For Philly, it’s time to put people before parking lots
In 1961, when Mayor Richardson Dilworth attempted to play with the parking lot, residents of South Philadelphia threw it with stones. It’s not our best time, but it’s how seriously some drivers take the question of where to put their cars. But that’s 60 years later, and despite major downtown developments – and growing environmental concerns – Philly’s parking wars persist.
Although Mayor Kenney’s budget authorizes $ 62 million for street sweeping, a positive move, the Philly Parking Warriors have managed to delay his campaign pledge until 2021 because they don’t want to move their cars an times per month. This underscores the reluctance of the town hall to move forward when it comes to any car-related movement. Further evidence: the city council wants to reduce the parking tax, a document to wealthy parking tycoons that incites traffic and congestion. And the streets, one of the city’s best innovations during the pandemic, run the risk of being dismantled if City Hall returns to the tedious process of the past.
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The benefits of planning around people rather than cars are obvious: a cleaner, more sustainable city, better able to tackle climate change. A stronger transit system and more residents who feel valued. And as the streets show, there are also benefits for commerce.
Many fear that removing parking will increase traffic even further, or that without plentiful parking, visitors will stop coming downtown. These concerns are understandable, but they have not materialized in cities that have reallocated space. New York’s 14th Street Busway, for example, did not create a blockage in nearby streets. In Philadelphia, local parking occupancy rates are dropping, even as the downtown area becomes more vibrant and in demand than ever.
Cities around the world have demonstrated the benefits of people-centered design. In Seoul, an old two-level highway was returned to nature, boosting development and recreation. In Bogotá, Ciclovía closes 120 kilometers of streets to motorized traffic once a week, which the city attributes to creating a more peaceful and egalitarian urban environment. In Paris, the emblematic Champs-Élysées, the source of inspiration for our Parkway, will be reoriented to serve pedestrians, instead of traffic. These changes did not produce the traffic apocalypse critics feared. Instead, they freed cities to tackle long-term issues like air quality, the urban heat island effect, and flooding. They have increased the use of public transport and made more residents feel valued.
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Philadelphia should follow in the footsteps of these cities.
The city council should reject the parking tax reduction and if passed, the mayor should veto it. While the mayor’s decision to finally fund the street cleanup he promised in 2015 is admirable, the Kenney administration should be clear on the timeline for the start. Additionally, City Hall is expected to advance other projects that parking issues have hampered in the past, such as adding new downtown bus lanes, building the Philadelphia Protected Bicycle Network, and extension of the new simplified street permit system.
These moves will not come without opposition from Philadelphians who appreciate their parking spots. But our rock-throwing days should be over as we move towards a future that puts people first in parking lots.