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In honor of Earth Week (Earth Day is only 2 days away), I’m reflecting on some of the sustainability challenges in Phoenix.  In yesterday’s post I outlined 3 of the biggest sustainability challenges we face.  Today I’d like to focus in on one of them – our dependence on the car.  Specifically I want to talk about parking and why it’s the root of so much evil here in Phoenix.

First, let me applaud the small group of people rising up against the car in Phoenix, making an effort to explore other ways of getting around town.   People like Tony Arranaga Light Rail Blogger are doing their part to build Phoenix’s alternative transportation muscles.  He’s one of the few people who’s living
the car-free experience here.  He and Jim McPherson of the Arizona Preservation Foundation are also behind the recent movement to add bike racks around town.  Bike infrastructure is  a big part of the equation if we want to take ourselves seriously as a city that supports alternative transportation.  Check out Tony’s photo series of the bike racks around town and this map that Jim and Tony put together showing current bike rack locations.

Yuri Artibise, urbanist and writer for the Downtown Phoenix Journal, brought this Slate article to my attention – “What Would Get Americans Biking to Work” by Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us).  Tom confirms what I’ve always known to
be true – “that 99 percent of car trips in the United States terminate in a free parking space, which means the nation’s drivers don’t have much incentive

to think about parking—or not driving.”

How true is this in Phoenix? We have so much available parking in Central Phoenix that our aerial map shows more expanses of asphalt parking lots than actual buildings and destinations.

aerial view of Downtown Phoenix – image from Google Earth

Why do we have so much parking in Phoenix and why do we keep adding more?  Why does the city perpetuate our car-addiction, enabling it
like a drug dealer enables a junkie?

Here’s a thought:  Instead of adding more parking in Central Phoenix, let’s make parking a problem, a big problem.  Let’s make people think twice about
driving into town.  It’s true that the city has increased metered parking and the days you have to pay to park.  People complain to high-heaven about this.  But are you serious?  First of all, it’s still relatively cheap to park in downtown, too cheap if you ask me.  And second, it’s still relatively easy to find a parking spot in downtown, compared to other cities.  So stop complaining and take the long view.  Ease of parking may make your evening a little more convenient, but in the long run, it’s undermines the life and quality of our city.

Won’t making parking a problem make our downtown even more desolate than it already is?  I say no.  If we decrease the available parking and develop the real-estate of downtown more effectively, I think people will want to come down here, and will make the effort of taking the light-rail in.  Maybe biking in from Tempe on the canals will become popular.  Or maybe more bus routes will start popping up connecting the suburbs with Central Phoenix.  Once we take our focus away from adding convenience for our cars, we’ll be able to focus on healthier, more sustainable modes of transportation and smarter development.

I challenge the city council and us, Phoenix residents to take a risk and think out of the box.  Take away some of this available parking.  It hasn’t
worked to create a vibrant central city in the past, why would it now?  It’s time to try something different.  Encourage businesses to re-use existing buildings without having to add more parking, beef up our light-rail and bus routes, and provide a viable infrastructure for pedestrians (think shade) and for bikes (think bike lanes and bike parking).

Have any other ideas about this?  Speak up and leave me a comment!

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  1. […] I touched on 3 of the biggest sustainability challenges in Phoenix and yesterday I focused on the over abundance of parking in our city center.  But we can’t talk about sustainability in Phoenix without talking about […]

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