Is the importance of car parks inflated?

One of the tropes of urban planning is that traders think car parking (and car access generally) for their customers is far more important than it might actually be.

Here are some live examples in Melbourne right now.

Save Inkerman!

In Caulfield, traders reckon their businesses will suffer if separated bike lanes, part of the Principal Bike Network, replace car parking. Some residents, who seem to believe they have the unalienable right to park on a public road in front of their house, are also not happy.

Read more about the Inkerman Road proposal here

Save Inkerman sign on fence, Caulfield

Save Elizabeth Street!

Even in the CBD, belief in the importance of car parking is a thing. Some traders in Elizabeth Street are up in arms at proposals to give more place to pedestrians:

Andrey Eierweis (from Ekselman watchmakers and jewellers): “We’re losing business because there’s no access to the shops and people can’t find a parking spot close enough.”

And he makes this amazing claim: “The city’s dying. No one’s coming here.”

No sir. The city’s not dying. It’s busier than ever. That’s precisely why the council is proposing these types of changes, to make space for more people.

Perhaps what you mean is no one’s coming into your shop. Which is a different problem.

It should be noted that Ekselman possibly is a business that genuinely does benefit from parking nearby, because, the article says: in the past they had sold and repaired a lot of large clocks but that had dried up because of a lack of parking.

The parking in front of their shop disappeared when the tram superstop was installed some years ago.

I suspect that if their business relies on people being able to bring in large clocks by car, they should move their premises to a different street. Most CBD streets have easier parking than Elizabeth Street.

Read more about the Elizabeth Street plan here

Meanwhile in Sydney Road

Meanwhile in Sydney Road, some traders object to the council proposing a trial of fewer car spots, in favour of separated bike lanes.

Jessica Tolsma (Jessicakes – great name!): “The proof in Melbourne is that when you remove parking from strip shops like Acland St and Bridge Rd, it doesn’t work and decimates businesses.”

Read more about the Sydney Road trial here

So how bad is Acland Street?

Is Acland Street doing as badly as the Sydney Road traders claim?

Recently removed the parking was removed and the footpaths were widened, and a new two-platform accessible tram terminus was constructed. So how bad is it?

I stopped past on Sunday morning for a quick look. At 10:30am, the street wasn’t especially busy, but there were certainly some people walking around browsing the shops, and some of the cafes were packed.

Acland Street, Sunday morning

On neighbouring Barkly Street, which is still a through-route and does have lots of parking, there were plenty of cars, but no people browsing the shops, though one bloke in the barber was having a haircut.

Barkly Street, Sunday morning

According to this report from Victoria Walks, despite what the traders in Sydney Road might think, the Acland Street traders decided to study it rather than shout it down.

The traders quickly discovered that more than half of all their customers walked to Acland St to shop – and only around a quarter drove. More than that, though: more than half the shoppers in the area lived locally, and locals made an average of 184 visits to the shopping precinct every year. In fact, almost a quarter of the people surveyed said that they shopped in Acland St every day.

It’s also worth noting that Acland Street has substantial numbers of car parks within walking distance, so the removal of spaces on the street presumably didn’t have a huge impact even on motorists.

I don’t know Sydney Road and Inkerman Road well enough to cast judgement, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Acland Street was far from unique.

No shortage of studies have shown that providing better access for cyclists and pedestrians is actually an economic positive.

In part this is because car spaces are just so space-inefficient, and limit the number of shoppers.

A study of Lygon Street, Carlton, found that while the average cyclist’s retail spending is only $16.20/hr compared to a car driver’s $27.00/hr, six bicycles can park in the space required for one car. Therefore, while one car space equates to $27.00/hr retail spending, six bicycle spaces equate to $97.20/hr.

I would also imagine that passing cyclists and pedestrians are far more likely to stop on a whim than passing motorists, because they can more easily see into shop windows, and don’t have problems parking – which in busy centres is an issue even where kerbside parking is provided.

Perhaps it’s the same phenomenon as with park and ridethe most visible, space-hogging access mode is assumed to be the most important. Another factor might be that traders themselves might tend to drive, because they often have stock or equipment to carry to/from their shops, so they see access to their shops from the perspective of a motorist.

In any case, actually getting some actual evidence about their customers (and potential customers) wouldn’t go astray — rather than just assuming they all need to drive.

20 thoughts on “Is the importance of car parks inflated?

  1. Simon

    Lots of people need to drive their car to get around, or find it more efficient than alternative transport modes, so yes car parking is required. Otherwise they go to other locations that have car parking (eg shopping malls), or they don’t make the trip at all. Perhaps the answer is to provide more off-street car parking near shopping streets and train stations.

