There Is Now Scientific Evidence That Parking Makes People Crazy

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. Fifth in a series.

All this week, we’ve been unpacking the nuances of the first major study of protected bike lanes in the United States. Today, we’re wrapping things up by taking a moment for perhaps the most amusing finding in the 179-page report.

Even when a protected bike lane project creates on-street parking spaces where none existed before, 30 percent of nearby residents think the project made parking worse.

The project in question was Multnomah Street in Portland, where the city removed one travel lane in each direction in order to add buffers for the bike lanes and, at some midblock locations, 21 new parking spaces. Of 492 nearby residents who returned surveys about the project, 30 percent said that the changes had made it harder to park on the street.

At projects that actually removed parking spaces in order to add protected bike lanes, 49 percent of residents said they made it harder to park.

Could it be that when people who oppose bike projects complain about the loss of on-street parking, this issue is often not actually their primary concern?

As scientists sometimes say, the answer to this question is left as an exercise for the reader.

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45 thoughts on There Is Now Scientific Evidence That Parking Makes People Crazy

  1. Maybe the project removed some illegal “spaces” for double-counting which weren’t counted. Or, as usual, people don’t let the facts stand in the way of a preconception.

  2. You definitely can’t call this scientific. When you approach someone with a loaded question, they will be more likely to agree regardless. Try doing the same thing but ask in the opposite way: “Do you think this design had a positive impact on parking?”

    Just watch Jimmy Kimmel’s clips where he asks people on the street about events that didn’t exist, yet they will simply make stuff up because they don’t want to disagree with the loaded question they’ve been asked.

  3. Re: NE Multnomah in Portland. The street previously had curbside, 5 foot bike lanes on each side, and 2 lanes each way with a center turn lane. Now it has 1 lane each way with the same central turn lane. The extra space has been used for planters, car parking, and bike parking. There were zero parking spaces along Multnomah in this area, thought there was plenty of off-street parking and some parking on side streets. I never saw double parking, and it was rare to see anyone blocking the bike lane.

    Now the bike lanes are usually clear, since they added more planters and better signage. The new parkings spots have about 50% utilization when I go by. Traffic is calmer due to having 1 lane in each direction, but it never backs up; the traffic was light to begin with. It feels much easier to cross the street. There are 2 major, block-size residential developements going on on NE Multnomah right now.

  4. I see this is also a mailed survey. I’d be curious to know how responses average for these kinds of things. Various outlets for commenting are often filled with only the negatives because people feel more strongly to input negatively than they are to leave a mediocre positive report. (Apartment complex reviews are a glaring example.)

  5. But I think that part of the point is that this 30% establishes a baseline for other studies with similar methodology. We can’t read nearly as much off a majority of people thinking a new design has made it harder to park if 30% of them were going to say that even when it made it *easier*.

  6. Andy, good point about phrasing. Here’s the exact wording of the question (which, unfortunately, we didn’t have access to when we made this infographic):

    “The impact of the protected bike lanes on my ability to find a parking spot on the street has been ( ) negative ( ) positive.”

    Aside from “negative” being placed first here (as it seems to have been in every other question on the page, including the ones where the “pro-bike” answer would have been “negative”) that doesn’t strike me as a loaded question. I agree that the version in the infographic above would have been.

  7. Thanks for the clarification. I only thought of that because here in NYC people have opposed some street redesigns with the argument “where are people going to double-park?”. With a straight face! 🙂

    And oops, I typed double-counting where I meant double-parking in my original comment. I’ll fix that.

  8. Maybe there is an alternative explanation: “finding parking” on streets is not only about the actual empty space where you can reverse, steer and park. If the area is reasonably busy, chances are you have to actually cruise-and-seek for an empty space, driving around. If lanes are reduced, maybe it became more stressful and longer to drive around until a spot was found.

    An analogy is that of entering an underground parking garage that has vacancies, but having to back up on the street to actually enter the garage because the gates are working too slow before they dispense an entry ticket to drivers.

  9. That question is certainly a better one asked than what is shown in the graphic. Thanks for the clarification.

  10. This is a possibility. There was, however, a separate question on the survey which asked whether “how stressful it is to park a car on the street” had changed for the worse or for the better. (On this other question, the share for “more stressful” was 45% for all projects, 33% for Multnomah in particular.)

  11. I hear and see a lot of that where I live in San Francisco. When there are proposals to either build PROTECTED bike lanes or make streets safer for people, often too many irrational narrow minded people will try to water down or eliminate the improvements with that narrow minded mentality like if they have the GOD given entitled right to park there. To many narrow minded people just are unwilling to see the benefits of these improvements.

  12. Okay, I like this one. No arguments from me on this point but I will leave you a poignant thought I heard from another bike / ped planner.

    “Government agencies that manage our public right-of-ways have a responsibility to make sure the roads are safe for all roadway users. They have no obligation to provide storage for private property.”

    Think about it.

  13. Andy, that quote is a little disingenuous. I think that most people understand that roads exists not just to allow vehicles to travel on them but also to allow those vehicle to be able to stop at their destination.

    So the voters pay higher taxes to allow both traffic lanes and parking lanes on most roads. One without the other works less well for obvious reasons. It’s not like you can fold up a car and carry it with you.

    Now that isn’t to say that you can park on all roads and streets, and there are typically costs and restrictions in congested areas. But for the most part our current model says that we have to consider the space that stationary vehicles require as well as the requirements for them to move.

    Until and unless there is adequate off-street parking for everyone, streets will continue to be regarded as doing more than just accommodating vehicles only when they are in motion.

  14. I think the point is more that any removal of lateral road space can increase the stress on driving and parking. The ability to double-park temporarily, perhaps to let out a passenger, is something very useful to people. The fact that it is technically contrary to a regulation does not mean it has no value to anyone.

    An analogy might be the value of a cyclist sometimes riding on the sidewalk or a pedestrian jaywalking. Both are also illegal but if we erected fences to prevent it, there would be objections

  15. But it didn’t used to be like that, that’s a relatively new way of doing it. I believe it was only since World War 2 that NYC allowed overnight parking on the street; before that at night you had to park in a private driveway or lot. It seems like a better system, allowing easier street cleaning and finding abandoned or stolen cars quickly. But the bigger problem right now is that the total population pays taxes for a few to get free parking. It’s too easy to consider “everyone” as just those people with cars, and to forget about providing services for those who don’t, but still pay the taxes to fund it.

  16. As a non driver you might think harder to park means harder to find a spot. It could mean harder to stop and back into a spot because there’s less clearance for the front to swing out into traffic AND less clearance for the other cars to pass while you are doing so. Add impatient drivers leaning on the horn makes parking very stressful

  17. Before WW2 you had to be fairly well off to have a car, and so probably had a house big enough to allow off-street parking.

    Some towns like Brookline, Mass do not allow overnight street parking. Or any street parking during snow emergencies.

    Then there are other towns that limit street parking but allow access to extensive off-street parking in lots behind the stores or commercial buildings. As well as the strip mall model of off-street parking around buildings.

    All that said, I would not categorize the people who enjoy street parking as a “few” at all. I’d guess it is a healthy majority nationally, which would inhibit changes to public policy that suddenly outlawed the street parking that we’ve all already paid for.

    Getting the genie back in the bottle is a massive undertaking, and probably a very unpopular one. We could and should have designed things better, but we are mostly stuck with our past panning mistakes.

  18. Yes, but my point was more about the difference between having road markings and signs that re-allocate road space and having physical barriers to achieve that.

    The latter usually take more lateral space, like a pedestrian median or a physically segregated bike lane. And they can make the road more stressful or dangerous by reducing the lateral space for maneuvers and evasive action.

    Whether we cage in cars, bikes or pedestrians, we risk inconveniencing them (at best) and exposing them to more risk (at worst).

    The ability of a pedestrian to enter a roadway, a cyclist to go onto a sidewalk, and a car to go into a bike lane are all constrained by law. But that doesn’t mean that creating separate cages for each would be an improvement, nor popular.

    And when we do achieve real physical segregation, as with urban freeways, people don’t like that either.

  19. Is your hypothetical safety effect of having more road space for “maneuvers and evasive action” based on any actual data or studies, or just something you are assuming? I searched and could not find anything to back up the claim. Beyond that, would not the center turn lane provided in most parts of the redesign of Multnomah Street in Portland suffice for this purpose?

    On the other hand, we do have lots of data showing that narrowing lanes and reallocating excess road space dedicated to car travel has the effect of reducing speeding, which in turn makes crashes much less severe when they do occur. We do also have lots of data showing that a majority of people report feeling more comfortable biking in spaces that are physically protected from cars, and more likely to ride a bicycle in these conditions. We do know that by not separating bike infrastructure in urban spaces we are inconveniencing bicyclists who frequently encounter their lanes being used as parking or loading zones. We also know that countries which provide more physical separation of bicycle traffic tend to have a much lower rate or injuries and fatalities.

    In urban areas we routinely provide physical separation of pedestrian spaces via curbs, of freeways and high speed arterials via medians, of train tracks via grade separation, etc. It is only when considering bicycle infrastructure that this level of protection is deemed unnecessary, and I can’t wrap my head around how this makes sense.

    Urban freeways are disliked not because of the separation from other traffic, but because they are incredibly expensive, because blocks are bulldozed to build them, because the remaining neighborhoods are bisected by them as impermeable barriers, and because the aesthetic of living under their shadow and noise depresses property values and community pride. Comparing the affect of an urban freeway to that of delineating a protected bikeway by putting a couple planter boxes down is quite a stretch.

  20. The question is not that specific in asking “…have a negative impact on parking?” It did not ask if the person thought the project reduced the number of parking spaces. A negative impact on parking could mean anything – maybe it was harder or more confusing to get to the parking (buffers are not universally understood yet – are they legal to cross?). Or because of the road diet, maybe a parking maneuver now stops all traffic, which could be perceived as a negative impact.

  21. As discussed a few comments down, the actual phrasing of the survey question was “The impact of the protected bike lanes on my ability to find a parking spot on the street has been ( ) negative ( ) positive.”

  22. Yes, exactly, and this was the point I was making to Prinzrob below. The issue of how drivers perceive safety and convenience goes far beyond the nominal figure for parking removed or added. Taking out a lane of traffic increases congestion, lowers throughput and makes parking or any other maneuver more difficult, stressful and risky.

    As a separate issue, I am at a loss to understand how this project allegedly added to the amount of available parking, as claimed. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a project that takes resources from cars and gives it to bikes, pedestrians or transit which actually added parking or any other provision for vehicles. Such changes are usually very one-sided.

    Perhaps if all interested parties had to sign off on changes, rather than making this a war with winners and losers, we’d see better outcomes?

  23. On-street parking can be a great means to traffic calm streets. The residential streets in Seattle are incredibly narrow, particularly when there is parking on both sides, like only wide enough for one car at a time. It makes the streets VERY bikeable as drivers need to go REALLY slow and bicyclists can simply ride in the lane at a speed not much slower than most car drivers would go.

    That said, we always get pushback when bicycle lane and sidewalk plans call for the removal of some car parking even when conditions are flat out deadly for bicyclists and pedestrians. Is it right to prioritize car parking when peoples lives are at risk?!?! I highly doubt that you will agree.

  24. “Taking out a lane of traffic increases congestion, lowers throughput and makes parking or any other maneuver more difficult, stressful and risky.”

    Except when it doesn’t, but people complain anyway and demand that the bike lanes be removed at a significant cost because… bikes?

    From my experience most streets that get road diets are determined to have excess capacity, and are a much more thoughtful use of road space providing safer access for all road users while only slowing down the speeders. Most of the neighbors I’ve talked to who live, walk, and drive on these streets consider it a win-win.

    “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a project that takes resources from cars and gives it to bikes, pedestrians or transit which actually added parking or any other provision for vehicles.”

    I have seen this happen many times when curbside parallel or angled parking is added to a street in an effort to narrow the lane widths and therefore reduce speeding.

    “Such changes are usually very one-sided.”

    When an existing street design is almost entirely geared toward automobile access then yes, any changes made will likely be one sided.

    “Perhaps if all interested parties had to sign off on changes, rather than making this a war with winners and losers, we’d see better outcomes?”

    No, in that case nothing would ever happen, as every issue would end in a stalemate. This is why we hire professional planners, as at some point someone has to make a decision based not only on the feelings of individual interest groups, but also on the data. Usually this results in a compromise between road users, including drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders, which is what happened on NE Multnomah Street in Portland:

  25. Very true. From wikipedia, and similar to many mission statements of DOTs: “Traffic engineering is a branch of civil engineering that uses engineering techniques to achieve the safe and efficient movement of people and goods on roadways.”

    Note the “…safe and efficient MOVEMENT of people and goods…”

  26. When parking and lanes are removed, everyone wins. Proving this is an exercise for the reader.

  27. No they don’t. There will _never_ be enough parking for everyone just like there will never be enough money in the world to make everyone rich. There is parking EVERYWHERE right now but people are unable to find it. You have a giant thing to store, who’s responsible? Me? Are you going to pay to store some of my extra stuff?

  28. It’s also illegal to rob a bank, but that has _value_ for the band robbers. I guess we should overlook that, too. Except that bank robbers kill less people than motorists.

  29. And the more parking is added, the shorter distance people become willing to park away from their destination. I usually just park at the first spot I see that’s a reasonable walking distance, rather than most that will continue to loop around until they find something – only wasting their own time and gas.

  30. The residential streets in Seattle are incredibly narrow, particularly when there is parking on both sides, like only wide enough for one car at a time.

    Yeah, except for the designated ‘arterials’ which, um, are pretty much the best streets for biking in this hilly city.

    I really have a bee in my bonnet about Seattle’s attitude that it’s OK to designate residential streets ‘arterials’ ’cause, well, everyone drives! The result is you get lovely incidents like, for example, a wreck that took out both of a relative’s family vehicles. The culprit was a drunk teen who likely felt he had no choice to drive with Seattle being increasingly transit-poor. No one was hurt, but this was right before Christmas, no less. So awesome.

  31. Yeah I hear ya’ on Seattle having a hard time coming to grips that the main roads in and around the city are the best for cycling because they were the logical easy way between the hills. Even though many of the residential streets can be rather steep, at least you have alternatives to the arterials to ride on. Many sprawlburbs, locals have no choice but to travel on 6 and 8 lane arterial “no-mans-lands” because every residential street ends in a cul-de-sac.

  32. Michael,

    Many Portland residents have completely lost faith in our poorly managed city.
    Business and homeowners flinch when they see any city project involving bikes.

    I know you speak for the 6% of inner city residents who bike commute, but I live with the “other Portland” (you know- the 85% of Portland that doesn’t “Look” like Portland).

    I don’t appreciate your snark. You can de-legitimize my concerns, but it won’t get you anywhere.

    Besides- Port;land has horrible polls. Who knows how poorly crafted the questions were or the size of the sample.

  33. Fair points, Mamacita. I agree that this was snarky.

    On your last point: As mentioned a few comments down, the precise phrasing of the survey question was “The impact of the protected bike lanes on my ability to find a parking spot on the street has been ( ) negative ( ) positive.” The sample size was 369 nearby residents who responded to surveys and reported that they’d driven a motor vehicle on Multnomah since its redesign.

  34. Dear Michael:

    Few people have the intellectual honesty to admit error or snark, and I appreciate the fact that you are among the proud few.

    Could we see the poll as a barometer of opinion and perception? Overall, rapid change plus crowding has lead to widespread dis-satisfaction. Nothing seems to be going right in PDX, and the mood is crabby.

    Thank you for sharing the question- it is an unusual example to a question that is drafted competently. The sample seems great. But maybe it captured an overall mood. The natives are restless.

  35. I think your “opinion and perception” point is excellent.

    So many times, polls look at one issue and assume all other things remain the same. But in the real world, they don’t.

    This is why economics is “the dismal science”, by the way. For all but a few isolated marketing tests, you can’t take a city or a country, put it (and a duplicate control) in a box and run pure scientific economic studies on them. Thus, conclusions tend to be biased toward the beliefs and priorities of those doing the study. The skew isn’t necessarily deliberate, but it’s certainly there.

  36. Absolutely. I’ve noticed in my city, roads where a bike lane was added AND parking spaces were added — BUT a traffic lane was removed for blocks.

    This can only lead to more traffic congestion in that area, thus creating an honest negative perception in the minds of drivers.

    Acting like people should be completely rational about this issue when we KNOW people are irrational in general is pretty unreasonable for bikers (who of course have their own biases, but those are of course, politically correct).

  37. So now drunken drivers are now responsible taxpayer’s fault? Next you’ll be wanting to raise taxes on job creators since they can “afford to pay a little” more.

    And of course, the drunk only had that accident because someone designated the road a certain way. And it’s OK that the drunk teen “felt he had no choice to drive”.

    Yeah. Personal responsibility never has anything to do with anything in your world (except building more bike lanes paid for by drivers), right?

  38. Right. And people who don’t think EXACTLY like you and freely spend other people’s money in buckets to do what YOU want are all “narrow minded”.


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