European Parking Policies Leave New York Behind

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.
Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Flashback to Europe, sixty years ago. Just emerging from the ruin of total war, the continent was in the midst of a nearly unprecedented reconstruction. Over the next decade, industry finally was able to turn toward consumer products, from stockings to refrigerators and, of course, the automobile. Italians owned only 342,000 cars in 1950, but ten years later that number had increased to two million, according to historian Tony Judt. In France, the number of cars tripled over the decade.

With mass car-ownership fundamentally new for Europe, parking policy was practically non-existent. The first parking meter — an American invention — only made it to Europe in 1958, arriving in front of the American embassy in London. In most places, cars could park not only for free but wherever they wanted: on the sidewalk, in a public square.

When they realized that simply giving drivers free rein to park anywhere was untenable, Europeans attempted to build enough parking to meet the population’s galloping demand. Public space, from sidewalks to canals, was turned into parking space. Zoning forced all new development to use money and space for parking. All these concessions, however, only made European cities friendlier to cars and further drove up demand.

Today, however, all that is in the past. As outlined in the new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, “Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation,” the continent is now leading the world when it comes to innovative, intelligent and sustainable parking policy [PDF].

Across Europe, cities have come to understand that oversupply or subsidy of parking leads to too much driving. The effect is considerable. In Vienna, for example, when the city began to charge for on-street parking, the number of vehicle kilometers traveled plummeted from 10 million annually to 3 million. In Munich, the introduction of a new parking management system has resulted in 1,700 fewer automobiles owned in the city center each year since 2000.

Zurich has emerged as a world leader on parking policy. Here, on-street parking was replaced with pedestrian space, likely to compensate for new off-street spaces. Image: ITDP.
Zurich has emerged as a world leader on parking policy. Here, on-street parking was replaced with pedestrian space, likely to compensate for new off-street spaces. Image: ITDP.

Looking across the Atlantic offers a wide array of strategies to manage parking more effectively.

  • Free daytime parking was eliminated completely in Munich. 95 percent of Paris’ roughly 50,000 free parking spaces were converted to paid spaces.
  • Too often, the decision of how much parking to provide is disconnected from any other city goals. Not in Zurich. Under the terms of the city’s “Historischer Parkplatz Kompromiss,” each development is assigned a cap on the number of trips that can be made by car, which is controlled by the amount of parking provided onsite. The cap is determined by looking at the congestion and air quality in the immediate area.
  • Parking maximums have replaced parking minimums in cities such as Zurich, Amsterdam and Strasbourg. The Swiss, Italian and British governments all recommend that local governments use maximums, in the words of the British government, to “promote sustainable transport choices, reduce the land-take of development, enable schemes to fit into central urban sites, promote linked-trips and access to development for those without use of a car, and to tackle congestion.”
  • The idea behind parking minimums for commercial space is to ensure that employees of a new development don’t fill up all an area’s parking spaces. Logically, therefore, Hamburg decided that if enough employees at a company had a transit pass, that company should have to reduce the amount of parking it provides.
  • Hard caps on the amount of parking downtown are in place in Hamburg, Zurich, and Budapest. No one can build a new off-street space unless the city agrees to take away an on-street space. Despite rising prosperity and car ownership, the number of parking spaces in the center of Hamburg has remained at 30,000 since 1976.
  • Regulating parking only works if those regulations are enforced, a job that Europeans have made easier through new technology. Across France, magnetic sensors are employed to determine when cars overstay time limits. Amsterdam uses a fleet of vans with license plate-reading cameras to track violations.
  • On-street parking rates better reflect market demand. In London, rates go up to £4.40 an hour ($7.04), and in Amsterdam up to €5 ($6.75). In New York City, by comparison, rates only go up to $3.75.
  • Parking management has been closely tied to Europe’s largest bike-sharing systems. In Paris and Barcelona, bike-sharing stations replaced thousands of on-street spaces, and in Barcelona, all parking revenue goes directly to supporting bike-sharing.

Across Europe, there appears to be a much heavier emphasis on providing residential parking permits, public-private partnerships to operate the parking system, and technological conveniences like pay-by-phone parking.

Cities like London and Paris are New York City’s competitors. While they move forward with these innovative programs, New York still forces its drivers and bus riders to sit behind a line of traffic cruising for a rare open space or holding out for one of the city’s many free on-street spaces. New York tacks the cost of unwanted parking onto every new office and residence. In commercial zones, meanwhile, parking spaces are commandeered for hours, reducing turnover and making deliveries a hassle. Not to mention the environmental and safety disasters of encouraging all those extra car trips.

