Saturday, April 11

Parking from space

Downtown Crozet, Virginia

Sometimes the introduction of new technology has the ability to shift cultural perceptions. I wonder if widespread use of Google Earth will help us perceive something that has been a reality for the last four decades, that the majority of land in our urban areas is reserved for the storage of automobiles. Off-street parking is the dominant feature of most towns and cities across the United States.

Pictured above is the downtown of Crozet, Virginia with all off-street parking and other non-public vehicle access areas depicted in red (the area within the blue line is industrial). To me, this is a striking image. I'm using Crozet as an example because it's small enough to draw easily, and the 2004 Crozet Master Plan specifically calls for the downtown to function as a compact urban hub. I don't mean to suggest that Crozet, in particular, is "overparked." At least according to the standard measuring rod planners use, Crozet is probably right on target. I just wonder who is measuring the measuring rod according to a wider standard of common sense and wise use of limited resources.

Donald Shoup has estimated that the total amount of off-street parking in the United States is roughly equivalent to the State of Connecticut, and this is often some of our most valuable land in the hearts of cities and towns. Using the satellite imagery to view this from far above allows us to back up for a moment and ask some critical questions about what we value. If the ancient Chinese had the Great Wall and the prehistoric residents of modern Peru had the Nazca Lines, we have a parking lot the size of Connecticut. That's what we look like from space.

9 comments:

Raționalitate said...

It's actually not true that you can see the Great Wall of China from space with the naked eye. With satellite imagery, yes, but then again, you can see anything with satellite imagery. When you consider how narrow the wall is, it's hard to understand why anyone believes that. It ranks up there with sugar-making-you-hyper and being-able-to-taste-the-difference-between-tap-water-and-bottled-water as one of the most commonly-believed flat-our fallacies.

Daniel said...

Sure, Rationalitate, next you'll tell me that Eskimos don't have 50 words for snow.

LadyLaLa said...

I can see my house!!!!

Daniel said...

LadyLaLa, that's cool. Crozet really is a beautiful area, and I think good things are on the horizon there.

I'm curious, living close to the downtown, what do you think of the Master Plan? Also, do you think a regular train route between Crozet and Cville would be a good thing?

Mike said...

Parking presents an interesting dilemma: real people want enough close in to make it convenient, usually bc they live further away, business owners want the same...but theoretical planners want less and don't mind making it inconvenient for the real people to make them use other means of transit, and politicians want whatever is going to make their constituancy happy. As for sidewalks and bike lanes, I see people willing to use them if they are convenient and user friendly, although many planners and politicians seem to think plopping sidewalks adjacent to the road with no shade or separation is OK, or at least they won't fight for them.

Daniel said...

You're certainly right Mike that parking presents such a problem in many late-20th century North American cities and towns. But I happen to think the theoretical planners have typically advocated for more parking, not less. Most zoning codes require large amounts of parking, and planners have traditionally devised formulas based on peak use periods. In many respects, the parking lot city did not emerge natural but happened by design.

I don't know exactly where I stand yet, but I wonder what would happen if government subsidies for parking and burdernsome regulations were actually removed. If and the transportation decisions were left up to "real people" I think we might see a lot more options arise.

Eric Orozco said...

The problem is the developer as much as, if not more so, than the planner. Most planners have come to the table. Developers haven't. Especially now in a skittish market, commercial developers will do all they can to meet formulas they've perfected over 4 decades. Even in residential development, the developer is sure to insist on 2 spaces per dwelling unit to sell their units, whereas as progressive codes allow for 1 space per unit. So you have developers striving to meet 2 even in mixed-use, urban districts. They'll even sacrifice units to get the parking. Its strange, but their formulas are just that jammed in the 90's.

This is why cities should recalibrate their codes for parking MAXIMUMS not minimums. I advice a slow and incremental approach to allow the generational sea change in the development community to play itself out as we build out non-vehicular modes and infrastructure. For now, the planning authority should concentrate on cultural changes such as implementing bikeway plans.

Unfortunately, this market is not going to allow baby boomers in the development community to ride off into the sunset...so we'll be stuck for a while with current parking formulas. (In relation to your newer post) note what Savannah is doing in encouraging redevelopment of existing lots for higher and better use. They're opting to work for the developer in this case, by giving developers infill opportunities where there was none. It is actually smart. Had the developer been given an empty lot with no church, they would not build what they will now build. That's the strangeness of urban redevelopment...and the phenomena that we have to think carefully about.

Daniel said...

Yeah Eric, I do see the value in cities taking a more proactive approach in minimizing parking, but the fact still remains that many communities still have parking minimums on their books.

Charlottesville, for example, requires a hefty sum of automobile parking and zero bicycle facilities for all new commercial and most residential developments. In fact, things seem to be moving in the other direction. Parking Exempt Zones were instituted in the 70's to give lower parking options to downtown developers, but that's being eliminated. Now they are required to chip in for a new parking garage to be built when necessary.

I totally see your points especially for progressive communities, but I guess I think many areas need to shift the gear out of reverse before hitting the gas pedal.

LH said...

Daniel, good word. On a related note, I think I may have mentioned to you that our recent study on retail in Philadelphia noted that of trips to auto-oriented corridors that were of a 1/4 mile or less, 70 percent were by car (this is, admittedly, a tautological statement, since we define auto-oriented corridors as ones which are largely reached by car). This was less about peoples' laziness and more about the severe pedestrian-unfriendliness of retail centers surrounded by seas of parking lots. Enter "Franklin Mills" in Google Maps for a particularly stark example.