A report into inner city parking reforms has found that European cities are leading the way in the battle to coax people into using public transport instead of clogging up city streets with cars. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) has revealed that cities which have implemented a host of innovative parking policies in recent years are now benefiting from improved air quality and better standards of urban life, all thanks to significant reductions in car use.

The new report is the second in a series of policy papers from ITDP on the subject of parking. While the first looked at successful parking practices in U.S. cities, the latest paper has turned the spotlight on Europe. It examines recent revisions in parking policies in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Strasbourg and Zurich and has found that attempts to rid inner city public spaces and footpaths of vehicles have led to noticeable benefits for citizens.

The report states that: "the impacts of these new parking policies have been impressive: revitalized and thriving town centers; significant reductions in private car trips; reductions in air pollution; and generally improved quality of life."

Regulating car use

I remember that one of the most frequent topics discussed in an office with limited onsite parking was the lack of available spaces nearby. For many, even the thought of giving up the convenience of stepping out of the front door into a single occupancy vehicle and then being able to get out at the other end just outside of the office door left them with chills.

They would rather drive around for hours trying to find a space – and risk being late for work – than get on a bus, train or tram. In fact, the report states that such behavior is a major cause of traffic flow problems in the city.

It has been found that previous policies that offered more and more free parking for city visitors has led to the car being seen as the most convenient and affordable option available but in fact, such policies have only served to add to traffic woes. The implementation of practices like strictly limiting the number of available spaces for parking in a city or increasing the charges have been successful in driving people towards other means of getting from A to B.

Paris, for instance, has seen a 13 percent decrease in the number of people driving in the city thanks to a reduction in the number of spaces available and the imposition of rational on-street parking charging. At the same time, the city – like Amsterdam, Zurich and Strasbourg – has witnessed a significant rise in the use of public transport thanks to measures like setting limits on how much parking is made available in new developments, based on the surrounding public transport availability.

Greening the city

In addition to helping to revitalize inner city environments, the parking innovations also help to fund cleaner and greener transport infrastructures. Copenhagen has spent the last few decades removing numerous parking zones to pedestrianize large parts of the city. Some municipalities have started to vary parking charges based on the CO2 emission levels at the time a vehicle is parked, with cleaner vehicles paying less. All of the money generated from parking charges in Barcelona is invested in the city's public bike system.

Improved air quality hasn't been the only benefit of such regimes. Boroughs in London use funds generated from parking charges to allow senior citizens and the disabled to use public transport free of charge.

Future initiatives currently being tested include the use of GPS technology to optimize parking systems and vary charges according to specific location, time of day, day of the week and so on.

The authors hope that the report will serve to "inspire cities in other regions to try even bolder efforts to harness parking policy – an often overlooked and undervalued municipal policy lever – to achieve broader social goals."

The full report entitled Europe's Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation can be read at the ITDP's website.