Bus Bulb in Chicago. Image from Streetsblog.

The Chicago Department of Transportation recommended in April lifting rush hour parking restrictions on 225 of the busiest blocks in Chicago.  Washington area governments should do the same for many blocks. This one change enables several other streetscape additions, like curb bulb-outs, that benefit everyone in some way. 

If DDOT and other local DOTs were to eliminate rush hour parking restrictions on streets with at least 3 lanes in each direction and replace them with bike lanes, curb bulb-outs and bus bulbs, here’s how everyone would win.

Retailers: Parking on rush hour streets is illegal from 7-9:30am and 4-6:30pm.  5 hours of each day are dedicated to commuters, not retailers.  Retail consultants say that, for streetside retailers, each parking space is worth $300,000 annually.  Why?  Because drivers passing by a desirable retailer are more likely to stop when there’s a curbside space.  The main time of day when drivers pass by retailers is rush hour.  Eliminating this 5 hour moratorium on the most convenient parking would help retailers stay open after the commuters go home. 

Bus Riders: With no rush hour parking restrictions, we can build curb bulb-outs at the beginning or end of blocks, and even add bus stops to the bulb-outs (called bus bulbs).  Buses would no longer have to pull over and then re-merge during non-rush hours, which they rarely do effectively anyway.  And bus riders would have more space to wait for their buses, space that could include amenities like shelters and trees.  The increased bus speed would lower total transit operating costs, thus keeping fares low. 

Some would object that this compromises the goal of dedicated bus lanes.  However, DC is investing in streetcars for its main thoroughfares, and bus bulbs will facilitate the introduction of streetcars. 

We’d have fewer signs like this too. Photo by The DC Traveler.

Pedestrians: Curb bulb-outs create more room to wait for walk signs without getting bunched up on the corner, and greatly shorten the crosswalk distance.  So pedestrians win with a shorter, safer, more comfortable crosswalk.  Furthermore, bus bulbs separate pedestrian traffic from those waiting for the bus. 

Bicyclists: Cars whiz past bikes on both sides of bike lanes during rush hour parking restrictions.  Lifting the restrictions would make bike lanes safer.  This is one the main reasons for Chicago’s lifting of rush hour restrictions.

Drivers: While it may appear that drivers are the losers, drivers win with more parking, fewer tows and less traffic congestion.  Less traffic?  That’s right.  The benefits listed above get drivers out of their cars and onto buses, bikes and their feet.  And buses that never pulled out of traffic anyway will now stop and start more quickly than before. 

But isn’t a traffic lane removed during rush hour?  The reality is that outside lanes are blocked by illegally parked cars and delivery trucks so often, that they often slow traffic down through traffic merging than had the outside lane not existed at all.  Finally, restrictions would be limited only on the widest thoroughfares (3 or more lanes in each direction), which are also the primary retail drags, thus ensuring that there are always through lanes with no stopped buses.

So, is lifting rush hour parking restrictions a win-win-win?  What do you think?

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son.  Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.