Car owners don’t want to hear it, but Newcastle has way too much free parking | OPINION

LONG-HOT SUMMER: If you want to join this conga line, do your cruising well before 8am.
LONG-HOT SUMMER: If you want to join this conga line, do your cruising well before 8am.

THE HORROR. The University of Newcastle will provide a mere dozen parking spaces at its Honeysuckle Campus that may accommodate 6500 staff and students when complete.

Excellent. Best thing I have read this week.

Parking is at the apex of readily identifiable trigger topics – along with dogs and bicycle riders – that provide the otherwise pleasant Novocastrian with glazed eyes, a reddening of the face, sweaty palms and irregular breathing.

Parking, dogs and bicycle riders. The holy trinity of trigger topics. Just on dogs, I noticed some vigilante has used yellow paint to stencil “no dogs” on the platforms surrounding Merewether ocean baths. Good on you, whoever you are. Dog attendance at both ocean baths – where they are not permitted – should not be tolerated at all. 

The problem of parking in Newcastle is the expectation of free or very cheap parking combined with convenience. Mates call them “rock-star” car parks. The rock-star car park is driving to exactly where you want to go and hoping there will be an available free or cheap spot directly out the front. The odds of getting a rock-star car park is akin to winning parking lotto, but the rush enjoyed by even occasionally nabbing one means old expectations die hard.

Parking, dogs and bicycle riders. The holy trinity of trigger topics.

So what’s the strategy?

Transport for NSW developed a Newcastle City Parking Strategy in 2017. Page nine shows it didn’t anticipate the loss of car parks resulting from mega-apartment builds in King Street and at Honeysuckle. Whoops.

One of the strategy’s principles to improve parking is to utilise on-street parking for short-stay use only and to reduce time-limits for on-street parking to increase turnover.

The strategy points out that parking policies in Newcastle have generally remained unchanged for many years and have focused on providing parking supply to meet unrestricted growth in demand.

The free all-day parking that the strategy notes as on the city fringe are mostly gobbled by 8am. Suits, uniforms and high-vis vests know where they are. But as the city grows, is the fringe still the fringe?

This summer is going to be challenging for those looking for a spot near Nobbys or Newcastle ocean baths, as the free all-day parking and free four-hour parking along Shortland Esplanade between Nobbys kiosk and the Newcastle ocean baths will see a conga-line of cruising vehicles looking for parks that were all gone at 8am.

And then there’s Fort Drive. Free baby, free. What free all-day parking does is encourage west-east car journeys with one person behind the wheel.

But just as there’s no such place as “away” where we can throw things when we are done with them, there’s no such thing as free parking. Car owners don’t want to hear it, but Newcastle has way too much free parking. There’s a cost to free parking and that cost is more cars going to those areas. Using King Edward Park as King Edward Car Park is a massive cost to one of this city’s greatest assets.

Ask Novocastrians to outline a vision for a liveable city. Some will offer affordable housing and great cafes. Others will say nice restaurants and good public transport.  Some will nominate green open spaces and minimal traffic congestion. But nearly all will put their hand on their heart and recite “lots of available, free parking”.

But everyone except the motorist pays for free parking. Charging for all inner-city parking spaces will limit trips by car, resulting in an easing of congestion, fewer emissions, and improve public amenity. It’ll create further demand for public transport and get more bums on the park and ride.

It’s time for Newcastle City Council to end free all-day and four-hour (where workers use their breaks to move their cars) car parking except for residents (whose annual fee for on-street parking should be quadrupled), pensioners and people with a disability.

We keep getting told the light rail is a once-in-a-lifetime change to the city. If that’s fair-dinkum, let’s have more conversations about car impacts and outdated expectations around “free” parking and faux outrage about the uni not providing parking.

Changing that mindset is going to rely on council having the resolve to increase pricing mechanisms and reduce availability of free all-day and free four-hour parking.

That’ll create not just a liveable city, but a more loveable one.

Paul Scott is a lecturer in the School of Creative Industries at the University of Newcastle. In 2016, Herald readers voted him the Hunter’s most miserable man. 

Twitter @paul_scott_ or emailpaulscott@gmail.com