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Strange Days: Outrage Absent as Businesses Reclaim Parking Spots

It took a pandemic, but the worldwide effort to move restaurant and retail businesses outside, at the expense of parking, is proving far less controversial than it would have before the coronavirus swept the globe.
October 6, 2020, 7am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Something strange happened this summer, according to an article and radio broadcast for NPR by Camila Domonoske: the usual outrage when cities remove on-street parking in commercial areas hasn't materialized.

"Just ask Randy Rucker, the chef and owner of River Twice on East Passyunk Ave [in South Philly]. The restaurant placed tables in the street where as many as four cars used to squeeze in, in a neighborhood where every parking spot is prized."

The expected backlash never materialized. Rucker says it's been a positive experience.

Rucker is the owner of one of more than 400 businesses in Philadelphia to take advantage of the city's program to allow businesses to set up tables in parking lots—a program the city might extend throughout 2021. But cities all over the world are taking similar steps to lessen the footprint of cars in the public realm, with similarly less-than-controversial results.

So what explains the strange lack of controversy as businesses reclaim parking spots to operate during the pandemic? One explanation could be the lower traffic levels in general. "According to mapping company TomTom, Philadelphia's streets are about half as congested as they were pre-pandemic," writes Domonoske. Other sources confirm that vehicles miles traveled has plateaued below pre-pandemic levels in the United States.

"But even people who are driving and who still feel frustration over parking aren't protesting against the restaurant expansions," writes Domonoske. "One big reason why: They know the pandemic poses an existential threat to local restaurants."

For more on the planning and design specifics of "al fresco streets," see earlier coverage by Planetizen:

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Published on Monday, October 5, 2020 in NPR
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