Convert Street Parking to Outdoor Seating
It’s in the public interest for cities to convert the parking lanes of their major streets to outdoor seating, with chairs and tables. On the commercial avenue of the modern city, land use at street level is in large part restaurants, bars, and cafes, and some of the remainder of the storefronts could use outdoor seating as well, for example bakeries. In contrast, street parking is of little value – it creates more car traffic.
The main benefit here is that it turns the street into an open-air food court. This has the usual benefits of shopping centers, which at any rate were invented to simulate commercial streets, without the interference of cars. But it has an additional benefit that I have not seen mentioned by urbanists: it pools seating between different cafes and restaurants, in contrast with today’s outdoor seating, where each place has its own few tables according to the width of its storefront.
Pooling seats this way means that people who buy from in-demand establishments can take adjacent seats. I saw this, by chance, during the corona lockdown, in which outdoor dining was technically banned as well as indoor dining, but some restaurants in Mitte near Alexanderplatz had permanent outdoor seating, and people would go there with food from anywhere. Even before the lockdown, when one such place was closed, some people, including myself, would colonize its seating with food from elsewhere. In effect, it reduces the rental costs of the places that make the most in-demand food and drinks, or other products.
This system of pooled seating, at the expense of parking, also has other benefits. It means people can eat different foods together. It distributes demand, which may differ by time of day or day of week, with restaurants most popular at typical lunch and dinner times (and sometimes different restaurants have different peaks), bars at night, and cafes in between. These both increase efficiency, but even at a fixed peak, this has benefits, in letting restaurants compete on food quality.
Taxes, in general, are progressive: the rich pay more than the poor as a proportion of their income. But trying to apply the same logic to small and medium enterprise regulations is wrong. It doesn’t produce any income redistribution to speak of – the redistribution occurs only among the class of business owners, who already skew wealthy, to the detriment of the customers. In the case of storefronts, letting restaurant and cafe patrons sit outside wherever they’d like means not forcing the most desirable businesses to pay more in rent to acquire more seating space; the redistribution involved in the implicit rental tax under the present-day situation is entirely among owners, and to some extent from business owners to landlords. It’s not the same as when I pay higher taxes than a minimum-wage Aldi cashier and lower taxes than a CEO who doesn’t receive lower-taxed stock options.
And then there’s the positive impact on urban transport. City boulevards as a rule have too much car traffic and this includes ones in Berlin or Paris that Americans hold up as positive examples that they compare with noisier American arterial roads. The abundance of parking especially encourages people to drive to errands rather than walking, biking, or using public transportation; the present-day situation is that restaurants sometimes put out seats, reducing sidewalk width and with it the available space for cyclists to use the streets.
So instead, public seating, in lieu of on-street car storage, has the positive effects of distributing seats better as outlined above, while also reducing the space available for people to use cars in a city that needs more quiet and cleaner air.
Your new post came in just as I posted my comment including discussion of Anne Hidalgo’s chance in next year’s presidential election (not high)! She has been a champion of this policy and is trying to extend it in the post-Covid period, ie. to become permanent. Though there can be long-term unintended consequences of this kind of change (eg. increased gentrification?), in general it seems a very good thing, especially w.r.t. removing that eau-de-diesel one gets while dining en terrasse in Paris.
Re your idea of pooled seating, I agree, though again Paris with its vast retail space at ground level has always had less of a problem of domination by big-money interests. Interestingly the concept was prefigured in various ‘recent’ schemes like La Jeune Rue (Rue du Vertbois) in the so-called Haute Marais, or in fact the nearby quais of canal St Martin where you ordered food & drink from adjoining restos and they delivered it to you wherever on the quais you settled (aided by helium balloon identifiers)–almost a direct model of your suggestion. Like you say, the current changes should be much more democratic compared to the failed Jeune Rue which was really a bit of a scam by a rich bloke to capitalise/monetise a whole street no doubt to his own benefit.
