Transforming parking spaces into lively mini parks show city’s potential

By Saba Long

Three downtown Atlanta parking spaces gave way to a beach-themed urban oasis on a hot Friday as part of the globally celebrated PARK(ing) Day.

Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), along with its partners, were able to capture an effusive spirit of community with people of all walks of life drawn to the hip tunes from DJ Respire, refreshing smoothies made from bicycle-powered blenders and art installations from the Mammal Gallery and Eyedrum.

“We’re pleased with the successful implementation of Paved Paradise and the attention it brought to the importance of place-making in urban environments,” said AJ Robinson, CAP President.

The success of this small gesture of place-making shows its time to reconsider our views on parking in the city proper.

Who knew you could that pack that much fun into three metered parking spaces and perhaps the more important question is, do we need to continue to use that real estate in its current form?

“Structuring an Equitable Parking Tax: Why the City of Atlanta Needs a Parking Tax and How it Should be Structured,” a 2011 thesis from then Georgia State graduate Marshall Willis, notes there are more than 75,000 parking spaces within the Downtown Improvement District – all located within walking distance of two MARTA rail stations and numerous bus stops.

PARK(ing) Day participants lounge on beach chairs outside of 34 Peachtree St. (Photos by Saba Long)

PARK(ing) Day participants lounge on beach chairs outside of 34 Peachtree St. (Photos by Saba Long)

One downtown surface parking lot recently advertised its proximity to the soon-to-open Atlanta Streetcar. The cost to park in that lot – a mere four dollars for the entire day – is twice the amount of a round-trip ticket on the Atlanta Streetcar.

Although many would disagree, the cost of parking in Atlanta is far more affordable than other metropolitan areas around the country. To be sure, those cities – Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, to name a few – are denser and have more robust transportation alternatives.

However, improving or increasing transportation options must not happen in silos. For example, ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft are experiencing explosive growth in Atlanta, reducing the number of cars on the road. This summer, MARTA announced rail service improvements during peak hours – an increase of 30 percent. The City of Atlanta continues to expand bicycling facilities, making cycling a safer and convenient transportation mode.

A PARK(ing) Day participant peddles to power the blender affixed to the back of a bicycle

A PARK(ing) Day participant peddles to power the blender affixed to the back of a bicycle

Now is the time to begin reducing the amount of parking spaces as these behavioral shifts take place and, simultaneously, policymakers must consider incentivizing or discouraging consumer decisions.

PARKAtlanta – the concept, not the company, should be viewed as step one of many in retooling parking availability and price in the city. Technology must also be at the forefront of this discussion – something PARKAtlanta has been slow to adopt.

San Francisco implemented SFPark – a parking management system that identifies parking availability via a mobile application and charges dynamic pricing based on supply and demand. Allowing motorists to view parking availability in advance reduces congestion caused by circling the block numerous times to find that elusive parking space.

Parking reform could reduce a city’s congestion by double-digit percentages, according to Donald Shoup, the godfather of parking analyses. This, coupled with the installation of smart traffic lights, could bring about noticeable traffic relief in Atlanta. At the least, it keeps traffic level as the city continues to grow.

Atlanta’s successful participation in PARK(ing) Day showed the public is interested in repurposing surface parking for micro place-making. At a much larger scale, excessive surface lots should become the lobby level for buildings that increase our density or ripped up completely and converted into much needed green space.

Reduced congestion and sprawl, creating a collective environment, increasing parks, expanding green space are all compelling reasons to implement comprehensive parking reform.

Let’s make it happen.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

2 replies
  1. W M says:

    The vast majority of employees that work in the City of Atlanta commute from the suburbs and this is a fact that will not change in the next 50 to 100 years. These folks need somewhere to park as we clearly do not have, as the author properly stated, a “robust transportation” system as an alternative.  That said, we must continue to promote mass transit as bicycle lanes do nothing other that appease the hipster generation.  Even the majority of Atlantans working in the city are not in close enough proximity to bike into work.  Mass transit is the key to reducing congestion, not the elimination of parking spaces.  Buses, trains, carpooling, etc., must be promoted as the solution.  Once mass transit is becoming successful then, and only then, should bike lanes and walk-ability be addressed.  The vast majority of parking spaces are in garages or on surface lots.  These are not controlled by the City of Atlanta as such they cannot regulate capitalism.  Sure, ordinance changes can tighten up restrictions, costing the property owner and parking company quite a hefty sum, but, this would be impinging upon the rights they have as owners and as companies, the basic tenets we Americans hold dear.  But, I guess if it is for bicyclists, that must be fine.  This article is nothing more than a good marketing strategy because it lacks substance.Report

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  2. JessG says:

    @W M “These folks need somewhere to park.”  First off, there is plenty of parking in Atlanta – from surface lots cutting through and disrupting the city’s walk-ability, to parking meters to parking decks.  Parking is everywhere.  It satisfies only the people that commute in and out of the city.  I believe the article is stating that we need to remove some of these lots that are underutilized and really disrupt the city’s goal to become more pedestrian friendly.  You are right that we do not have a “robust transportation” system as an alternative.  I think that we need to make parking in Atlanta more expensive so that more people will chose alternative means of transportation – just like you said, trains, buses, carpooling etc. until we are able to improve our mass transportation options.
    I do not think that bike lanes “appease the hipster generation.”  I think this generation of young people is leading the way in demanding alternative means of transportation.  Cars are expensive!  Encouraging college students at Georgia Tech and Georgia State that are already under stress from student loans, to ride a bike to and from class as opposed to owning a car is a step in the right direction.  Making biking in the city safer for students and drivers alike helps Atlanta grow as a city and become more attractive to job seekers & businesses.  If you have seen the streets that have bike lanes and areas around the Beltline, you would see that the Atlanta community is begging for a more robust bike system!  I can bike from my neighborhood and be almost anywhere in Atlanta in less than 20 minutes.  If I were to jump in my car & try to find parking, that trip goes from 20 minutes to 45 to an hour depending on the time of day.  I do not think it is only “hipsters” demanding bike lanes, but people concerned for the environment, people that cannot afford cars and their upkeep and even parents that have children that bike/walk to school.
    All in all, I think that Atlanta has a long way to go from changing from a car-centric city to one that is mass transit focused.  However, making parking harder/more expensive, promoting biking/walking and adding buses/trains/streetcars and encouraging carpooling are all steps in the right direction.Report

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