Philly Parking at a Crossroads

Although Philadelphia is no New York when it comes to parking scarcity, the current situation could be summed up in one word: inconsistent. Sometimes parking is a breeze, at other times a headache.  As more people move into the City, we will be faced with a choice: cater to cars, or to everything else?

Streets that accommodate multi-modal transit are the holy grail of city planning; in Philadelphia there is a Complete Streets Handbook devoted to the subject. In an ideal world, every street would be able to accommodate vehicles, a bike lane, a parking lane, a dedicated public transit lane, and sidewalk.

In an ideal world, streets would also be very wide to accommodate all those modes of transit!

A cross-section of a "complete street" from Philadelphia's Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities
A cross-section of a “complete street” from Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities


In Philadelphia, we have a street grid that consists of many streets that are narrow one-ways, with parking on one side of the street or no room for parking at all, let alone a bike lane.

This is both a blessing and a curse. Because Philadelphia is full of charming, smaller streets we are faced with the fact that we can’t always have our cars and park them too.

How is this a blessing? Not only do these narrower streets and smaller blocks make the city more walkable to begin with, but parking is very much a chicken-and-egg situation. If it is expensive to pay for parking or too difficult to find parking spots, people are more likely to seek alternate modes of transit. New York City serves as a great example of this.

The flip side of that argument is, if we have a robust and convenient public transportation system, people are more likely to use it. Luckily, we do!

One of the "open streets" (aka streets without cars) during the Papal visit in September
One of the “open streets” (aka streets without cars) during the Papal visit in September

The papal visit last September provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience what Center City would be like without cars. The verdict? Magical!

Every September, for one day parking spaces around the City are turned into mini-parks (aka “parklets”) for national Park(ing) Day. The intent of the event is to draw attention to the amount of space dedicated to parking, when it could be used for, say, miniature county fairs, a slice of wilderness, yoga and outdoor concerts.

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation's Park(ing) Day parklet: a tiny forest in Center City
Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s Park(ing) Day parklet: a tiny forest in Center City

Taking the pulse on where Philly stands in accommodating cars versus other modes of transit, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission recently released its inventory of public parking spaces in Center City.

While the number of public spaces (either in publicly-owned garages, lots, or on-street parking) decreased by 7%, the study concludes that “Significant numbers of commuters, visitors, and residents of the city are continuing to choose to drive to and park in Center City.”

And that’s in Center City, the most dense and transit-accessible part of Philadelphia. It is crucial to set the example of transit-oriented development in Center City if we expect other neighborhoods, with fewer public transit routes, to follow suite.

Ultimately, the question is are we designing cities for cars, or are we designing cities for people?

At Solo, one of our current development projects, condos at 1326-1332 North 5th Street and 1331-1335 North Randolph Street, seeks to set a precedent for designing cities for people (not cars) in the South Kensington neighborhood.

The condo buildings have no off-street parking, in order to encourage residents to use the nearby Market-Frankford El and Girard Avenue trolley, in addition to numerous bus routes and IndeGo bike share.

We hope that we can keep and improve Philadelphia in the name of people, not cars, and that our development project is a step in that direction.

Opening image: “The Parking Lot” by Alden Jewell – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA. https://flic.kr/p/rhJ822

Complete streets diagram courtesy of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities: http://www.phila.gov/green/pdfs/CompleteStreets.pdf

Papal visit open street image courtesy of Twitter user 108_Victoria_St: https://twitter.com/108_Victoria_St/status/647824351874654208/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation parklet photo courtesy of PlanPhilly: https://twitter.com/PlanPhilly/status/644951074978299904

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