Want to reduce traffic in cities? These parking policy tools will help

Tatjana Marn

By Tatjana Marn, on April 28th, 2017

> Read Tatjana Marn's articles

Parking policy in Europe has a long tradition of following parking demand, and many European cities have ended up giving a large part of their public spaces to parking, at a high cost. It is estimated that on average cars in cities are being used for only 1 hour per day, and that up to 50% of traffic congestion in cities is made up of cars cruising for parking. In the last few years, cities have started to change their parking policies. Popular measures – like reducing parking requirements, implementing parking management strategies, eliminating free parking, and using money from parking meters to provide improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport – are starting to show the first results.

Cars are occupying valuable public spaces

Car traffic is one of the most evident problems in the contemporary city, but it is generally understood as a mobility problem. When moving inside cities with individual cars became very common, the problem of space needed just for parking has outgrown the problem of moving around.

A survey in Graz, Austria on the use of public space by stationary traffic showed that 92% is used for parking, leaving only 8% for bicycle parking, pedestrian areas and areas for stationary public transport. It demonstrates that the use of public space for car parking is privileged considering the actual modal share (47% goes to car users).


Elimination of minimum parking requirements, or even a limitation of parking spaces in areas with development opportunities, may provide a better use of resources. Traditionally, the city planning acts prescribe the minimum number of private off-street parking spaces for a new development. This results in expensive apartments in the city, empty private parking lots and a lack of regeneration possibilities. Off-street parking requirements in local municipal acts directly affect parking supply, parking pricing possibilities, urban design, and development feasibility.

Effective parking management strategies are the smart way to deal with limited accessibility and scarce public space. In the nineties, the city of Munich started to focus on parking management as a way to reduce car use in the city centre. After carefully studying two selected residential neighbourhoods, active parking management has been introduced. A year later, the city observed a 25% reduction in overnight parkers and a 40% reduction in long-term parkers. Cruising and illegal parking were almost eliminated. In 1996, the city of Zurich introduced the “historical compromise”. It stipulates that every introduction of new off-street parking spaces has to be balanced by taking away on-street parking spaces. About 800 on-street parking slots were removed from 1996 to 2013, thus increasing the quality of street space, making it more liveable and boosting business on the streets.

The cost of free parking

Cities give up large portions of public space for on-street parking just to accommodate cars. The value of the land on a public street occupied by a parked individual car is generally unknown, since the land is not on the market. However, it is easy to align it with private parking and estimate the private benefit of free parking on the public ground. Nevertheless, it seems somehow unacceptable to present the numbers, since free parking is generally understood as a given right. A quick estimation by Marko Peterlin (Institute for Spatial Policies, 2010) shows that the value of the land in Ljubljana needed to accommodate parking for all daily commuters, is 1,687,500,000 €. Public space in densely built-up areas has a higher social, economic and environmental value if it is used for something other than car free of charge parking lots. In general, no public space should be given over to free parked cars.


Parking pricing is a powerful tool especially when it is combined with a package of incentives for alternative modes. A survey on the impact of parking pricing shows that doubling parking fees reduced car use by 20% while a similar increase in public transport frequency was predicted to only decrease car use by 1-2% [2]. Paid parking also has the best impact/acceptance ratio in comparison with a range of different measures to cut transport energy consumption and save fuel.

Investment in public or private parking garages has been a core part of the parking policy in many areas. The prices of garage parking and on-street parking should be well-balanced. Higher on-street parking fees might lead to a lower cruising traffic and make garages more competitive. This is an important strategy when negotiating the number of parking spaces with private investors.

Parking generates traffic

Parking is a major traffic generator. Awareness about parking policy is a key element of transport policy, and it is very weak in the general public, and consequently among the decision makers” says Marko Peterlin from the Institute for Spatial Policies, Ljubljana. Because of the financial crisis, unfinished real estate projects in Ljubljana and other cities resulted in brownfields which are now being used for parking and have enlarged the parking stock in the city.

After almost a decade of active parking management in Munich, car use in the whole inner city had been reduced by 14%, bike use had increased by 75% and walking by 61% [2]. Another case from Vienna shows that after the introduction of parking spaces management in the districts 6-9, parking cruising reduced from 25% of the total volume of traffic to 10%. In addition, the average time it takes to find a parking slot has been reduced from about 9 minutes to barely 3 minutes [1].

One of the solutions could also be parking benefit districts. The money from the parking pricing in those district goes to improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. Development of a parking benefit district begins with the involvement of key stakeholders (e.g. businesses, developers, landowners, residents, and government representatives) to collaboratively develop shared goals, objectives, and an overall plan to create a parking district. The next step is to develop an action plan that establishes boundaries, specific locations of parking meters, assessments, and other strategies. As a result, a plan is developed defining programmes and projects to be funded, and determining responsibilities.

Transit-supportive programmes and incentives like bus passes, fare free zones, carsharing, shared parking and improved pedestrian environment also help to reduce parking demand and support sustainable mobility in areas while creating a more vibrant, walkable area.

To gain the acceptance of parking policy solutions it is important to lead a transparent process and to ensure strong participation of local residents, property owners, developers, and other interested parties. Only in this way can people change the attitude that access to a parking space, always and everywhere, is a universal right.


  • Kodransky, M., Hermann, G., 2011: Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation. New York: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
  • REFORMING PARKING POLICIES TO SUPPORT SMART GROWTH, Toolbox/Handbook:Parking Best Practices & Strategies For Supporting Transit Oriented Development In the San Francisco Bay Area

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