June 23, 2005

How Can Parking Best Co-Exist With Pedestrian-Friendly Development?

One of the difficulties in creating a pedestrian-enticing streetscape in the suburbs is designing adequate parking that doesn't destroy on-foot ambiance. In cities like Boston and New York, population density is high enough, public transit is robust enough, and enough streets were designed before the emergence of our auto-centric culture, that walkable environments thrive. That's not the case in many other communities. A report from the Maryland Governor's Office of Smart Growth takes a detailed look at the dilemma and possible solutions:

[O]ne of the biggest challenges facing smart growth is identifying new ways to address the need for parking while minimizing its negative impacts and encouraging better and different design. Parking is consuming a huge amount of land that could otherwise be developed. Surface and structured parking lots present sterile, unattractive environments that deaden city and suburban streets alike, further isolate uses and preclude lively pedestrian-friendly streets. Moreover, the adverse environmental impacts of parking lots, particularly on water quality, are increasingly recognized.

As developers attempt to meet the parking requirements of their projects, they find themselves beset with obstacles related to zoning, financing, and design, just to name a few. Parking requirements now drive many site designs, and are often the make or break issue for financing new developments. Too many quality smart growth projects remain on the drawing board because they simply cannot solve the parking dilemma. We need parking, but we need to re-think parking design, parking financing, and parking supply and demand to better meet the needs of communities, developers, and users. . . .

Multi-level parking garages in addition to being cost-prohibitive, often leave entire city blocks with little street level interest and activity. No one wants acres of pavement or dead gaps in the urban fabric, yet from the user’s perspective parking needs to be convenient, safe, and accessible, and from the developer’s perspective parking needs to be cost-effective.


The report examines a number of issues and potential ways of dealing with them, such as "design[ing] sites such that vehicles aren't the dominant feature." Note that the need for parking is clearly recognized, but it shouldn't overwhelm every other aspect of a project - as they clearly do in developments like the typical mall site, which aesthetically strikes people on foot as an unappealing sea of asphalt.

Thanks to Smart Growth Online for the link.

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