That previous post by Jasem got me thinking about a solution to the traffic and parking problem within the city. Most of the cars that are driving around are actually people looking for a place to park. That’s a fact. The problem is made worse by people double parking and making a two lane street into a one lane crawl. It seems obvious to me that the problem is not that people can’t get into the city fast enough; which seems to be what the First Ring Road expansion is all about. The problem has to do with three things:
- Ensuring a constant flow of traffic within the city and with as few bottlenecks as possible.
- The inability to find parking that is close to where you want to go. People are willing to park in the baking sun as long as it’s close to their destination.
- There are just too many damn cars.
The First Ring Road project will not solve any of these problems. It will encourage more people to drive into the city, adding more cars that need a place to park. Also, I have a bad feeling that every exit on the new highway will have the same problem with people trying to use the exit and blocking the highway for people who want to drive past. During rush hour, this will be a nightmare.
Personally, I feel that the roads leading into the city are fine the way they are. The problem is inside the city. There are simply not enough parking structures. There are way too many surface parking lots in areas of very high density. Why not build a multi-level parking structure there? If people know that there is a parking space waiting for them near their destination, then they wouldn’t waste time and create traffic driving around looking for a spot.
Free parking is a terrible idea, and all the parking spots in the city should be priced according to the demand for them. Since parking is free, we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s being abused. We should follow the SF demand-responsive pricing model in the city. No free parking during rush hour. You cannot do this equitably without creating alternate means of transportation for people who can’t afford the new fees. This is why building a light rail system within the city and expanding and simplifying the bus fleet is very important. In short, my alternative to the First Ring Road expansion is this:
- More multi-level parking in areas of high density with shops on the ground floor of the parking.
- A new and cheap light rail transportation system that goes around and across the city, with stops that are walking distance from each other.
- No free parking anywhere in the city during rush hour. Prices are adjusted based on demand with strict enforcement of parking penalties.
- More bus routes into the city at predictable timings.
- Invest heavily in public space to create a better walking experience; meaning better and wider sidewalks, more trees, benches, rubbish bins and water fountains.
- More policemen and traffic police walking the street to ensure that rules are enforced and order is maintained.
- Incentivize more mixed use development in the city so that more people of different backgrounds and incomes live inside the city; this is to reduce the impact of traffic migration to avoid the rush to drive into the city in the morning and escape in the evening.
As you can see, this is not a one step solution. It can’t be, because it’s a very complex problem. Building the expansion of the First Ring Road is a terrible idea that will exacerbate the traffic problem. The reason for this is that decisions are made by individuals that either don’t have a clue about what they are doing or have a vested interest in green-lighting these mega-projects. We don’t have a long term plan for the city based on empirical evidence and good urban design fundamentals. For a more comprehensive look at my thoughts on traffic, click here.