I don’t think it could possibly cause gentrification if it applies to the entire city…
But it doesn’t involve the entire city. It was a policy aggressively pursued by Anne Hidalgo who is mayor of Paris, ie. intramuros Paris (inside the Boulevard Peripherique). In general her policies of “Paris for People Not Cars” was resisted by the more right-leaning suburbs which hold some 10 million of the 12 million residents of greater Paris (Île-de-France) and are much more car-dependent. They were particularly incensed when she closed down several kilometres of the right-bank riverside Pompidou expressway because it was they who used it the most, essentially as a fast route either thru Paris or into the centre from the east and the Peripherique. It was challenged and the State adjudicated, finally deciding on the side of the City (Hidalgo). However over the years, as Hidalgo’s (and her predecessor Bertrand Delanöe’s) policies were bedded in and the carmageddon scenarios failed to materialize, the suburbs have lost their fervour. This was noticeable in the main politician, Valérie Pécresse (a Republicain until recently; I believe she was a Sarkozette) who became President of the Regional Council of Île-de-France; after opposing most of Hidalgo’s policies she has relented on many of them. I think we’re seeing a slow ‘greening’ of all of Île-de-France as the Parisian approach finds more widespread acceptance. Covid-19 has probably accelerated this. It’s why I commented about how this influences Hildago’s run for presidency, particularly in the following cycle (2027) since even more of her greening will have been integrated into Paris but also spread to the suburbs, ie. normalized, in addition to the impact of GPX. I find this evolution very interesting (even as an imperfect model for elsewhere) and also that we are seeing women rising to the top. Pécresse is often talked of as future presidential candidate.
As to gentrification, well it’s happening anyway in Paris but is complicated or ameliorated by diverse housing and social policies and excellent public transit. Also, as I said earlier, the sheer scale of ground-level retail opportunities in Paris counters any dominance by either big chains or particular styles/classes etc. This can be contrasted with what is happening in parts of Manhattan where new development tends to exclude small traders, ie. high-rent blight that often leaves commercial space empty because the corporate owners want a certain type of tenant (banks, big chains etc). In response to the comment about WalMart, it is also interesting to note that all of NYC has kept WalMart out of the city proper. Absolutely this plays a role in keeping NYC commercial operations more diverse and open to small traders. If WalMart was allowed in, combined with the rent blight and Amazon effect, one of the great features of NYC would be doomed.
In Girona, Spain, which has strong cyclist and pedestrian constituency, city center cafe space spilled out onto sidewalks, and in some streets number of lanes are reduced to open up additional cyclist and pedestrian thruway space. Problem in past on many streets was sidewalk space was simply too meager. Reclaimed automobile lanes sometimes means pushing parallel parking way from the curb into a center lane, so that cyclists have barrier of parked cars between themselves and car traffic. Also, in USA engineers need to actually reverse tendency to widen lanes and raise speed limits on surface streets as means of faster and “safer”
thruway for cars and trucks. By narrowing lanes and reducing speed limits, cyclists are better able to join traffic and feel safe about it. Pedestrian quality of life, and street cafe atmosphere is improved if traffic is reduced in speed, and ideally drivers are motivated to stop driving and walk or take public transit. Only problem is that in many American cities busses must contend with automobile congestion.
Small businesses do need advantages over big business as otherwise they’d be eaten alive.
And the world would be worse with only big business
They do have advantages. They’re called diseconomies of scale.
In America, if you asked the Main Street storefront business owners, nine-times-out-of-ten they will tell you they need more parking. The “competition” for them is businesses that have parking lots. Closing-off more of the streets will force them to close. The restaurants were helped during Covid with the extra “social distancing” on sidewalks and street, but that is over now. And don’t even try to have “pooled seating” in an urban setting — every inch of street is considered sacrosanct. [In America, pooled seating is for food courts in shopping malls, airports, and train stations where a developer/owner has control of the tables and chairs and there is shared costs for clean-up].
Main problem Main Street America has is that nobody but the poor live downtown. The money is in the suburbs. Some towns, like Windor, California, invested big money to build housing above a commercial downtown like used to be common. If businesses depend upon car culture to deliver customers, the big box store giants like Walmart and Target will always win.
Why did Wal-Mart fail in Germany?
The explanations I’ve heard are a) antitrust laws here do not permit Walmart to operate stores at a loss to drive out competition, and b) German customers hated the greeters.
