The Parking Meter Project is a tactical urbanism installation, seeking to encourage healthier behaviours around transport choice. By reappropriating the classic design of parking-related imagery to include a PSA on the benefits of active transport, important messaging can be relayed directly to car users.
Though progress in urban policy is gradually taking place in Melbourne, much of this appears to occur behind closed doors. Local councils may quietly go about enacting strategies, while state and federal governments charge ahead with large-scale infrastructure and policy reforms. These decisions ultimately shape the daily life of Australians, yet many are oblivious to the intent behind these determinations. Enter basic psychology: if people don't understand the reasoning behind a decision, they struggle to get behind it.
This is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in the domain of car parking. Since Donald Shoup's seminal takedown of modern parking planning and regulation, cities have begun to reform their parking policies to positive effect. Yet reports of outrage among people when cheap, ubiquitous parking is in any way threatened continue to occupy newspapers the nation [and world] over. Regrettably, this opposition appears to slow the rate and scale of smart reform and progress.
This informed the design of The Parking Meter Project - its purpose being to deliver urgent information directly to car users. Using a series of messages adapted into parking signs and infringement tickets, information communicating the importance and benefits of active transport was conveyed.
Carlton was chosen as the zone of implementation. Despite being among Australia's top ten densest suburbs (with 11,300 people per sq km), on-street parking dominates the neighbourhood's streets. Just one block away from the world’s busiest tram corridor, and in close proximity to numerous bus routes and cycle paths, Cardigan St provides three lanes of parking for car users - a design feature repeated throughout many of the suburb’s streets.
Why did we do it?
In 1951, 57% of Melbournians travelled to work by public transport, while only 16% journeyed by car. Today, the numbers have switched - about three quarters of all commuters in Melbourne use their car, while public transport accounts for just 19% of commutes. Melbourne also has one of the country’s lowest proportions of people cycling or walking to work.
The ubiquity of free and cheap parking in and around the City of Melbourne entrenches this paradigm, while simultaneously accelerating climate change, and increasing the incidence of certain non-communicable diseases. As long as parking is widely available at low cost, excessive driving will continue to take precedence over other modes of transport.
To what benefit?
1. Improve health outcomes
The National Heart Foundation of Australia has declared a physical activity epidemic, noting that the increase in private motorised transport in Australia during the past four decades has coincided with a notable decline in physical activity in the community. This significantly elevates risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity among the country’s population. The cost of physical inactivity to Australians is also immense - amounting to $13.8 billion annually.
Switching up a car drive for a journey on foot, bike or public transport poses significant benefits to users. These active forms of transport help people reach their recommended daily levels of physical activity, connects them with their community, and decreases their symptoms of stress. Where large stretches of cheap parking exist, this choice simply doesn't occur to people - or worse, it entrenches car use in a manner which impedes the uptake of alternate transport modes.
2. Reclaim streets for people
In the City of Melbourne, the total area of parking spaces amounts to 460 hectares, enough to fill the Hoddle Grid three and half times over - that’s equivalent to 225 MCGs. Much of this is dead space, with around 40% of residential parking remaining unused in some areas of Melbourne.
Source: The Age
This speaks to a wider issue about how much of the built environment in cities is designed - in Melbourne, 89% of trips in the CBD happen by foot, yet only 24% of the infrastructure space is allocated to them. Rather than allowing personal property storage to overrun our roads, our streetscape could be redesigned to cater for a more diverse range of activities - bike lanes, wider pedestrian spaces and urban planting would be better for us all. These measures would reverse the entrenched car dominance in our neighbourhoods, and instead stimulate urban vitality and strengthen climate resilience in our cities.
3. Protect the environment
Motorised traffic also propels climate change, accounting for an estimated 22% of CO2 emissions globally. In Victoria, transport emissions have steadily grown in the last two decades, contributing the second largest share of emissions, behind only electricity generation. As car engines continue to pump out effusions, air pollution spreads across our cities - accounting for one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease, equivalent to the effect of smoking tobacco.
Where to from here?
Source: The City of Melbourne (Elena Strelnikova)
Parking doesn't have to dominate our cities, and as communities wise up to the impacts of ubiquitous cheap parking in their neighbourhoods, powerful change will continue to occur.
To get the ball rolling, Action for Health is looking to get the conversation started with key decision-makers as to how we can reverse the negative impacts of parking. You can help us by taking the survey below (for a chance to win a $50 Myki card!), or by joining us in our mission to create healthier cities.
Keep an eye on our socials for the announcement of our upcoming launch event for The Parking Meter Project!