The value of inner city car parks

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Image of car parks Palma de Mallorca by Timmy L (flickr) https://flic.kr/p/TR4DFC

As you’d know, one little statistic can send me off on an investigation – like the number tucked away in a Guardian Weekly report that, globally, cars are in car parks 95% of the time.

The statistic emerged in a report about a pilot scheme in Amsterdam to reward residents with a free green space in front of their houses if they give up their parking permits. The car parks pilot scheme being trialled in six streets in an Amsterdam suburb is yet another Dutch idea designed to encourage people to give up cars and switch to carpooling, public transport or bicycles.

Residents’ cars will be stored for free in public car parks and in return something ‘green and pleasant’ can occupy the designated car space. The Guardian reports a fair degree of friction over this idea. Two early adopters (who have been heckled), have already put flower-filled tow carts in front of their houses (a cosy outdoor spot to sit in the sun and have a morning coffee and a plate of warm poffertjes).

This is not the first time Amsterdam’s Stadsbestuurders have tried to rend asunder the city’s love affair with the car. Amsterdam is widely known as the bicycle capital of the world because it is relatively compact and the narrow streets and canal bridges make driving more difficult than in other cities. When I spent time in Amsterdam (wishing I could forget what I can’t remember), the city was then trialling Sundays as a no-car day. I looked that up yesterday and find that it is 45 years since Car Free Sunday was introduced. As this blog explains, something changed in the Dutch mindset when the measure was introduced in 1973 (to dampen oil consumption amid the 1970s Oil Shock).  Since then cycling with or without clogs has clearly become a lifestyle/clean environment movement.

The Netherlands leads other European cities, with 27% of all trips attributed to cyclists, a figure that has been stable for a decade. How could it be anything less when Amsterdammers own 22.5 million bicycles (1.3 per resident). Evidently Mum, Dad and the kids are in on the trend. Denmark is a close second in Europe’s bicycle stakes (0.8 per resident).

Australians are fairly keen on bicycles too, with 3.6 million using one every week, The Australian Cyclists Party says the average Australian household has 1.5 bicycles in working order, although if you wanted to be pendantic, you couldn’t ride half a bike very far. You could of course turn it into a unicycle, learn to juggle, sing and play the ukulele at the same time and apply for a gig at the Woodford Music Festival.

Digressions aside, Australians are as deeply committed to the combustion engine as the global leader (America). The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics motor vehicle census showed there were 18.8 million registered vehicles in Australia as of January 31, 2017, a 2% increase on 2016. The 2016 Australian Census showed there were 2.95 million one-vehicle households, 3.02 million households with two vehicles and another 1.50 million households with three or more. The same Census revealed that only 1.1% of Australians rode their bikes to work. The sole occupant car dominated work trips – from 65.6% in Sydney to 79.9% in Adelaide.

The notion that cars are parked 95% of the time is a figure largely calculated on public car parks which are utilised 85% to 95% of the time. Just dwell on that next time you are doing laps in one of Brisbane’s large shopping malls, waiting for a spot.

Last Saturday we went to a Queensland Ballet double bill (Carmen and The Firebird) which, I must say, we enjoyed more than the reviewer in The Australian did, apparently. There were three curtain calls.

Afterwards, we walked back to the multi-level car park where I realised (despite my disdain for automation), that I had no option but to pre-pay as there were no humans in the parking booths. The machine hungrily gobbled my $20 and dispensed the ticket. You should all know the routine by now – drive to boom gate 1, insert ticket and the boom (should) automatically rise to let you drive out.

Them were the good old days, mate

Not that I want to return to days of yore, but when we first started going to the ballet in 1988, you could quite often score a free car park somewhere in South Brisbane or West End. We’d leave home early and sometimes snag a space in Fish Lane. Ah, those were the days. Now we usually park in the Brisbane Entertainment and Convention Centre car park as it has 1,500 spaces, so is the place least likely to be full around South Brisbane’s entertainment and dining precinct. If I recall, when this complex first opened in 1996, parking 2-4 hours cost $8. That’s inflation for you.

A Colliers International white paper in 2015 predicted city parking would become more expensive in Australia, as no new multi-storey car parks were being approved. Some, in fact, have been demolished to make way for new apartment buildings. The other factor in parking becoming more expensive is that many cities now impose a congestion levy on property owners.

New technology is set to disrupt the parking business model though; one example being Divvy Parking, a digital start-up which hooks up motorists with under-utilised car parks within commercial office buildings. In late 2016, New South Wales car insurance company NRMA took a 40% stake in Divvy Parking.  An NRMA study found that 30% of urban traffic congestion was caused by people driving around looking for a car park. And, according to NRMA, a third of parking spots within centrally-located commercial buildings are under-used. NRMA Group chief executive Rohan Lund told the Australian Financial Review that smart technology would be as crucial to solving Australia’s mobility issues as bricks and mortar infrastructure.

All over the world, cities are introducing measures to thwart or discourage drivers from bringing their vehicles to the inner city. These range from London’s Congestion Charge to Madrid’s blanket ban on non-resident vehicles. Only locals, taxis, buses and zero-emission delivery vehicles are allowed within Madrid. This is not the first time the padres de la ciudad have tried to beat congestion and pollution within Madrid’s city centre. In 2005, a pedestrian-only zone was introduced in a densely-populated inner city neighbourhood.

Interestingly, there are no Australian cities named in Business Insider’s recent article on 13 cities planning to ban cars to one degree or another. Most of the cities are in Europe (Oslo, Berlin, Paris, Hamburg, Copenhagen) but also China, Mexico and South America. Many of the plans are based on making it easier to walk and cycle. Several cities are planning to build bicycle-only super-highways.

Ah well, next time I go to the ballet maybe I’ll take my half a bicycle and wobble on down to the train station. (She Who Broke a Bone Falling on the Stone Steps) “Don’t forget your helmet, dear.” More reading: