A central theme of our work here at Strong Towns is the immense cost of building and maintaining automobile-centric cities and towns, and the need to find alternatives to this pattern of development before it bankrupts us. This elicits some predictable lines of pushback.
Here is the single most common argument I hear against removing parking spaces or traffic lanes from an urban environment—say, by ending parking minimums, taking away street parking for a bike lane, or converting a street lane to bus only:
“But people with disabilities need to park. The alternatives to driving don’t work for everyone.”
It’s clearly true that there are people for whom the alternatives to driving and parking a car are not practical. Even in a gold-standard 15-minute neighborhood with a high degree of walkability and many useful destinations, there will be people who aren’t served as well by active transportation. Some destinations are too far to travel by walking, biking, or using a wheelchair or other non-motorized device, and the route may not be safe or comfortable. Some people really do rely on the quick, door-to-door access that is a car’s best selling point, and getting off a bus or train a few blocks away isn’t going to cut it.
This includes many people with disabilities. It also includes many elderly adults and young children. In more context-specific situations it might include, say, people whose work requires them to haul heavy loads, or people who need to travel complex, multi-stop routes in a day on a tight schedule. It can also include people for whom safety concerns in public spaces are a barrier to traveling without the protection of a car.
These people, for the foreseeable future, will arrive at places in cars, and will need to park those cars.
What does not follow from this is that, in order to be fair to those who rely on motorized transport, we must resist all changes that would diminish the convenience of driving and parking. This is completely backwards, and it’s worth recognizing why.
Here are three reasons even those who heavily depend on car access right now need not fear a transition to less auto-centric places, and might still welcome it.