PARK(ing) Day is an Opportunity to Rethink our Space for People

Screen shot 2015-09-16 at 10.38.46 AMIf you’ve ever enjoyed your lunch on the patio at Royal Blue Grocery on Congress Ave. and 6th Street, then you’ve experienced the effects of PARK(ing) Day. Every year on this day, parking spaces on Congress Ave are temporarily converted into parks, art installations, and playful spaces. On Friday, September 18, PARK(ing) Day will hit again. This means a unique way to interact with our city and reimagine spaces typically reserved for cars – but it also highlights some of the biggest issues we still face with downtown parking.

Several people at the City of Austin have recognized the potential of PARK(ing) Day. They’ve been working to make it easier for diverse groups to “adopt” a parking spot for the day. But unfortunately, it’s not as simple as showing up and feeding the meter. Any groups that you see participating in PARK(ing) Day on Friday will have paid for a permit and gotten approval from nearby businesses. Even though these are public parking spaces, citizens need to apply for special permission to use them for people rather than cars. It’s part of a system and way of thinking that is gradually changing, but still gives cars preferential treatment over the people using a city’s streets.

We understand that it can be scary to see parking spaces disappear, even just for a day. Especially in the heart of downtown, surface lots are being built over. More people are coming downtown to fewer parking spaces, and that means parking is getting more expensive, too. But it’s also impossible to park every single person who comes downtown – and we shouldn’t want to. That amount of parking would come at the cost of losing the housing, office, retail, and public space that make people want to come downtown in the first place.

When considering how we should use our valuable downtown space, we might think about how many people are actually served. For example, that patio at Royal Blue takes two on-street spaces. While these spaces might turn over 5-10 times per day for cars, they can accommodate 100 customers on the patio – relaxing, eating lunch, meeting friends – in the same amount of time. Another example is a valet service. That might take 3 street parking spaces, but they can easily park 50 or 60 cars per night, and reduce the traffic from customers circling to find a spot.

Instead of reacting to the loss of parking spaces – whether temporary or permanently – with fear and holding onto every spot possible, we need to look for lasting solutions. We can accommodate our downtown residents, workers, and visitors with options like transit, park and rides, carpools, biking and walking. There will always be parking downtown, but it shouldn’t be the primary option – especially when we have the opportunity to turn a few of those spots into places for people.

Check out PARK(ing) Day installations Friday September 18 (tomorrow) along Congress Ave. and Guadalupe Street. What would you like to in your parklet?

Pictured above: one of several spaces converted for Park(ing) Day 2014

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