Mobility Lab has now been writing about the little-known excellent idea of PARK(ing) Day for six years. And despite the stragglers who find it impossible to accept change, the concept is beginning to take hold.
Although the mission of PARK(ing) Day (which occurred Friday) is to create temporary parklets, one day per year, where people can congregate in places traditionally designed for cars, we’ve always wondered why that idea needs to be so modest.
Takoma Park, Md., is taking PARK(ing) Day one step further. It just became the first city in the Washington D.C. region to allow year-round rental of parking spots for the creation of outdoor cafe spaces – parklets.
Takoma Beverage Co. became the first restaurant to take the bait. And now bustling Laurel Avenue has immediately become an even more desirable place to be with the addition of the people-sized (rather than car-sized) meeting space. Doesn’t it just make so much common sense to have people in front of a restaurant rather than cars? Remember, people eat and drink, and cars don’t. In the photo above, it’s easy to see how many people can benefit from that new dining area.
Showing people using dense, highly desirable spaces in ways like this, and the possibilities created by just a minor tweak in parking, is a key transportation demand management strategy that places around the U.S. should be considering. (Such TDM returns on investments can now be calculated for the first time with a new set of TDM ROI calculators.)
Takoma Park’s policy is particularly impressive. Restaurants, coffee shops, cafés, food trucks, retail markets or similar businesses that regularly sell or provide food or drinks are eligible to apply for the Outdoor Café Permit for $145 and with a $90 annual renewable fee.
That’s a steal for these business operators. Likely the biggest cost to them will be the need to invest in bike and scooter parking for all the patrons who won’t want to bother with parking a big ole car and will prefer to pull right up on a more sustainable, economic, healthy, and fun mode of transportation to get there.
Of course, this is not a slam dunk for everyone. One example from a person (luckily in the small but vocal minority) on a Takoma Park listserv voices his puzzlement:
I’m not usually one to complain about such things, but geez i do not think letting Tak Bev Co extend it’s outdoor seating INTO THE STREET was a good idea! Literally replaces one (sorely needed) parking space. What’s up with that? Who approved that? and Why? Just doesn’t seem right — so Tak Bev Co gains a few more outdoor seats, but its neighbor businesses (including other eateries) lose a potential parking space for their customers. Why do they get to do this? What if Kin Da, Mark’s, Roscoe’s, Republic, etc etc would also like to add more outdoor seating? I really do not get the rationale for this.
Luckily, calmer heads (like the Takoma Park City Council that approved the permitting process) have prevailed. And, as another, more informed commenter on a separate listserv noted:
Parking-space repurposing is a done deal so I don’t personally feel a need to defend it on the [other] list, where people tend to vent with no off-list impact.
Aside from simply introducing more creative placemaking, Park(ing) Day is about looking ahead into a world in which fewer personal car trips are taken. Finding more accurate parking ratios – and repurposing spaces that have shown to be underused or unnecessary – is a key TDM lever to guide people towards thinking more deeply about their transportation decisions.
Takoma Park’s parklet policy is such a refreshing take on how government can play an active, immediate, and innovative role in doing what it is supposed to do – provide societal benefits.
Even private investment, seemingly the last hope for transportation improvements these days, comes under such a microscope that projects like these are often dead on arrival. Take Chicago, where a group called the Better Government Association has fought against everything from a major toll road to parking meters to Elon Musk’s electric-pod tunnel into O’Hare Airport.
It’s fine for people to have concerns about transportation projects. We should be skeptical since we live in a country that has messed up just about every major transportation decision in the past 100 years. But, really? Complaining about the removal of one parking space? Even if every restaurant in the downtown area of Takoma Park decides to apply for the permit, that would mean something like a dozen fewer parking spots. That, in turn, would translate into an even more bustling community.
Let’s hope Takoma Park’s small-business owners take note of the proof: better walking and biking infrastructure means better business.
Photo by the author.