Parking’s Not a Big Deal, Right?


An interesting article in the Hartford Courant addresses the parking debacle faced by the city of Hartford. Although, I’m sure people in Hartford would say that the problem goes way beyond parking at this point. According to the article, a 300 percent increase in parking spaces has done nothing but deface the city.

Hartford looks more like the hundreds of other American cities that have hollowed out their core to accommodate automobiles.

Hartford is a beautiful city with great history, lots of parks, and great architecture. However, like many other cities, it is facing the problems of limited public transit options, sprawl, and automobile dependence. Hartford has over approximately 700 parking spaces for every 1,000 employees. Contrast that to Washington D.C. where there are approximately 250 parking spaces for every 1,000 employees.

The need for so much more parking for each job in Hartford compared with more competitive cities is a significant physical and financial drag, limiting the potential for growth in the city.

There is a widespread belief that more parking and wider roads is what you need to do to solve the problems of urban congestion. Explained in Road Diets, a report put out by Walkable Communities in 1999, the authors wrote:

This process of roadway widening can be thought of as fattening a patient. The belt is let out another notch, and the patient puts on a few more unhealthy pounds toward auto dependency.

The Hartford example is an interesting one because when you arrive in Hartford, you are not met with an impression of a ‘hollowed-out city.’ Perhaps that is because of the appealing cityscape, attractions like the Mark Twain House, the Wadsworth Atheneum and Bushnell Theatre. Whatever the reason, it does not change the fact that ‘hollowing-out’ is not always an overt process.

…the state ties up some of what is potentially the most valuable land in the city in parking, costing the city and the state millions of dollars in tax revenue… If Travelers [a Hartford Insurance company] adopted the same approach to parking as did the state, it would cost the company almost $10 million more each year to own and operate the additional parking that would be needed.

It seems as though there would be plenty of support and plenty of reason for a collaborative discussion around public transit options and a new approach to funding policies in Hartford.

Shortsightedness and planning do not mix. Planning decisions should not be made to address immediate concerns without also addressing the long term ramifications. The Hartford scenario is just one of many that should serve as a lesson to planners everywhere because after all, if it’s not smart growth… it’s foolish growth. Smart growth is about planning. It is about seeing the big picture. You can buy a bigger belt to deal with weight gain, but sooner or later, unless you address the actual problem, paying for bigger belts will be the least of your concerns. Hartford is learning this lesson. They spend millions each year on parking and lose millions a year on the potential tax revenue they could gain from the land under the parking lots. Not to mention the continued parking problem, devaluation of property and the destruction of some of the city’s most valuable resources. The problems are perpetuated by these trends and their impact grows exponentially.

Last week I spoke to my sister who went home to West Hartford for a visit. She was looking forward to going out in Hartford and spending some time enjoying the great night life scene that people from the area refer to as “the downtown.” After her trip home, she told me Hartford was changing. Specifically, she said it didn’t seem as alive or as comfortable as it had in the past. Reading this article makes me wonder if an issue that seems as straighforward as parking, could be the root of these changes.

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Posted on December 16, 2009, in Media Coverage, Public Infrastructure, Transportation, Urbanism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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