April 7, 2017 4:35 AM   Subscribe

Parking can seem like the most humdrum concern in the world. Even planners, who thrill to things like zoning and floor-area ratios, find it unglamorous. But parking influences the way cities look, and how people travel around them, more powerfully than almost anything else. Many cities try to make themselves more appealing by building cycle paths and tram lines or by erecting swaggering buildings by famous architects. If they do not also change their parking policies, such efforts amount to little more than window-dressing. How not to create traffic jams, pollution and urban sprawl (from The Economist) posted by chavenet (28 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Beijing’s parking minimums were laid down in 2003, before driving took off,...
Long before that date, cars routinely blocked sidewalks by parking all over them. Nice, decoratively-tiled walking spaces were (and probably still are -- it's been a while since I was there) frequently broken up by the weight of private vehicles, which they were not designed to support. During CP meetings at the Great Hall of the People, Tiananmen Square becomes a parking lot for bigwigs, their cars protected by a cordon of armed sentries to keep everyone away. Driving "took off" as soon as the newly-affluent masses could afford a car, and it was one of the first things they spent their new money on. The city was completely unprepared for it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:56 AM on April 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

One more decade of parking, after that we will just say "car, go hide - be back at 2pm".
posted by sammyo at 4:57 AM on April 7, 2017 [9 favorites]

but where will the car hide? And how much power will it use, hiding? And why deny other people the use of the car while you're not using it - why not instead say 'thanks for the taxi ride, please pick me up at 2pm"?
posted by Fraxas at 5:22 AM on April 7, 2017 [11 favorites]

Yep, self driving cars are going to change this problem significantly, likely perching in secure peripheral areas adjacent to metros. Then we can turn car parks to real parks.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:25 AM on April 7, 2017

Fraxas: you'll have both. There will be more of a sliding ownership scale than there is now. The issue is our transportation usage is very spiky, there isn't much demand during the day relative to commute times.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:27 AM on April 7, 2017

I think there are some very magical things you can do once we start having car subscriptions with logistical central planning. Car picks you up. Takes you to driverless bus or rail. Then a fleet of last mile vans and cars take you to work.

Ironically, I could see traffic in places with good public transportation, like new York, increase during non-commuting hours when it's just as cheap to get around via car service as it is subway.
posted by mayonnaises at 6:01 AM on April 7, 2017

One more decade of parking, after that we will just say "car, go hide - be back at 2pm".

Right now, the roads are full at rush hour and every car has at least one person in it. You are proposing a solution where the number of rush hour cars is doubled, since every car now makes an empty trip as well as a full trip. Except it might be more like trebled, since one strong driver of transit, walking and cycling is the high cost of parking. So we've solved the challenge of providing parking (one that's already solved, by the way) by merely massively increasing traffic in the times and places our roads are already stretched to the limit.

If we allow everybody's car to drive itself around without anybody in it, the game is over. The climate game, the traffic game, the cities game.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:21 AM on April 7, 2017 [11 favorites]

I think the dream of self-driving cars finding their own parking for you is rather predicated on the idea that there are enough places to park to go around and that it'll get there without using up more than half its battery.

The calculus seems to be that if it's convenient enough to get around via bicycle or public transport compared to a car, people will prefer that. The cost doesn't really enter into it, because you're usually paying for a bunch of trips at once; what actually matters is how fast it is, how convenient, and whether it's a pleasant trip.
posted by Merus at 6:22 AM on April 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I can only imagine the moralizing middle age millennials will be doing when young "fly heads" start illegally parking their vertcars on building roofs. Oh the headlines about how hoverboard Facade Grinders represent the dissolution of modern society!
posted by ethansr at 7:32 AM on April 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm on both the land use and transportation committees of my local neighborhood council, and I wish I could make this required reading for everyone with opinions on parking.
posted by klangklangston at 10:16 AM on April 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

