (look at how well that turned out). Some countries simply have better policies than others.

Note that average Canadian commute distances are not nearly as long as many Canadians think they are.

André said...

Apart from the "carrot or stick" argument (don't make driving worse, make cycling and public transport better), there is also the "car usage vs. car ownership" point of view to look at this: Reducing residential car space is NOT going to reduce car usage, except insofar as it might cause some people to do away with their car altogether. Dutch policy is not aimed at people getting rid of their cars, but at having them use them less - by getting them to make the most appropriate mode (walking, cycling, car, public transport) for each trip rather than a default one to use every time.