Aldi was cheaper because big box stores are actually inefficient compared to the Aldi model
But Kaufland manages just fine with the big box model.
Both: Walmart had no competitive advantage over the incumbents (Aldi and Lidl are cheaper; Kaufland and others have a lot of choice and are still cheap enough); and the cultural problems. Walmart was seen to confirm all stereotypes of U.S. companies treating their employees badly, from the greeters and baggers, jobs Germans find undignified, to ethics guidelines on relationships between employees that the public found intrusive.
I don’t think Walmart’s failure had anything to do with mobility…
Kaufland belongs to Lidl and I’m not sure that they’re “doing just fine” certainly they have a far lower market penetration…
Do you really think any of the restaurants would like to go back from several extra tables to one car storage space? I have yet to hear any clamoring for that
“the Main Street storefront business owners, nine-times-out-of-ten they will tell you they need more parking”
That is true, but history shows they are wrong. In her book Streetfight* Janette Sadik-Khan, mayor Bloomberg’s commissioner of Transport of NYC, describes the struggles they had against this attitude when creating more people-friendly streets. Local commercial operators were adamantly against all and any changes for the reasons you gave. But their worries were misplaced and all studies–at least in NYC–showed that their turnover actually increased when pedestrians replaced cars. Their resistance melted away, but you are right that it is a battle against these conservative concepts in every case, no matter what recent experience shows happens. Of course outside of NYC, people will say that it can’t possibly happen outside NYC. Even that is false but is equally hard to overcome.
*I’ve given relevant extracts of Sadik-Khan on Alon’s blog but naturally can’t find them now. Other than the improvement for retailers, many if not most of the road redesigns to improve pedestrian safety/amenity, bike-lanes, better intersections etc, actually improved traffic flow. Essentially it’s a mechanism that can be compared to laminar flow which is much more efficient than turbulent flow. Also, to those commenting here about competing surface transit, these schemes don’t in any way impede it. Superblocks is one strategy to achieve this (and in general, not just in the Barcelona rigid grid scheme).
Here is an extract from an interview of Sadik-Khan by Richard Florida:
The first pedestrian mall in the US was in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1959. It was a complete novelty and drew a lot of press coverage, attention from urban planners, and visitors. It was designed by Austrian architect Victor Gruen (who designed the first US shopping mall, Northland, in Southfield, MI outside of Detroit in 1954. It was open-air. He also designed the first enclosed shopping mall in the US in 1956, in Edina, MN, outside of Minneapolis) But, it couldn’t compete (as part of it, Gruen had designed a Ringstrasse copied from his native Vienna which didn’t get built), so half of it was eventually re-opened to cars.
College towns and and tourist towns can make it work (Boulder, CO/Madison, WI/South Beach, Miami, FL/Santa Monica, CA/ Midtown, Broadway, NYC).
A comment about the competitive retail situation in the US: the US has the highest amount of retail space per capita in the world at 23.5 square feet. In comparison, Japan is 4.4 sq ft, Spain is 3.4 sq ft, Germany is 2.3 sq ft, Russia is 1.4 sq ft). Available parking is a non-trivial edge in trying to attract customers when there is so much you are competing against.
About 90% of the pedestrian conversions have been failures, like State Street in Chicago in 1979. Nine blocks of pedestrian-only, with new trees and new subway entrances. It allowed buses to pass through. It had no added parking. Re-opened to traffic in 1996. It is slowly improving now driven by gentrification.
I’m not sure about your implied conclusions from some of those statements.
Is this due to American rabid consumerism, Americans being richer (not actually true on median basis), higher commercial competition (as you imply) or something simpler: more & cheaper space available, especially predicated on car-dependency and suburban sprawl? In this interpretation it is no accident that number 2 & 3 are Canada (16.8) and Australia (11.2) another two of the world’s largest countries by area, and also most sprawled urban areas. After these three leaders there is almost a threefold drop to the range (4.8 UK to 2.2 Germany) where most of the rest of the rich world falls. Clearly, like many other things (eg. size of cars) the US is simply using its space very inefficiently. I can’t find revenue per retail area but on retail revenue per capita the US is a long way down the world league table:
Removing the micronations we have Switzerland ($14k per cap), HK, Singapore, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Australia, USA ($7.4k per cap), Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Japan, UK ($6.5k pc) … France ($5.9k pc) …. Germany ($4.7k pc).