My town has been trying to tackle this issue. From an article in February -
Two big changes are proposed to parking in Grand Rapids' downtown zone district: new developments wouldn't be required to provide parking spaces - and new surface parking lots would be prohibited.
The thinking is that the difficulty of finding parking downtown is holding back business and growth, so they want people to use alternate transportation like park-and-ride lots, or bicycle etc.
posted by rebent at 10:31 AM on April 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Every prolonged conversation about self driving cars between reasonable people goes like this:

1) self driving cars would reduce city-center parking and be more efficient! how great

2) however on the road they're not anymore geometrically efficient than regular cars; and since they're driving around empty a lot they would actually increase congestion.

3) I guess we'll have to put multiple people in the same vehicle.

4) in busy areas the vehicles might as well have predetermined routes that people get on and off where they please; the routes might vary depending on demand, but in general they'd be predictable since the movement of people around cities is predictable on the aggregate

And in four easy conversational steps you've invented a bus! give it a minute and you might put it on rails to increase fuel efficiency.
posted by bracems at 10:39 AM on April 7, 2017 [37 favorites]

I'm not denying that the self driving aspect makes this a better bus, and saves cost since you don't have to pay the driver, but any high-capacity network of self driving vehicles is going to very closely resemble a city bus system, aside from the rural/exurban fringes where there's more single-occupant riding.
posted by bracems at 10:42 AM on April 7, 2017

My city ran an online survey about downtown parking recently, and the thing that I noted is that (a) I don't often have much trouble finding a spot when I do drive but (b) people will always complain because it's harder relative to the very nearby sprawling mall & strip malls.

We've had so much downtown parking meter drama the last few years! As a person who primarily gets around by bus, I find it sort of hilarious. Also, when one of the city council candidates ran on a "free parking downtown" platform, that was my automatic No vote decision.
posted by epersonae at 11:25 AM on April 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

And then there are people who consider a four city block walk from their car to their destination an affront to their dignity.
posted by notreally at 1:30 PM on April 7, 2017

If you are willing to walk, you can always find parking. A lot of congestion is caused by drivers who want to park within one block of their destination, rather than just finding a space 3 blocks away.
posted by chaz at 1:57 PM on April 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well-meaning coworker: "Oh, you're taking the bus today? Would you like a ride to the stop?"

Me: "Thanks for offering! But no, it's a longer walk to your car than to my bus stop." (It's a big parking lot, though not unusually large for a suburban office park building.)

I always notice that people don't seem to count the time walking from their parked car to the office door as part of their commute time. Honest door-to-door time assessments usually make transit and biking look more appealing than the standard parking space-to-parking space ones do.
posted by asperity at 2:10 PM on April 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Surely in this age of video communications we ought to be removing businesses from cities altogether.
posted by Burn_IT at 4:22 PM on April 7, 2017

And in four easy conversational steps you've invented a bus!

People say this like it's a gotcha. But the great thing about bus-like use of self driving cars is that there isn't really a minimum size. Right now the bus route goes to only about 10 minutes walk from my house and arrives 10 minutes walk from my workplace. Presumably there's not enough demand for a bus-sized vehicle that goes that last stretch. And there's no profit in running a minibus or large van, because the driver still costs the same. But with self driving buses you could afford to run smaller ones along more varied routes more frequently.
posted by lollusc at 11:19 PM on April 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

It seems like there is a lot of talk of transfers here like it is no big deal, but that is a huge hassle. It is easy to say you can take a car/van the ten minutes from your house/workplace to the bus stop, but in reality that connection couldn't be running more than once every ten minutes, there will be other stops on the way, traffic, etc. That means it would take longer to make the connection than just hoof it. Also, all those additional transit users are going to overwhelm the system because whoever actually runs the bus company will be a cheapskate, so you will have to stand the whole way and it will be packed with people and smelly.