The Mayor’s Office is thinking about tackling parking policy in this spring’s update of PlaNYC, and hopefully they’ll use this ITDP report to adapt some of Europe’s best ideas. Then again, they just bowed to motorist influence in the City Council over raising meter rates by just a quarter. Giving New York City’s parking policy the same U-turn that Europe took will apparently be quite the political lift.

  • Marcotico

    Reminds me of the book that got me into planning in the first place: Cities for a Small Country The first chapter documents how it took 50 years of incremental planning, and automobile restrictions to turn Copenhagen into bike and Ped paradise that it is today.

  • LazyReader

    Thats ridiculous. You need to have lots of parking in order to have extensive commerce. You can’t lug newly purchased furniture on a light rail or bike. For instance, years ago in Paris, the leaders decided to remove the parking along the street and subsequentley the retail all but died, it wasn’t until the parking was restored that the retail reestablished itself. It’s safer too. By having a layer of dead metal protecting pedestrians on sidewalks from moving vehicles. I’m sure walking and biking are wonderful activities and engaging in commerce on foot…It’s not that Americans are too fat or lazy. The fact is alot of these pedestrian developments attract alot of expense driven stores like Gucci or Prada and Banana Republic, not the places you would frequent on a daily basis. But good luck finding a simple dry cleaners or a restaraunt (for less than 30 dollars a plate) or a grocery store. And increasing the cost of otherwise scarce parking, you’ll see a decline in patronage.

  • LazyReader

    You dont need to subsidize parking, the private sector can easily accomodate parking for people, and they’ll do it because the drivers are the bread and butter that keeps all the stores and restaraunts open. Whether free or paid for the price of parking is miniscule to the items these upper class clients usually shop for. Its typical and sad but without parking alot of streetside developments we’re boarded up. We may hate those [ugly] multi-story parking structures but they serve a useful purpose and things can be done about them. In Fort Worth, Texas an office building was renovated and a 10+ story parking structure was built next to it, but it was given a facade to accomodate its appearance to make it much more attractive (an improvement if they completed it on all sides of the building, people would think it was a real building)

  • LazyReader, you really don’t know anything about Paris or New York, do you? There are plenty of streets in Paris that do just fine with not only no parking, but no driving at all.

    Around the corner from me here in Queens, there are two dry cleaners, three laundromats, seven restaurants (none of which offer any plates that cost more than $20), a supermarket, a hardware store, three convenience stores, two hair salons, a nail salon, a florist that sells vitamins, and a barbershop. We have on-street parking, but no parking structures for shoppers.

    I’ve been to Stamford, and the multi-storey parking structures everywhere are a real killer to the pedestrian environment. Some of them have street-level retail and don’t look too bad, but the ramps everywhere are no fun to cross.

  • LazyReader

    Screw Queens, the only reason I know about Queens is when I saw “Coming to America” with Eddie Murphy. But you know your right, I dont know much about Paris, but your comparing Queens to Paris, I was comparing Manhattan and Paris. However here is what I do know. Inner Paris has lost over Three quarters of it’s population in recent decades, many have moved out to the Metro area or outlying suburbs where zoning and housing prices are far more lucrative to people who wanna raise families or own their own homes [Many who live in the cities of Europe are 1st/2nd/3rd generation immigrants and Europe’s Yuppie equivalent]. Despite people in America who want to make it more like Europe in terms of urban charm and flavor, they’ve failed to take into account that since the end of the Second World War [and then the fall of the Iron Curtain], Europe has become much more like the United States. Europe has rapidly decentralized in terms of population density and contiinuing to decline. Before the 1980’s there was one high speed rail system in Europe and rail overall accounted for more than 8 percent of all passenger travel. Today Europe has dumped billions into high speed and passenger rail and now only accounts for six percent. Americans are perceived as Oil/SUV addicted road hogs and cars account for 85 percent of our travel. Those “Green” Europeans, cars account for 79 percent of travel despite tens of billions they’ve spent on passenger rail. Europe is actually building roads out the wazoo by the private sector and car ownership is increasing, and 8-10 dollar gas has done little to stop it.

  • LazyReader

    New York has always been on the path of some fiscal crisis, even before the recession. An official for a NYC transit agency said [before he was fired for leaking reports] that the systems they use are always teetering on the verge of total disrepair & bankruptcy. “No matter how much money you give us we never have enough”, because the cities so dense, that it consumes alot of services and they don’t know where to get the money. And raising taxes has done little to fix the difference. These mixed use, car free developments they deem are useful to get people to walk or bike. There are a few who might want to live like that but most Americans don’t want to live that way. Tax increment financing is used to pay for a lot of mixed use developments that don’t sell at market rates. Districts go to voters to secure more money for fire, police and urban services they need, but dont realize the money is spent to subsidize the developments. So they have to pay more for services they dont get. As for Paris which has dozens of abandoned zones where immigrants and squatters live and re-development has been sparse, not just of the current economic climate but because the instant a lot is cleared it’s gobbled up to build another highrise.