  2. Phil

    As someone who goes down Sydney Road a lot I really hope the parking is removed from the entirety of the road! The tram needs to take priority and there’s already heaps of parking areas behind the shops on Sydney Road which is safer and more convenient

  3. Llib

    Ok here are the rules. This is used in other public consultations if you make a statement you need to back it up with evidence. If someone says the “city is dying” they need to show statistics. They used this argument with Skyrail by saying crime has up and the ships are dying and the opposite occurred.

  4. number

    Many of the streets in the city are just far too narrow to have car parking on both sides of the road. Cars and trams that want to drive through have to squeeze in between them. Maybe parking needs to be taken off these narrow main roads and onto side streets with easy walking access to the main road.

  5. Llib

    @Simon “I need my car” no you don’t need your car. You want your car and you want the rest of society to subsidize your habits by providing you with free land. This not only costs society money but also ruins urban amenity. It’s time governments stopped listening to dying businesses and people who “need their car “ and listened to the majority of people who want to get to places, cheaply, safely, quickly and in a more healthy way. Rant over 😏.

  6. Wall Fly

    Box Hill precinct is a classic example. Planners foresight (if it was that) to provide dual carriageway roads in the Box Hill hub area was amazing (e.g Station Street, Elgar Road). But the foresight has been blown away by the on street parking allowed outside the high rise residential towers which seem to be sprouting up like asparagus.
    Elgar Road and Station Street (particularly North of Whitehorse road) are classic chokes. The backlog of vehicles often extends back a few hundred meters or so and on occasion back past the Thames Street intersection. All held up for the sake of only a few parking spots. It seems seems crazy.
    Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow (yep… kind of a Bing Crosby reference there).
    It’s worse on weekends when parking restrictions are lessened. Restrictions don’t seem to match the Saturday morning peak. There is the other factor where some of the traffic is just circulating hunting for a park.
    We all invest in roads in terms of local and state government funding. Let roads be roads – for the many and not choked by car parks for a few.
    Of course this is a nuanced issue and local traders perspective is an important stakeholder consideration. But adequate private and public access car parking should be provided in the planning, approval and development of the asparagus forests growing around our transport hubs.
    I wonder in the future folks will be reflect on the foresight of planners, developers and city administrators of our era.
    I’m not sure I can think of too many examples of contemporary local planning where the traffic flows well and adequate parking has been addressed.

  7. Julie

    Inkerman St is quite different to Sydney Rd and Acland St— it’s predominantly a residential street, with only a handful of shops, at least at the Glen Eira end. The opposition is being led by residents, who are concerned about losing parking in front of their houses. Some of the houses don’t have off-street parking.

  8. I agree with the idea of letting traffic flow. But I do spot a small wrinkle.

    There is one unintended benefit of on-street car parking. It acts as an insulating layer between the pedestrian flow and the traffic flow.

    Removing it can leave pedestrians close to moving vehicles. If those vehicles are fast moving it can be quite unpleasant.

    I’ve often sat in Brunswick and Smith Street pavement cafes and thought that although the parked cars are obtrusive, they’re actually helpful in separating me from the traffic stream, and are having what the economists call a positive externality.

    I support removing car parking only on streets like Sydney Rd where cars are likely to be slow-moving, and I support widening footpaths and installing bikelanes so that pedestrians and sidewalk diners need not be immediately adjacent to fast-moving cars and trucks.

  9. I would like to know what those people sitting eating on Acland street think of the fact that they don’t need to enjoy their meal with the fumes from cars and the noise they make.

    I do however agree with the comment above regarding parked cars acting as a barrier from the car stream, but there are other ways to provide this without the parked vehicles.

  10. Malcolm M

    Wall Fly, while on a 2 week holiday in Japan I saw many contemporary examples of local planning where traffic flows well, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists move around safely and without congestion, and there is abundant parking. Our planners ignore Japan because it doesn’t suit the road-buildering lobby groups, but here are some of their secrets:
    1. No street parking anywhere
    2. To register a car you must prove you have a place to park it (no freeloading on public infrastructure)
    3. All parking is provided by the private sector, and motorists expect to pay for it
    4. Wide sidewalks where pedestrians and cyclists mix
    5. Local government isn’t involved in zoning, so property owners are free to intensify their own land or open shops without public bunfights
    6. Public-private partnerships for provision of public transport infrastructure such as subways, or in some cities this role is taken by local government.

    Jason, one Japanese example I saw to separate traffic from pedestrians was a series of low fences (with gaps) at the edge of the sidewalk. This would work in Sydney Road.

  11. Llib

    5 is interesting I doubt that would even be considered here, all other ideas are great also a long shot in Melbourne. As you can see from Julie’s comment she and other residents are entitled to free parking outside their homes, cyclists be damned.

