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.

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

  1. Hey Chris,

    Rachel sent me your article. It’s an interesting point you make about loading zones. I’m inclined to still like this parklet, but your thoughtful comments made me think of a new plan in Copenhagen that redefines the concept of shared space in urban areas:


    This plan talks about allowing truck access at slow speeds for what is essentially an almost all-bike street. I think it’s an interesting way of dealing with the problem of loading and unloading.

    When we were in Burlington, VT, we also saw Church Street, which is four block pedestrian mall, at loading time in the morning. Large trucks moved right in to do the loading, and then moved out again seamlessly.

    What’s the stuff that gets loaded here, by the way? The WSJ just did an interesting two-page article about The New Stationwagon, which they identify as being cargo bikes (The WSJ! Progress!). They talked about a fishmonger who transported 300,000 pounds of frozen fish by bike trailer over the course of a year. It’s possible a parklet could really work well with this type of loading. Of course, naturally, the trucks still play a role. But perhaps there could be large depots where long distance trucks bring their goods to be picked up for short hauls by the bike carts.

    Hope you get some enjoyment out of our blog (www.transportprovidence.blogspot.com). We greatly enjoy yours.

    Peace, Philly!

  2. Thanks James!
    I’ll check out Transport Providence, I like these conversations.

    The trucks range from FedEx and UPS dropping off a few packages to this block along the way of many others, to shipments of several bicycles to the adjacent bike shop to catering trucks unloading dozens of chairs. That is to say, I think the trucks serve a purpose

  3. Do you know if that parklet is a part of the site’s stormwater mitigation system? If it’s a new building, it has to control the first inch of rain on site in PHL. They can also get credit for controlling more than that and save some money. It might not be visible, but it could be taking rooftop water or water from the sidewalk and feeding it to those plants, and it might have been that that was the only good place to put it for some engineering reason. Not sure, but that could be part of the story.

  4. It’s certainly possible, but I don’t think so. It’s not there permanently, just in the summer and was installed by the University City District.

  5. I think you make a great point that is often missed. The erosion of car-culture should begin with decreasing individual car use, rather than how cars are used in our distribution network. I have a feeling that trucks will be integral for a long time, and they may even prove the most efficient method of distribution and delivering maintenance services, especially if the roads empty of other drivers. I’ll never forget the time I was dreaming out loud with my younger brother about removing the roads from our neighborhood and my father (who is a contractor) said this: “How am I supposed to drop off lumber?” That said, here is a great article about bike transports replacing the final leg of a distribution network: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2012/09/jobs-of-the-future-cargo-cyclist.html

  6. Don’t block 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.” that is brilliant, why didn’t they think of that?

    The problem with parklets is that the program (Mayor’s Office of Trans), like many greening efforts in Philly, is not talking to other greening efforts, and the project becomes almost fully dictated by the owner who applied for it. So there is little checks and balances designed to decide when/where is the best scenerio. This Logan CDC one seems to be really well planned though, the rarity http://philly.curbed.com/archives/2012/08/14/invasion-of-the-parklets-continues.php good luck to them!

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