Why I think this parklet is misguided and other thoughts on parking


This is a photo of a parklet outside of my office in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia. Parklets are essentially raised platforms put in parking spots meant to offer pedestrian-friendly seating in dense city communities. They also become something of a rallying cry for anti-car urbanism, by taking something for an automobile and giving it to pedestrians.

I am a pedestrian — I bicycle to work and use mass transit whenever I don’t. What’s more is that I sit in this parklet a lot. I benefit from it plenty — it’s very pretty — and I like and use parklets throughout Philadelphia. I think the parklet movement is a cool one. That said, I also think this particular parklet’s placement is misguided.

While I actually rather like parklets overall, this particular parklet in front of my office is placed in a loading zone, rather than a metered or permanent parking space where I’ve seen parklets before — and like what exists right across the street or even just slightly further down this specific block. That’s the problem, in my experience.

Loading zones are great things in cities. Because, though we want people to use bicycles and walk and transit to reduce congestion, create community and reduce negative externalities, cars and trucks are still really good for carrying heavy things. Daily, the FedEx or UPS trucks pull up to this row of offices and, now that the loading zone is gone, they double park in the middle street and create more congestion. People who are buying or dropping off bicycles for the bike shop or food supplies for the Ramen bar idle in the middle of the street.

That doesn’t solve anything. If the goal is to create pedestrian amenities, then squeeze metered or longterm parkers, which is the type of driver city planners want to impact, not those who are using automobiles for exactly what they’re good for: mobilizing things that aren’t easily carried on bicycles, transit or by walking.

I don’t quite understand why the choice has to either be car-first culture or car-nonexistent culture. It seems to me that creating dense urban communities near transit makes sense but allowing for healthy uses of cars has to be a part of that development because cars aren’t going away.