Is downtown Hartford being consumed by parking lots?
Research by two University of Connecticut engineering scholars indicates it is. Chris McCahill, a doctoral candidate, and Professor Norman Garrick have been researching parking for a few years, work that has garnered national attention. In one study, they studied aerial photos to determine patterns of parking growth in several cities including Hartford.
They found that Hartford went from about 47,000 spots in the early 1950s to about 141,000 today (not counting on-street parking), a time period when the city's population fell by a third. The findings question the conventional wisdom that new development must come with abundant new parking.
Cities must of course accommodate cars. But cars take up space. Devote too much space to cars — in parking lots and garages as well as streets and highways — and there isn't as much room for buildings, parks, sidewalks, bike paths and other things that actually draw people to cities.
To put it another way, it is possible to sacrifice the place for the ability to park there.
The vast parking acreage downtown suggests Hartford swung too far toward parking at the expense of its roads and highways. With the downtown residential population increasing and alternative modes of transportation being built, the next few years provide an opportunity to rebalance the allocation of space.
How to do this? One way the researchers suggest is to make better use of on-street parking. Another is for employers to charge for parking — as many do — and subsidize transit. With the New Britain–Hartford busway and the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail line coming in the next five years, it may be time to rethink the city's approach to parking. If commuters could get off the bus or train and walk or bike to work on the East Coast Greenway through the city — which also should be a priority for the next decade — a lot of cars would take up space in their driveways.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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