The Paradeplatz is a classic public square at the heart of a historic European city. It is surrounded by elegant buildings constructed in architectural styles that date back several centuries. Just as it was in the early 1900s, it is car-free.
Paradeplatz is in the center of Zurich, and it pulses with pedestrians, bicyclists and trams. Pleasantly missing are parked cars. No parking is allowed on the Paradeplatz or on other squares and streets in the city. It is the result of a parking policy that sets a maximum rather than a minimum number of spaces that the city center allows.
“In a place like Zurich, the idea of parking has been turned on its head,” says Norman Garrick, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Connecticut. “What Zurich is saying is that the city will supply a certain amount of transportation infrastructure and then behavior will fit the type of supply.”
Zurich has existed for nearly 2,000 years, but in the 1950s and ’60s, increased car ownership began to change the city’s character, congesting the streets and turning its once-elegant public squares into parking lots. In 1989, the city decided to regulate parking by setting a cap on the number of spaces allowed in certain districts.
As an example of the city’s parking policy, Garrick cites the construction of a new 36-story building tower near Zurich’s main train station that has just 250 parking spots. By comparison, zoning in American cities, which is based on parking minimums, would require such a structure to provide eight times as much parking.
A similar revolution is under way in Perth, Australia. The city has seen a surge in cars, traffic and parking demands since the 1970s. In 1999, the city council (with the state of Western Australia’s approval) passed parking regulations that included a strict maximum limit on the number of parking spaces in the city’s central districts. Regulations also included hefty levies on all nonresidential parking and high fees on tenant parking.
Since the policy went into effect, the city’s seen the number of parking places reduced by 10 percent from its record high. Central Perth traffic is down significantly while public transit use surged by 67 percent.
Now the movement is coming stateside. Cambridge, Mass.; Nashville, Tenn.; Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C., are all considering setting maximum parking limits. It’s a welcome change even if it’s just a start, says Garrick. Before there had been no “attempt to establish how parking was used,” he says. “[Even today] most American cities don’t know how much parking they have. The results have been devastating to the livability of a city’s urban core.”