I’m too lazy to compile it but clearly using these two sets of data the US would be close to bottom on retail intensity, ie. revenue per area.
Americans could just be crap at this thing. Let’s face it, there are almost no American shopping streets like those in Europe or Asia. It’s not clear to me why State Street pedestrianisation “failed”–actually it is more that it failed to reverse its long-term decline post-war. Is it possible that State Street lost its retail dominance to another Chicago thoroughfare (Michigan Ave), arguably because of the intensity of road traffic on State and the proximity of Michigan Ave to the park (and its underground parking garages?) and once lost, it was hard to regain? American streets may resist good pedestrianisation because of their scale that tends to isolate the two sides from each other; and while probably not true for NYC & Chicago, lack of sufficient pedestrian intensity. The first attempt retained lanes for buses & taxis which, IMO, is the worst of both worlds. In 1996 it wasn’t simply a resumption of traffic as pre-1979 but a much more careful planning and renovation by SOM who had presumably applied some of their world-wide experience/learning. In any case the street did regain some of it luster and pedestrian traffic but cannot be attributed, either solely or even partially, to bringing traffic back. It’s complicated, eg. Michigan Ave was apparently perceived as too elite and upmarket (and expensive) so these things come and go in fashion and taste. It will be interesting to see how the changes to the Champs Élysées which doesn’t eliminate traffic but attempts to calm it while greening the space (already has four rows of heavily-pollarded trees); also major changes to the giant traffic sewers at both ends, Place de la Concorde and Etoile (Arc de Triomphe).
Also note that the discussion here is not necessarily about eliminating traffic but reducing some parking. Paris has the advantage of a heirarchy of streets from wide boulevards to narrow lanes. Melbourne CBD has an American style plan (Hoddle Grid) but is saved by its network of laneways.
To my knowledge no pedestrianization in mainland Europe that was intended to be permanent was ever reverted (unless you count the pre car era)
Then I’m afraid you haven’t been paying enough attention to the people that run the city of Madrid, Europe’s car capital 😦
As far as I can tell, there has only been a nominal ‘reversal’ of the 2018 plan (enacted at the end of 2019, though note that Covid brought even stronger restrictions from central government), purely to provide a teeniest figleaf to the right-wing mayor (José Luis Martínez-Almeida) who, in mid-2019, replaced the leftwing mayor (Manuela Carmena) who brought in the scheme. When the newly elected mayor announced he was reversing the scheme there were widespread protests in Madrid and he did a partial backtrack. However, there is a curious blackhole in news about its current status, possibly caused by Covid putting all this on hold. An online search (English) has July 2019 as the most recent news, and that is about the protests. Wiki is not much better but has this article from El Pais (below, Sept 2019, emphases are mine) which suggests only nominal changes. Perhaps some Madrilenos can enlighten us further. I also note that the scheme has emboldened Barcelona to adopt a similar central scheme. Paris is enlarging their car-free scheme for an equivalent central zone.
Broadly, without news to the contrary, I think Herbert is correct. The reason is simple. Once people (pedestrians, and even car drivers become pedestrians in the central zones or they wouldn’t/shouldn’t be there) experience a place without high-intensity traffic they resist it reverting. As I explained even the State Street “reversion” wasn’t at all a full reversion, just a better design. I reckon the main reason America is different is simply the lack of such high-intensity pedestrian streets. But imagine is the incoming mayor of NYC announced they were reversing the Time Square scheme or any of the other measures brought in by JS-K/Bloomberg? In most American towns and cities their once-busy main streets were killed by mallification and exurban sprawl.
Yeah, so after running on a pro-pollution platform (“Madrid Central ends on May 26 [the day after election day]”), Almeida did a U-turn and created Madrid 360, which was basically a slightly watered-down rebrand of Madrid Central. This was in part due to the protests and in part to avoid a huge EU fine. Then Covid came and the courts nullified the Madrid Central fines on a technicality, and nobody really knows what will happen in the near future because either way there is virtually no enforcement. The central government wants every municipality over 50,000 people to have a LEZ a few years from now, though.
