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When excess parking becomes a problem

Fri, 2014-06-13 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

It seems counterintuitive, but excess parking may in fact thwart a city’s ability to attract shoppers and diners and other folks who enjoy being downtown.

That’s the thinking around a move to revitalize downtown Hartford, Connecticut, which has lost 60% of its residents and 7,000 jobs since its heyday. The blog site Mobilize the Region recently ran an item arguing that the plethora of parking for motorists contributes heavily to the downtown’s problems by creating an inhospitable environment for foot traffic and local business trade.

Writes blog contributor Joseph Cutrufo: “In order to revitalize downtown Hartford, the city will need to do more to address a street network that is disjointed and congested largely because of one reason: an oversupply of parking. Unlike nearby mid-sized employment centers like Stamford and White Plains, Hartford isn’t served by frequent inter-city transit, so just about everybody drives to get there.“

The result of all that driving is a downtown that suffers from “underpopulated sidewalks that appear unwelcoming and even forbidding,” Cutrufo writes.

The parking issue has moved onto Hartford’s radar because the city has an opportunity to remake itself. The University of Connecticut plans to relocate a satellite campus in the downtown area and a minor league baseball team wants to make its home there, too. In addition, rapid transit bus service will soon become available.

Cutrufo contends that if Hartford wants to become more culturally and economically vibrant it must offer more than “just a great place to store an empty vehicle.” He suggests that Hartford start by eliminating mandatory parking requirements for downtown restaurants and study how to get rid of some of its surface parking lots. The city should also consider incentives to develop and preserve residential and commercial real estate in downtown and around transit stops.

It’s worth noting that Streetsblog, a site devoted to sustainable transportation solutions, has given a name to the massive parking lots that scar many downtowns. It dubs them “parking craters.” Streetsblog even runs a contest that asks readers to submit the best (meaning worst) parking craters in their towns.

Read more about smart city parking solutions: