Blog Parking Is A Necessary Evil – For Now

As I’ve said before, I am all about reducing fossil fuel consumption. I’m about to buy a Toyota Yaris (a.k.a. “pea”) for this purpose. I strongly believe in carbon taxes, or a cap and trade program. I say all of this as a preface for what is about to come, because I have shocked more than one person this past week. What is up with the disappearing parking spots?
Don’t get me wrong — density is a GOOD thing, and I have a personal vendetta against surface parking lots. But I also am aware of what it takes to create a thriving living environment, to draw people from all parts of our region to participate in the many attractions of denser neighborhoods, and of the small businesses that depend on that traffic.
What I don’t understand is how eliminating and not replacing public parking lots will help mobility, neighborhood establishments, or the environment. Yet somehow this logic pervades our thinking. Fewer parking spots somehow equals less fuel consumption, (or more parking spots equals more greenhouse gases), when in fact the opposite might be true.
Let’s face the facts: our transit system is nonfunctional for most people outside of commuting hours. Even then it can be awfully spotty; and my die-hard bus friends don’t take public transit on the weekends… it just isn’t worth the time or energy. Thus, until we have a good transit system, we are stuck in our cars.
Thankfully, there is a lot we can do–buy smaller cars, run errands together, etc. But we still want to live and participate in the exciting place we call home… which inevitably means driving to places like Downtown Seattle, Belltown, Capitol Hill, Ballard, Greenlake, Kirkland… you get my point. Seriously, do we really expect people to get on a bus from Redmond to go to Tia Lou’s on Saturday night? Or for someone to hop on Metro to get to the B&O Espresso or 5-Spot Cafe? It’s simply not going to happen to any measurable extent.
So, we better have parking for all of those people who are supporting our thriving commercial districts. We haven’t yet reached the critical point, but in some neighborhoods, we are coming close. For example, in my neighborhood on Capitol Hill, we are about to lose the only public pay lot for over a dozen blocks in either direction. The last lot on the Pine/Pike corridor vanished a few months ago.
So what results? Endless circling and distracted drivers who: a) are wasting large quantities of fuel driving for an extra 20-30 minutes; b) decrease pedestrian safety; and c) don’t spend money in the area because they become less inclined to make the trip. I know people who refuse to patronize those areas anymore because they just can’t find parking.
It’s not that they won’t drive as an alternative to not finding parking… it’s that they will drive to a place that has parking instead. So this diatribe is not about solutions, it’s just a warning.
Before we all get on the “parking is bad” bandwagon, let’s be specific. Surface parking LOTS are a bad idea because they under-utilize the property and have a host of other unsightly problems. But PARKING is a necessary evil until we have a comprehensive transportation system. It can go underground, in stacked buildings, behind alleys, or on roofs. I just hope we realize this before all the parking is gone, and we lose the vibrancy of our commercial districts!