Parking in downtown has long been a contentious issue, and as I mentioned yesterday it’s likely to become more so in the future. The conflict largely arises because some downtown retailers and restaurant owners believe that difficult driving conditions hurt their bottom line.
I’m not a shop owner or a transit engineer, but a recent study and Atlantic Cities article suggest that parking may be less important to shops than owners realize:
A major rationale for the supply of parking spaces in city shopping centers is that customers won’t come without them. The anecdotal argument makes sense — retailers believe that most consumers arrive by car and believe free or cheap parking plays a major role in choosing a destination — but the actual evidence is scant at best. A new review of commercial centers in Greater London, released late last month (via David King), concludes that retailers vastly overestimate the role free parking plays in their success.
The article goes on to mention four points drawn out by the study:
1. Free, plentiful parking often hurts more than it helps.
2.Shopkeepers overestimate how many customers arrive by car.
3. They also overestimate how much car customers spend.
4. A mix of retailers is more important than parking supply.
Obviously none of these points is going to persuade doubters on their own, but if you remain unconvinced read the article — or better yet the study itself — for more information.
Another obvious objection is that Provo and London, where the study occurred, are very different cities. That’s true, of course, but these findings only add to the growing body of research that parking and driving are becoming less important to communities of all kinds than other types of transit.
In any case, though this new study may not answer every question its hard data should at least serve to temper calls for more parking and additional car-oriented infrastructure.