  • Given how uninformed your previous comments were, I doubt these new statements about Europe are accurate. So what if “a NYC transit agency” is always teetering on the verge of total disrepair and bankruptcy? The roads are in worse shape. And why do you keep linking to some video about Randal O’Toole? Do you think anyone here believes what that fraud has to say?

  • LazyReader

    There are millions of suburban and rural residents who are very happy with their homes and lifestyles, Few of which think the power of government should be used to eliminate advantageous things [like parking] or force others to live in the lifestyle of the hyper-dense urbanites. Yet lots of urban residents openly admit and tout their lifestyle is so perfect that government should force most people to live in dense, “walkable” cities with little automotive capacity. Do cities turn people into liberal fascists? Or do liberal fascists breed in cities. Gentrification: an observed social process whereby urban economic development leads to old neighborhoods becoming too expensive for the original population once “renewed.” The previous inhabitants are replaced by yuppies and hipsters who enjoy the semi-bohemian bourgeois lifestyle. In the case of urban planning, anti-sprawl policies make housing unaffordable and led to the recent mortgage crisis. Anti-automobile policies have done little to stop people from driving and only made congestion worse and waste energy and produce more pollution. Big cities are more prone to wasting money on crackpot ideas such toy trains and high density because these are big money makers for a select few contracters who lobby it in the first place. We’ve seen many New York residents who are opposing new skyscrapers and dense developments because they render their property to expensive to live there anymore.

  • “In the case of urban planning, anti-sprawl policies make housing unaffordable and led to the recent mortgage crisis.”

    Really? The mortgage crisis was driven by anti-sprawl policies?

    Lazy reader + lazy thinker.

  • LazyReader

    No it wasn’t. In flat areas which occupies the middle of the country, it’s easy to build houses. When demand for houses grow, metro areas, which never really had traditional downtowns anyway, just sprawl a little more. As a result, housing prices are basically determined by the cost of construction. A housing bubble can’t even get started. But in the zoned land which lies along our coasts, a combination of high population density and land-use restrictions. It makes it hard to build new houses. So when people are willing to spend more on houses because of a fall in mortgage rates, some houses get built, but the prices of existing houses also go up. If people think that prices will continue to rise, they’re willing to spend more, driving prices still higher, and so on. Areas with lots of zoning are prone to housing bubbles.

  • Wow, I’m usually a big fan of Krugman, but in that case he was completely wrong, as later developments showed. The housing bubble did pop with a big bang, and most of the worst pain has been felt in the “flat” areas like Las Vegas and Phoenix, which turned out to have zoning after all. Our housing prices in New York fell a lot less than in other places, because the rise was based more on real value.

    There are millions of people who say they’re happy with suburban and rural lifestyles, but your interpretation of that is nowhere near as obvious as you pretend it is. Most of these places have laws mandating minimum lot sizes and free parking – who are the fascists now?

  • LazyReader

    I’m not talking of the southwest which was swift to adopt zoning and lot increments. I refer to Texas and other places in the center. My friend already bought a house in Phoenix at one quarter the cost of her former home in suburban Maryland (whose price had steadily declined). Its nearly twice the size and much nicer looking. Zoning is the primary driving factor in the rapidly accelerating unaffordability of housing in urban areas. According to the Manhattan Institute as much as half of the price paid for housing in some jurisdictions is directly attributable to the hidden costs of restrictive zoning regulation. I have no intention to live in the southwest, but if I did, I would lobby against zoning laws. I would rather live in Houston where zoning doesn’t exist at all.

  • Ah, you mean the Manhattan Institute that was set up to undermine New York liberal political power? And Houston that has practically regulated apartment dwelling out of existence (PDF)?

  • LazyReader

    Its hard to think this tug-o-war started over something as mundane as parking.
    Zoning was not invented by developers trying to impose their lifestyle preferences on unsuspecting Americans. The idea that realtors and developers could somehow force people to buy houses they didn’t want is refuted by hundreds or thousands of real-estate developments that failed financially because they did not offer what people wanted. Unlike planners who write prescriptive zoning codes, developers who risk their own money are going to make every effort to build things that people want because if they don’t, the developers themselves will be the losers. European cities are rapidly spreading out with low-density developments almost indistinguishable from counterparts in California and Texas. American cities sprawl because Americans, like people all over the world, prefer to live in single-family homes and like to have a little land they can call their own for gardening, entertainment, and play areas. The automobile made it possible for almost everyone to achieve this dream, where before the auto only the upper classes could do so.

  • Good to know.. Even Most people consider Europe one of the most glamorous choices when it comes to holidays.. See


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