  12. Malcolm M

    Llib, there are many points from Japanese experience that could be implemented in small steps in Victoria. Some examples
    1. In new subdivisions, no on-street parking, except a few time-limited bays for visitors and tradespeople.
    2. When registering a vehicle with VicRoads include the address at which it will normally be parked, and provide access to this database to council parking officers, who could then easily book non-resident cars, or those without resident permits (in areas where the council chooses to do this).
    3. Take away the right of councils to zone land as “single-family residences”, as this is discriminatry against cultures where several families may live together. Councils should not be enforcing what people do in their bedrooms, where families start and end, and whether someone in the zone chooses to rent out a bedroom or granny flat to a non family member. This zone should instead allow for buildings up to the same height currently allowed, which is normally 2 storeys plus a peaked roof, or 3 storeys with a flat roof, and could be apartments that fit the building envelope.

  13. While I am not a fan of the decoration at the end of Acland Street, having visited it a few times, I think the works have resulted in a great improvement. Even in the car part of Acland Street, pedestrians feel empowered and no longer have to fear cars.

  14. Llib, I think you’re reading stuff into my comment that’s not there. I’m a strong supporter of bike lanes on Inkerman St (I am the president of a neighbouring BUG).

    I’m pointing out that the situation is different, and while the data Daniel is citing about customers for shops ought to be persuasive for traders, it doesn’t help persuade local residents.

    I am also interested in the phenomenon of hyper-partisanship and disrespectful argumentation (from all sides). I would like to see less of it from the pro-cycling side, it also doesn’t help.

  15. Llib

    @Julie
    The hyper partisanship is usually on the side of the pro car people. I am only a casual cyclists and when I cycle, it is rarely in that area. The wording of your comment “Some of the houses don’t have off street parking” is quite disturbing in the sense that residents are somewhat entitled to the road space in front of where they live. It must be communicated that the area in front of where they live is public space.
    Now of course they should get to have a say about it, but they should not dictate what should be done with it especially when it goes against sustainability and the public interest. This is the same argument with the anti Skyrail people who shouted up and down about Skyrail and the government showed political courage and went ahead with it. The level crossing areas are now much better with more public space and better connectivity.
    The same thing applies with this issue in Elizabeth St were one trader needs users to bring their cars to fix some antique clocks. This cannot be used as justification to stop pedestrianisation of the area as that area needs more space for pedestrians and is not a major traffic thoroughfare. Ultimately the trader will have to move to somewhere in the CBD which has easier parking or even outside it as really the CBD does not have the space for customers to park and shop. It is not disrespectful to call out self interested residents behaviour because they are standing in the way of Melbourne becoming a city that seriously protects riders, pedestrians and even car users themselves. Major partisan rant over

  16. Tim

    The mall down the end of Acland Street makes it a lot better. Street bar outside the House of 600 Beers is still there, that’s the main thing.

    Oh no! People can’t park the back end of their car two metres out from the kerb in Balaclava!

    Might be better to not have cars in Elsternwick so Renee Geyer does not crash her car into the shops.

  17. Tim

    Inkerman street is quieter and used by cyclists a lot more as a commuting route to avoid Dandenong and Balaclava Rds. I once saw Tim Rogers ride that way home from Oakleigh from a gig to his place.

  18. Llib

    @Malcolm
    Agree except for the fact that inner city residents should not always get free parking outside their homes. Permits should be put on the market like their own houses and units are. The only people who should get exceptions are people with a disability or another important reason why they should get free parking (IE a tradie who runs a business and needs to park their car on the street for practical reasons).
    @Tim
    Agree 100% about Acland St as well as the fact that each newer E class tram potentially brings in 210 people. Lol about Renee Geyer.

  19. Lachlan Lee-Archer

    City of Port Phillip did excellent 6 and 12 month reviews of the Acland Street closure.

    Some key points from the 12 month review:
    – The Acland Street Village Precinct experienced greater growth in local spending than benchmarked regions. Total spending grew at around $330,000 or 1.5% per month. This compared favourably with the modest upward trend, around 0.2% per month, in the benchmarked regions.
    – Over 80 per cent of survey respondents showed clear support for the upgrade and believed the plaza had a positive impact on accessibility, safety, amenity, and atmosphere of the area.

    https://haveyoursay.portphillip.vic.gov.au/your-say-on-acland-street-upgrades/twelve-month-post-construction-evaluation

  20. Hisashi

    One question that I have in removing (or not removing) parking from the streets: Are there spaces nearby, either council-owned or otherwise acquirable by the local trade association, that could be utilised for off-street parking? Can business owners explore that option if they believe that the majority of their customers arrive by car? At my local church in Sydney, the majority of attenders who drive use the multi-level carpark at a nearby shopping centre which is 5-10 mins away. Perhaps could that replace, say, 50-75% of the car spaces removed from the main street as an interim solution while we fix the walkability/public transport issue?

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