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Study: Solving Atlanta’s traffic woes could hinge on better parking practices

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Increasing parking fees and fines could encourage people to use mass transit, research suggests

Traffic stopped in both directions on a packed city street.
Could limiting parking help avoid more clogged Atlanta arteries?
Curbed Atlanta

As the U.S. population swells by the day, it’s no wonder that traffic congestion—and other types of congestion—is becoming increasingly problematic.

Some planners and urbanists would argue that encouraging people to use alternative modes of transportation, such a bicycles, scooters, or public transit, could help unclog roadways.

Others, however, posit that, unless cities overhaul their entire transportation infrastructures, curbing traffic congestion is a lost cause; people can only opt to avoid it by using non-car options.

But a new study conducted by consulting firm PwC’s Strategy& suggests there’s one lens that many experts aren’t looking through to solve traffic problems: parking.

Sure, building bike lanes and expanding mass transit can encourage people to ditch their automobile-obsessed lifestyles, but the creation of abundant parking options, the theory goes, acts as a counterweight.

If people have the option of taking a train or driving, cheap, easy access to parking will usually be the deciding factor.

And with expenses associated with congestion climbing—it costs the U.S. $230 to $300 billion each year, due to “direct costs, such as lost time, and indirect costs, such as increased cost of goods and services”—PwC’s Strategy& suggested it’s time to look to parking reform or else let pricey traffic issues run rampant.

One way to change things for the better could be to repurpose or reprice on-street parking.

More expensive parking could make driving less enticing, and getting rid of certain parking options altogether—to make way for bike lanes, new vehicle lanes, or ride-share pickup spots—might help encourage some people from hopping behind the wheel.

One recent example in Atlanta is parking that’s not free anymore (both on street and off) on the Westside, near Octane Coffee and the intersection of Howell Mill Road and Marietta Street.

PwC’s research also suggests that reducing or even eliminating parking minimums “will reduce the cost of development and result in a better balance of parking supply and expected demand for the specific real estate application.”

Urbanist Darin Givens, cofounder of ThreadATL, told Curbed Atlanta that a study by Central Atlanta Progress showed downtown Atlanta’s parking stock is used at less than 70 percent—even at peak hours.

“We’d go a little further and say that cities should definitely eliminate [parking minimums], and also be bold with setting and observing parking maximums,” Givens added. “Studies have shown that the presence of cheap, plentiful parking at destinations hurts transit ridership.”

PwC’s other suggestions include:

Explore new smart parking technologies. These can make payments easier, improve navigation, and make prices more transparent, all of which may reduce congestion and emissions.

Reconsider or reprice double parking fines. Reconsider any arrangements made with delivery services providers and others that allow them to reduce or avoid fines for certain parking violations. Enforce current regulations.

Leveraging parking as a “curb extension” or mobility hub. Parking could potentially be used in new innovative ways to mitigate congestion, mainly at the curb. A few ways that parking can be leveraged as a “curb extension” include serving as short term parking for TNCs [that’s “Transportation Network Company” such as Uber and Lyft], dynamic, taxi or ride-hail stands, drop-off or pick-up points for packages, or mobility hubs for shared bikes, scooters, and vehicles.

The research also advocates for dedicated bike and bus lanes, which, as Givens pointed out, “is a big concern in Atlanta for us, since the promised Complete Streets projects that would deliver new bike lanes haven’t been completed, and also since the planned Bus Rapid Transit line from Arts Center to Summerhill appears to not run entirely on dedicated lanes, as BRT should.”

Givens also posited that prioritizing dedicated right-of-way is crucial to the success of the More MARTA rail projects, such as the Campbellton Road Corridor light rail line.

“A ride on the current Atlanta Streetcar during event traffic is a good demonstration of how important it is to get dedicated lanes for high-capacity transit lines,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that will truly make transit competitive with driving in the city.”