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Why Rush Hour Parking Restrictions Don’t Work

For the love of God just let the people park.

While walking  from the Canton Promenade to Starbucks, it took me 5 minutes to cross Boston Street.  My bad – I was jaywalking. And sure, I could have walked half a mile to the nearest crosswalk at O’donnell or Hudson, but my pride got in the way.  Also, when you’re at the Canton Starbucks, those crosswalks look really really far away (they’re actually about 1600 feet apart).  I’ve seen 80 year old men with canes cross mid-block on Boston, so I thought, if they could do it, so can I.  There are two issues here.

  1. Boston Street probably needs a mid block crosswalk somewhere between O’donnell and Hudson Street. With all that retail, a grocery store, and a Starbucks (my sweet sweet love), there are plenty of people who live in the condos on the other side of Boston, or who exit the Promenade, and say “Damn, those crosswalks are far. I’ll make a run for it.”
  2. I was trying to cross at 5pm. This means eastbound traffic flies because two lanes are open instead of one due to peak hour parking restrictions.

Opening that one lane of traffic maybe saves 1 or 2 minutes of travel time if you’re in a car.  So awesome.  What peak hour parking restrictions also do is encourage highway-like speeds on neighborhood streets, discourage business patronage, and make life a pain in the ass for nearby residents who don’t have sufficient parking. Not to mention the fact that all it takes is one illegally parked vehicle to throw the whole scheme into chaos. I’ll also throw in the kitchen sink and say it makes biking during peak hours more difficult.  I’d rather get doored than get hit from the back by a speeding car. And finally, let’s throw in the bathtub and say that peak hour restrictions preclude the installation of bump outs, the fashionable street adornment which make pedestrian crossings safer and streets greener.

“But Mark” you say, “you’re supposed to discourage driving. We should make parking more difficult.”.  In certain situations, I disagree. I am against engineering decisions that provide benefits to vehicular traffic at the expense of other modes and neighborhood livability, and this is a great example. And especially in this economy, businesses need all the customers they can get, even if they arrive by Hummer.  Though Howard Street wasn’t hurt by light rail, it wasn’t helped by a lack of auto access. I would be remiss if I didn’t state my opinion that peak hour parking restrictions hurt businesses on Charles Street as well.

And just like one way streets, peak hour parking restrictions seem to be for the benefit of drivers who want to get the hell out of Baltimore as fast as possible after they get out of work. Why should we sacrifice livable streets, commercial vitality and quality of life for our residents just for the sake of shaving a couple minutes off  someones exodus to the suburbs? What’s the hurry, drivers?  Park your car and stay awhile.

Greater Greater Washington has an excellent article describing Chicago’s effort to eliminate peak hour parking restrictions on 225 of their busiest blocks.

**Update: Check out a run down of research done on the benefits of on-street parking at Planetizen.