Parking is in the interesting position of being at once entirely mundane and uninteresting to many, but fiercely emotive and controversial at the same time. Local authorities which manage on-street parking spend a lot of time and political capital on issues related to parking controls. Bringing in changes can inspire some passionate responses.
But parking doesn’t just affect drivers. And only 56 per cent of Londoners actually own a car. The kerbside is as much a part of the urban landscape as anything else, and how we use this space impacts our quality of life in a number of profound ways.
The sight of cars parked at the kerbside is so humdrum that many of us don’t stop to consider what that means at the city scale. The Centre for London has carried out some calculations to see how much of London is actually taken up by parked cars. We found that on-street parking takes up over 14km2, equivalent to 10 Hyde Parks completely covered by cars.
Given that the average car is parked 95 per cent of the time, this is a hugely inefficient use of land. Kerb space given over to parking can’t be used for other things with a greater social benefit. For example, tackling climate change and poor air quality will require a large-scale shift from private cars to public transport, walking and cycling. Enabling people to make this shift ultimately requires increasing the capacity of the public transport system, including the speed and reliability of buses – which in turn, means more priority bus lanes. However, dedicating significant amounts of the kerbside to allow for free-flowing buses is much more difficult when there are long stretches of parked cars in the way.
The same principle applies for cycling. Getting more people on their bikes, means more segregated lanes so that less confident cyclists can get involved, and this requires allocating finite road and street space. And options to walk also suffer when too much space is dedicated to cars. Being able to provide safe, pleasant environments which encourage people to walk demands sufficiently wide pavements, well-designed crossing points and even trees, bushes and places to rest along the way. Again, this involves choices about what we should prioritise in finite space.
This begs the question – what do Londoners actually prioritise? Are car-dominated streets a reflection of what overall public opinion wants, or the preferences of a vocal minority? To that end, we asked Londoners what their priorities are for streets in their local area. We found that on-street parking comes only fifth, after trees and green space, clutter-free pavements, children’s play space and community and recreation space. So this need to start moving away from car-dominated streets seems to be matched by a public desire to see it happen.
What are some things policymakers should be doing to enable this shift? We’ve outlined a number of recommendations that would help reduce reliance on cars in London. One of those concerns how we decide toallocate kerbside space to different uses. All too often, decisions around the uses and users of the kerb are taken on a piecemeal basis, and you end up with a mishmash of different priorities, designs and outcomes, without putting the wider social good first. We’re calling for transport planners, local authorities and developers to go back to first principles, and consider the kerbside and all of its different uses holistically, and allocate space according to agreed-upon prioritised uses.
These uses could be prioritised according to their wider social benefit, creating a kerbside hierarchy. These hierarchies might differ depending on location, as different uses need to be prioritised on a high street or a residential road, whether it’s visitor or residential parking, or space for deliveries during the day. Kerbside hierarchies would then inform the way we design our streets and neighbourhoods, and will enable us to start reclaiming precious public space from socially harmful uses like excess car journeys in favour of things that will benefit us all.
Joe Wills is a senior researcher at the Centre for London.