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Car parking forum – can we claim back space?

Bicycle Network held a forum at its Melbourne office last night to discuss car parking and the allocation of space in modern cities.

A panel of experts and academics discussed how car parking was originally introduced into cities and what might happen in the future.

On the panel was Dr Liz Taylor from Monash University, Rebecca Clements from University of Melbourne, Alexander Sheko from Moreland City Council, Emily McLean from RACV and Cr Nicolas Frances Gilley from City of Melbourne.

State member for Prahran, The Greens' Sam Hibbins, joined the panel for a Q&A session after presentations were made by other panel members.

Discussion focused on how cities that out date cars were retrofitted with car parks, what the costs of car parking are (both financial and social), how the approach to parking has and hasn’t changed over the years and what the future looks like.

Dr Taylor gave examples of how existing suburbs like Carlton in inner-Melbourne have had public space given to car parking, and how new suburbs like Sunshine have been built around car parking.

What became clear was that while car parking was introduced and became intrinsic to cities during the heyday of Australia’s motoring era, there has been no real change in car parking in recent times when bike rider and pedestrian numbers have sky rocketed.

Not enough space to move

Cr Nicolas Frances Gilley noted that the 20 per cent of people who move around the City of Melbourne in a car get 80 per cent of the space, and that the remaining 80 per cent of people on bikes, foot or public transport get short-changed with just 20 per cent of the space.

We need more space for people to move and our population is continuing to grow, but as Cr Frances Gilley also said, buildings won’t decrease in size.

To get more people riding and walking we need to reduce and remove on-street parking.

As Ms Clements pointed out, on-street car parking is robbing us. Instead of on-street car parking that enables car use we could have bike lanes, improved traffic flow, wider pedestrian spaces and natural greenery.

An example of this is Sydney Road in Brunswick where none of bicycles, trams or cars can move freely and easily. Ms McLean from RACV noted Sydney Road as one place where on-street car parking should be removed so traffic flow (including trams) can be improved and a dedicated bike lane provided.

Alexander Sheko from Moreland City Council (home of Sydney Road) discussed the council's new transport plan and how it approaches car parking.

While there is no commitment yet from the council to remove car parking from Sydney Road, there are hopes to change laws that force minimum parking requirements and introduce maximum requirements.

An illustration of how car parking space can be better used. Image: Rebecca Clements/City of Melbourne.

Looking outside of Australia

Ms Clements also gave examples of how car parking is approached in other places, such as Japan.

There is almost no on-street parking in Japan and people are not allowed to register a motor vehicle until they first secure an off-street park for the vehicle.

These regulations have changed the way parking is managed – it is a highly regulated market, but dealt with by the real estate industry more than town and transport planners.

It also helps to ‘unbundle’ parking from housing. You don’t have to rent or buy a place to live in that costs more because it comes with a car park.

If you don't want to own a car you aren't forced to pay for the privilege of a parking space for it.

This is different to Australia where car parking is seen as an entitlement – Dr Taylor pointed out that 80 per cent of planning appeals in Victoria are about car parking.

What happens now?

While it was obvious that the status quo approach to car parking and city space it not sustainable, we don't know exactly when or if on-street car parking spots will be ripped up and returned to the people.

However, there was one thing that left bike riders licking their lips – Cr Frances Gilley said that City of Melbourne is finalising its transport strategy and that there may soon be an announcement about some new protected bike lanes in the Melbourne CBD.

We'll wait and see!

Presentations and further reading

Below are links presentations from speakers at Bicycle Network's car parking forum and other relevant documents.

Do you have any feedback about the forum or ideas for similar events? Click here to let us know.

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