One of our central parks in Louisville, Kentucky, Louisville Waterfront Park, recently voted to charge for vehicle parking. The park is in a centrally located area in our downtown area that is frequented by all walks of life and holds many events. The park has a recently built pedestrian bridge, a river view, and a large playground and splash park. Needless to say, the decision has caused much debate on Twitter and from city officials. Many have commented that the decision reduces equal access to healthy choices and opportunities. Others are happy for the change due to the recent increase in crime in the area. The matter is a problem of equity in Louisville.
Equality and equity are quite different concepts though they are often used interchangeably. Equality is the concept of treating everyone the same. Equity is making sure everyone has what the need to be successful. The problem with equality is that everyone is different and requires specific services. For example, a family has different needs from a single person and a white person has different opportunities than a person of color. Equity recognizes this fact of different needs and purports to fight for each different person to have what they need. Therefore, equality is not a sufficient solution, equity is.
One side of the debate for paid parking in Waterfront Park is that vehicles are being charged to park, not people walking or cycling. Yet the concept of equity is not being considered. People need and use cars for different reasons. Families, people with disabilities, and the elderly all use cars to access things they can’t normally access walking, or cycling for that matter. Thus charging for parking creates barriers for some (not all) people to make healthy choices. Everyone does not have equal access to the park due to a lack of equity.
As cyclists, we must seek to understand the other side of the coin. Cycling is not an option for everyone. Cyclists often benefit from goods and services like free parking because they are healthy, fit and sometimes more privileged people. The argument that vehicles are being charged to park, you may walk or cycle to remove that barrier, is insufficient. Certain people require the convenience of parkside parking to access goods and services.
In fact, the whole city of Louisville does not feel the same about increasing alternative modes of transit like cycling. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has fought over the years to build more bicycling infrastructure in an effort to reduce vehicle traffic. It is welcomed by many. Yet others believe those resources could be used for something more necessary. At a recent metro council meeting, a woman from West Louisville stated that her community did not want more bicycle lanes. Her community was lacking certain resources for which those funds could be better used.
Our city must consider the community as a whole to support everyone’s needs when building bicycle lanes or charging for parking at central, high volume parks. We need to retract the board decision to charge for parking in order to allow equal access to the Waterfront Park by providing equity.