Parking is the new smoking

Parking is the new smoking

Every single time anyone mentions the need to remove cars from the roads for the benefit of human beings not in private vehicles you get the same complaint: But how will businesses survive without parking spots right outside their door?

World’s. Tiniest. Violin.

I’m old enough to remember when everyone, everywhere, smoked. I got my first job, at a suburban McDonald’s in Quebec City, in 1986 and back then, the restaurant was 4/5 smokers.

Of the 100 or so seats, about 80 were in the smoking section. Yes, the indoors smoking section. The non-smoking section, maybe 15 feet away with no separate ventilation system, had 20 or so seats in the tiny spot near the bathrooms that we also used for birthday parties and other private functions.

Yes, the whole restaurant smelled of tobacco.

By the time I left Quebec City for Montreal, about a decade later, the ratio had been reversed but there still wasn’t separate air. Today of course everything is non-smoking everywhere indoors.

We survived. Restaurants and bars, too.

But back then, when public health officials talked about not allowing people to smoke right next to other people including children eating, it was the same objection heard from business owners, over and over again. Banning indoor smoking will kill us.

There were exceptions. Some restaurant owners decided to bet on the change and advertised themselves as businesses where healthy people would prefer to patronize, which they promptly did.

Now that many of us have learned to love working for home, we’re coming close to the point where we’ll be ready to revisit other preconceived ideas, too. Such as – why do we really need two cars in this family if we never go anywhere? And isn’t it nicer to walk to the shops rather than drive? And why are we devoting so much of our public spaces for the temporary storage of private metal boxes?

This story details a number of interesting proposals for what to do with all that space instead. You can pick your favourite. I like keeping some spots for pickup and delivery outside restaurants (with strict 15-minute limits), and of course you need to keep some accessible spaces for people with disabilities, but other than that, bury parking underground or stash it somewhere ugly and turn public spaces into micro-parks, or patios, or bike rental stations, open places for public art, playgrounds, splash pads, outdoor galleries, and whatever else humans might need to thrive and be happy.