How cities should think about car use

Easy access to parking leads to higher car use and higher emissions, says PhD graduate Omid Khazaeian. So how can city planners tackle the problem?

Many cities have considered reducing parking in the central city or around shops and other public areas to discourage driving, but my research suggests another important area city planners should consider when looking to reduce car usage—the amount and type of parking people have access to at home.

Using data from the Ministry of Transport’s New Zealand Household Travel Survey, we were able to show that the more home parking a person has access to, the more cars they own and the more likely they are to drive to work. Our data showed that access to more home parking had more impact on car ownership and using cars to commute than household income.

My research focused on the greater Wellington region. Outside the central city and areas immediately close by, there are very few restrictions on street parking, and off-street parking is commonly available as well. This makes it much easier for most households to own at least one, if not more than one, car. Households that own a car are in turn much more likely to make multiple trips in that car.

This abundant access to parking means that if city planners and councils want to reduce the number of cars in the central city they will need to impose restrictions on on- and off-street parking in suburban areas.

Research by others reveals that having parking available at home increases the price of housing significantly, adding further stress to New Zealand’s already stretched housing market.

Our research also looked at work parking and provides some insight into changes that could be made to city parking to reduce congestion and climate impacts. We found three key areas that affected people’s use of parking in the city.

The two top considerations for parking are location and cost. For off-street parking, location is the most important factor—commuters are less likely to use off-street parking that is further away.

However, for on-street parking cost is the main consideration—the more expensive a park, the less desirable it is.

We also showed that employers making private off-street parking available to their employees greatly increases the chances they will drive to work. This type of parking can also make reducing traffic and emissions difficult because private parking is not subject to city parking policies.

Discussions have been ongoing for some time on reducing parking available around shops and city centres to discourage driving. Although this is an important part of reducing car usage and the impacts of driving, it is only one part of the equation.

Easy access to parking at home and in central spaces leads to higher car use, higher emissions from transportation, and congestion and longer commute times in cities. To address these issues and make cities more environment- and resident-friendly, parking policy needs to consider home and city parking simultaneously.

However, if the ability for individual householders to drive to and from the city is removed, it means other transport options must be provided. The obvious solution is to improve public transport.

Decreasing travel time on public transport through allocating special street-lanes for buses should reduce the commute time for public transport and make it a more desirable option. Another way to improve public transport would be to transform existing parking spaces into public transport hubs to make access to public transport easier.

There could also be a network of connected walkways for walkers, cyclists, scooter users, and similar groups, which would encourage the use of other modes of transport.

Another option would be to keep some parking buildings but prioritise access for car-poolers, thus reducing the number of cars on the road. Reducing home parking would also support car-pooling, as fewer households would be able to own individual cars and could instead be encouraged to share cars and parking space.

This research has given us a new understanding of parking and its impact on travel behaviour, a field that has had little focus to date.

We hope it will provide empirical evidence for transport planners and suggest some new approaches to parking policy for the future.

Read the original article at Newsroom.

Dr Omid Khazaeian graduated from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington with a PhD in geographic information science. His PhD thesis won the New Zealand Spatial Excellence Award for 2021.