Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"The Great Parking Spot Switcheroo" Should Be Encouraged

Transportation Alternatives has a brief news item in their new Reclaim magazine highlighting what they call "the great parking spot switcheroo." Here is a link to the latest issue and the news item (scroll down). Here is what they say:
Local business owners, Transportation Alternatives volunteers and the City DOT have been working to convert car parking spots into bike parking spaces at select sites around the city. Thanks to an innovative program called “Street Racks,” motor vehicle parking spaces in front of particularly popular cycling destinations are being transformed into bike parking facilities capable of storing upwards of eight two-wheelers. You can try out these new bike parking places in front of Mud Coffee in the East Village and Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope. More are coming to Kinfolk Studios in Williamsburg, the corner of Court and Pacific in Cobble Hill and, if a group of neighborhood activists and the owners of Queens Kickshaw have their way, the corner of Steinway and Broadway in Astoria too.
Here is a link to the city's webpage that explains the program. The way it works is a partner (usually a business but this is not clear) petitions to convert a car parking space into a bike parking space. This is good! The partner is responsible for clearing snow and trash, and can add planters if they wish. While I think this is progress, I have two points:
1) the city should maintain the bike spaces just as they do all auto spaces. Placing the onus on partners to clean spaces just because they are bike spaces shows clear favor toward autos. Why should bikes be held to a greater standard of private responsibility?
2) New York City is admirably allowing businesses to take over curb parking for non-auto uses. Here is a report from 2011 that explains the effects of restaurant seating in curb spaces. The competition for curb spaces in parts of the city suggests that planners and business need to be thinking more broadly about what curb spaces are worth. Their value as spaces for cars is low, but parking spaces are extremely valuable for goods movement, food trucks, bicycle parking (which is a major headache in many parts of the city), emergency services, restaurant seating, etc. Perhaps one way to manage the conflicts that arise is to let businesses and residents manage all of the parking spaces locally. Even the latest RFQ from the city to enter a contract for management of all of the city's parking meters only considers that one company will run the whole show. Why not let curb parking be a flexible (or "programmable" in planner's lingo) land use that is controlled by the building or block? Dense urban areas need these types of flexible spaces more than they need cheap parking for cars, not to mention dudes like this guy. You can't make the argument that cities have been managing curbs spaces successfully under centralized control. Very local control may prove a better option. It is at least worth considering.
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