Still, Madrid Central was not about traffic calming or pedestrianization — just about reducing deadly pollution, at which it did suceed. Anyway, here‘s a de-pedestrianization just last week in Vicálvaro, an area that won’t attract attention from so-called “national” media because it lies outside the M-30 and poor people live there.
If you want a quick glance of Almeida’s attitude towards urbanism and transportation, just compare his Twitter banner with those of Ada Colau or Sadiq Khan. Madrid is currently much less serious than its peers about reducing pollution and reducing traffic and giving back space to pedestrians, cyclists and trees. It is, in fact, much less serious about it than 15 years ago during the conservative Gallardón administration.
What if you have a main street that is two lanes wide each way (plus narrow footpaths) and the choice is between:
a) one lane parking + one lane mixed traffic (the status quo),
b) one lane transit (bus or tram) + one lane non-transit traffic, and
c) widened footpaths with outdoor seating + one lane mixed traffic
Surely b) is preferable to c)? Shouldn’t transit advocates be arguing for transit lanes rather than footpath widening which will permanently prevent segregating transit from mixed traffic?
In situation like that if Street can’t be simply closed down and turned into pedestrian mall, turn street into one-way, one lane, lower speed limits with bumps, and reroute bus to wider street with a block away. Priority should be pedestrian space as needed, with room for cyclists and scooters, then limited thru traffic, and try to eliminate parking. In Girona city center, big trucks are banned without special permit, delivery box trucks have limited hours on weekday mornings, and EV pedicab box delivery vehicles are increasing in popularity. Amazon and other internet retailers deliver through these emission free smaller sized vehicles that can momentarily park on sidewalk.
You do know Alon is a big proponent of subways, right?
Yes, so am I. In big cities having access to underground rapid transit reduces need for busses above. NYC though is one dimensional in terms of transit choice. It’s either busses or subway. There are no surface trolleys or people movers.
Most streets don’t need a transit lane. You don’t have a bus route on every street, they are spaced apart by 500 or 1000 or whatever meters.
An option you did not list is to make the street one-way, with the street next to it one-way the opposite direction. Thus you can cut the street width in half (4 to 2 total lanes) while still preserving both car travel and parking.
If you’re talking about a main street with shop frontages, then it probably will have enough activity to support a transit lane. And the transit belongs on the main street since that is where people actually want to go to. But you might still not have enough density and/or mode share to either have a pedestrian mall with transit running through the middle of it (and hence no traffic at all), or a subway line running underneath it, with traffic on the surface. In which case you need a transit lane and a traffic lane, and have to forego the outdoor restaurant seating (or so I would argue).
One-way streets are a bad idea in general. They tend to create a hostile environment for pedestrians, and as Jarrett Walker points out they reduce the coverage of transit (because you will have to walk longer one way than the other, so the effective ped-shed is smaller). American cities in particular should be reversing the one-wayisation of their downtown streets.
One-way streets have higher capacity than two-way, because there are fewer traffic signal phases so traffic can flow more continuously, which makes one-way streets more pedestrian-hostile for a given number of lanes. But our goal is to decrease the number of lanes. A car-oriented designer would replace two-way two-lanes with one-way four-lanes, but we could replace it with one-way two-lanes and reclaim land for pedestrians, while making the street crossing more pleasant too.
One-way transit lanes are bad, but the point is to institute one-way for cars only. For example you could design a 3-lane road for your main artery: bidirectional bus lanes plus one-way car lane. Or a 4-lane road: the same plus curb parking.
Erlangen has a one lane bus lane on the Büchenbacher Damm. It’s better than zero bus lanes…
Also: much of the old town has streets which are currently one lane one way for cars but open in both directions to bikes. Obviously it would be better to close them to cars entirely, but that requires more political courage than can be had in a SPD-CSU “cooperation”…
If there are suitable parallel streets for non-transit traffic, then
d) Convert two lanes to bus/tram lanes (one each way), another into a bidirectional bike lane, use the remaining lane to widen sidewalks.
Small correction, Aldi pays starting wages above the minimum wage and has ever since Germany first introduced minimum wages. See https://karriere.aldi-sued.de/ here for Aldi Süd and https://www.aldi-nord.de/karriere here for Aldi Nord.
“Small business” is one of the few idols America worships more than cars, so I remain optimistic outdoor seating will suceed ing changing the politics of the street where other attempts failed.
I’m not in general. Once someone is car dependent they need a place to park the car, and they demand that be close. Thus small business will make sure they are close to enough parking for everyone who might visit.
The above is about the car dependent. In NYC there are people who are not car dependent. Where those people exist in numbers small business to serve them will demand street seating and the like and things will go well. Most cities don’t have enough people living in the core (it is all commercial) to support street seating in general. They can get the lunch hour crowd because the core city is enough to make people transit dependent to get into work, but those people are otherwise car dependent and so they won’t use those shops in the core other times. Those car dependent people will for supper drive someplace because that is how they get around, and if there isn’t free parking they will move on to the next place with free parking, so street parking is important (or a parking lot)
I think this is the key. Where there are enough people living in walking distance to support a business that business will be better off without street parking. Once they have that base a few people will come and pay for parking as well, but the base is those who don’t drive in the first place. Cities in the US have abandoned the idea that people should be able to walk to stores and in turn that means stores need parking, which in turn supports the big box stores with plenty of parking. If the cities can lure people back into the core to live they can reverse this. So long as people don’t live in the city, the city cannot support walking. I do see signs of change, but only time will tell if this catches on and people move back, or is just a fad and they move back to the suburbs.
Yeah I am thinking mainly about places like NYC and SF where I lived, and where the built environment to various degrees OK so the next steps can be anti-car stick than transit carrot. In sunbelt hell holes where “remove parking and they will not come” is true, the problems are a lot. I don’t know what to do about them, in the short term. But “tactical urbanism” can work great in the places I am thinking of so the political failures are all the more infuriating.
Great point about pooling seating between different businesses, instead of each one having its own private seating area.
Here in San Francisco, even when we’ve closed entire streets (Valencia, Grant, 18th St), there have been no shared tables or seats. We still have private seating areas per business. It’s wildly inefficient and means that if you order food from a place around the corner, where the street is still open to vehicles, you have no place to sit. It seems like no one can imagine a better setup.
So the city should be responsible for cleaning and maintaining the outdoor seating?
The city should be responsible for daily cleanup of its public streets, public space, waterways! I find it amazing that this should be a debate in USA because it’s certainly not in Girona, Spain. If wants wants to tax residents, businesses, and dog owners to do this, then that’s cost of life and business. Disposal bins should be readily available for dog waste and petty trash from fast food and such, but cities can also order businesses to cease and desist when it comes to certain types of plastic waste that’s simply unnecessary to healthy business environment.
Part of the problem is that most US cities don’t price parking correctly. Street parking is cheap or free and therefore scarce, while lot/garage parking typically charges a high hourly or fixed rate (which is expensive unless you’re staying a long time). A few cities, like San Francisco and Calgary, have experimented with varying street parking rates based on demand. Under that system, the rates on busy commercial blocks are high because the spaces there are in demand. If you reformed parking pricing first, it might be easier to take spaces away for outdoor seating, wider sidewalks, transit lanes, or whatever. The higher rates would deter some parking demand, and get other drivers used to the idea of parking a couple blocks away or in a lot/garage.
Is it still worth removing parking spaces in American cities with “no transit”, as Alon dubs it? In such areas, most customers will indeed be arriving by car; buses will be non-existent or infrequent. Even if the surrounding blocks are pedestrian friendly, the rest of the city would not be.
Yes. Trips can be chained.
What do you mean?
I mean people can chain trips, so that one car trip is used for a bunch of different purposes. Much of the difference between European and American v-km is not about public transport – the modal split here is 16% and in France it’s 15% – but about people driving shorter distances. In bad-transit cities like Nice, and I think also in no-transit ones judging by my familiarity with no-transit sections of the Riviera, one car trip gets you to a bunch of different destinations that are vaguely co-located. This isn’t due to TOD – it’s about intact, walkable village centers, which equally exist in no-transit American cities.