Will a Limit on Car Parking Boost CBD Fortunes?
by Steven Burgess
Steven Burgess is a director of Complete Streets, an Australian owned firm dedicated to building happier and healthier towns and cities through better street making.
Happy people and great places, or road space and car parking. You have to choose. They are mutually exclusive. We know this. Even in small cities like Hobart, people don’t like lots of traffic in their main streets. When we ask Tasmanians what is important to them in their centres, they say they want their centres to be clean, green, safe, respectful of the island’s history, they want a nighttime economy, they want local festivals and activities. They never say ‘I want more traffic’.
Despite this there has been a little bit of crankiness regarding the strategies the governments (local and state) are implementing to make the CBD and other surrounding urban centres more people friendly by removing some of the car-created stress from the environment. The large shopping centres with their worldwide shareholders are already on to this. They don’t let cars come anywhere near their shopfronts, and they discourage commuters from parking in their centres. They make you park miles away and walk to a car-free environment, where you spend a lot of time. Nobody just runs in and gets a packet of gum or the newspaper. You invested in the trip, you end up staying for a long time, and therefore spend more money.
The most successful main streets around the world are the same. Pitt Street in Sydney or, on a Hobart scale, Cuba Street in Wellington are two good examples. They are extremely difficult to get to by car and parking is very scarce. They discourage commuters and are very successful places. They are quality people-oriented places. When centres have too much parking and road space instead of green space and people space, shoppers and commuters drive right into centres, park really close to where they want to go. Shoppers do just the one task and leave. If patrons have the opportunity to do this long term, the centre will fail for a few reasons.
The most obvious one is if people just walk a short distance from the car to the primary destination, shops don’t get a chance to sell you anything. The shopping centres make you walk past as many shops as possible, which improves their level of engagement. If centres have plenty of car access and parking, it is simply not worth improving public transit access, when we invest in the car mode, we get more car trips. If car travel is given a rails run it is too difficult for buses, ferries or light rail to compete. Also, all that traffic movement makes a place very unfriendly for people. People will visit less, stay for less time and spend less money.
I’m sure there are plenty of social and environmental reasons for limiting car travel in cities, but the bottom line is the bottom line. If you want your centres to attract investment, create jobs and make money, then you have to get more cars out. Hobart’s City Deal is a chance to break the nexus. To invest in public transport to provide communities, some for the first time, a genuine choice on how to get to the city. Public transport can be a genuine alternative, rather than a last resort and Hobart can join the rest of the world in a race to the top. The less parking you build, the less car traffic you have, the better your public transport becomes, the more money your urban centres make, the more jobs you create. No exceptions. Let’s get about it.
Parking or no parking? You can share your opinion on CBD car parking via email@example.com.