What bombs did to Rotterdam, parking lots did to Houston

Living the dream: an American parking lot, some time in the 1950s. Image: Retrofile/Getty.

More! That's the scream of merchants and others who believe that an American downtown without an endless sea of parking is not worth going to. But once the whole downtown turns into a parking lot it's not really worth much anymore is it?

Yet, we still see the discussion of parking dominate, without an eye for the destruction that it can cause a downtown if left unfettered.

Before Portland's miraculous return as an urban Mecca, it, too, was once infested by parking. So was the city of Houston, where parking lots took over most of the downtown at one point.

Via Mike Lydon and Transit Miami, via the book City Shaped.


Perhaps you can say how different this is from Rotterdam after German bombing...

Image: author provided.

 

It's unfortunate that we didn't see what we were doing to our wonderful cities in the name of cars first. Europe had war, yet we dismantled our cities in a similar way in the name of progress.

So much parking, though: what has that done to the city's value? What has it taken away in terms of tax revenue from land and greater employment agglomerations? A study by Anne Moudon and Dohn Wook Sohn showed that, in the Seattle region, offices that were clustered had greater values than those that weren't. In addition to the spending on highways that expanded our regions to their current far reaches, how much real estate value did we destroy?

Greater value for downtowns was lost. In the process we saw places like Hartford, Connecticut (as found by Dr. Norm Garrick at the University of Connecticut) lose population, employment, and their character.

Not is this just the loss from parking, but from the gutting of the city by the Interstate System. Here are some slides from Dr. Garrick showing the destruction. When he toggled through the first time, the room I was in audibly gasped for air. Hartford Pre Interstate:

 

Hartford Post Interstate:

 

So what's the damage? The amount of tax-creating employment did not grow; but parking spots skyrocketed.

 

So in aggregate what did this look like? The red shows it all:

 

Lost revenue, lost agglomeration, lost value. Perhaps these examples teach us a lesson about too much parking.

Jeff Wood is principal at the San Francisco transport consultancy The Overhead Wire, and edits The Direct Transfer.

This article first appeared on his blog in 2010.


 

 
 
 
 

There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.


In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.