I am a huge proponent of public transit, but I don't think it is going to be the panacea for all our woes. Also, the future is going to suck so bad.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:09 AM on April 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

When people park downtown, they seem to think walking two blocks is too far, but on Sundays at Costco, they walk just as far just in the parking lot.
posted by advicepig at 7:18 AM on April 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

No yeah I absolutely agree that self driving busses are a huge benefit in that you could send smaller busses along low-ridership routes for cheap. But that would probably be best implemented as an extension of existing public transit systems.
posted by bracems at 9:17 AM on April 8, 2017

That self-driving cars would double total congestion is an argument that never actually occurred to me, but there might be a solution: self-driving rental cars.

From the point of view of the operator, they would need to stay in operation (just like planes today), so the incentive would be to maximize their usage and not run them empty.

From the point of view of the customer, there would be a choice - today I might need to go to the city alone in a small car, tomorrow with my kids in a people carrier and on Saturday I might need a van to get construction materials. Then a long trip in a comfortable long-range vehicle. I'd love that, especially if the phone could be snapped into the car entertainment system and automatically set all my preferences, music etc.

That said, the parking and transport nightmare chased me out of the city and I never looked back, but yes, my country has not had the sort of suburban sprawl of the US. Yet.
posted by Laotic at 1:52 PM on April 8, 2017

It is easy to say you can take a car/van the ten minutes from your house/workplace to the bus stop, but in reality that connection couldn't be running more than once every ten minutes, there will be other stops on the way, traffic, etc. That means it would take longer to make the connection than just hoof it.

I'm not sure why that's the case. Current buses on the big lines are running every 4 minutes in rush hour. Getting an uber to come to my house I only usually have to wait between 2-6 minutes. I'm not sure why pools of self driving cars would need to be further away or less frequent than ubers?

And it's not always about being faster than walking. When it's bucketing down with rain, or when I'm not feeling well, or injured, or after a really long day at work, sometimes I wouldn't mind taking just as long, or even slightly longer to be transported somewhere without walking for 20 minutes. It would open things up for people with disabilities and older people too.
posted by lollusc at 6:17 PM on April 9, 2017

Also, when I said run smaller 'buses' along more varied routes, I didn't imagine we'd keep the current bus routes and just tack on a little 1km bus at each end. I was imagining that instead of a system where you have maybe 10 big bus routes that cover part of a town and each transport gazillions of people, you'd have 100 or 200 bus routes that each transport fewer people but between them cover more ground. So hopefully I wouldn't have to take a mini bus 1km, transfer to the current big bus, then transfer again for the last km, but instead there would be so many more bus-like options that I could get a self-driving car that came closer to my house, or closer to my work.
posted by lollusc at 6:21 PM on April 9, 2017

Getting an uber to come to my house I only usually have to wait between 2-6 minutes. I'm not sure why pools of self driving cars would need to be further away or less frequent than ubers?

But most people don't use Ubers for commuting right now. If self-driving cars were used for this purpose, the demand would go way up and thus the wait time would increase. If you increased the number of "taxis," then traffic would increase.
posted by AFABulous at 9:02 AM on April 10, 2017

I think the dream of self-driving cars finding their own parking for you

Just turn on "Asshole Mode" on the console and your car will zip into spaces that other cars are obviously waiting for. What're they gonna do, beat one another up?

...Well now they can, with the Car-Bot 6000! The Car-Bot 6000 is a fully-functioning assault droid that unfolds itself from the glove compartment whenever road or parking rage is required, and the human driver is not present. Watch from a safe distance as your Car-Bot 6000 kicks off the side mirrors and snaps the aerial of the offending vehicle! Experience the vicarious adrenaline rush when your Car-Bot 6000 screams "FUCK HEAD!" at other self-driving cars in one of a dozen customisable voices in over two languages, including the voice of the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker!
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:42 PM on April 11, 2017

What will the SDCs use for space-savers so they can regain possession of their sparking spots?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:47 AM on April 12, 2017

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