Parking Planning Extends Beyond the Curb
With the evolution of smart cities, we talk a lot about curb management. However, it’s important that we not forget about the essential role of parking in urban transportation plans. Ultimately, smart cities are about effective transportation planning, and in our auto-centric society parking, planning is key.
Parking must be treated as the anchor of any linkage program whenever possible.
Traditional approaches to transportation planning centered on sustaining growth no longer work. City centers are choked with traffic generated by commuters, residents, and visitors; commute times have increased exponentially; and it has become less convenient to get in and out of cities. It doesn’t make sense to focus on curb management without addressing these issues first.
The Promise of Transportation Linkage
For many cities, the answer can be found in transportation linkage. The idea of transportation linkage is a carefully planned urban transportation chain between each mode of transportation—pedestrian, bicycle access, scooter sharing, automobile routes, buses, and transit. Each mode is connected and serves as a link in the transportation chain. Planners can facilitate the chain by creating an urban grid in which neighborhoods or networks are connected by a variety of different transportation resources. When completed successfully, transportation linkage can help create pleasant, walkable communities that are convenient and easy to visit. It can also reduce roadway congestion and help promote mobility.
Walkability is an important goal in the development of a linkage program. Planners must understand pedestrian behaviors when deciding where to locate public transportation resources and parking facilities for drivers. As a rule, people are willing to walk anywhere from 350 to 650 feet, which is roughly the equivalent of four to six city blocks. Therefore, planners should generally try to locate some mode of transportation within that distance.
Of course, every city is different, and pedestrian behavior is influenced by unique circumstances, such as the mix of land-use types, weather, and the nature of the trip. For instance, people are often willing to walk longer distances in more dense environments, such as downtown areas in larger cities, because there is more to look at while they are walking, while they expect to park closer to their destination in smaller downtowns. It is much more interesting (and distracting) to peruse storefronts and other points of interest than to have to look at empty lots while you walk. Therefore, every city must develop a linkage plan around its own unique challenges and characteristics.
When it comes to the development of transportation resources, we have become much more innovative over the past decade. For instance, cities across the United States now offer buses that run on electricity, natural gas, and other alternative fuels. Also, bicycle sharing programs are now common, and more cities are promoting—or at least permitting—scooter sharing programs. With these programs, people can access a bike or scooter in one of dozens of racks located throughout the city, and can leave them in any other rack when they are finished with the bike or scooter.
The Role of Parking
Yet, as creative as many cities are, one area in which they often come up short is parking. They often miss the natural link between parking and transportation, and as a result they don’t take a strategic approach to parking.
One of the primary goals of linkage is to encourage people to walk or use public transportation. If an excess of parking is provided downtown, people are more likely to drive their cars into city centers and will seek to park as close as possible to their destination, even if traffic congestion makes the trip longer and less convenient than relying on public transportation. That’s why parking must be planned and managed in such a way that it helps change drivers’ habits.
First, parking must be treated as the anchor of any linkage program whenever possible. Convenient and affordable parking should be offered at the outskirts of city neighborhoods, and it should provide handy access to public transportation. Many larger cities take this concept a step further by developing multi-modal parking structures in which bus and/or subway service is also located. With these facilities, drivers need only park their vehicles and get into an elevator to reach public transportation. Smaller cities can embrace this concept with peripheral parking supported by a pedestrian friendly walking environment to downtown cores.
In recent years, many cities have begun to loosen parking development requirements and promote shared parking. With shared parking, a parking facility that’s predominantly occupied during the day, such as a commercial or retail business lot or garage, makes its parking available to users who need the parking for evening activities in the downtown or for overnight parking. This is an important planning strategy because it reduces the amount of land that’s required for parking development and frees that land for other uses, such as green space. However, it doesn’t have an impact on transportation linkage because it doesn’t reduce the amount of traffic in a city center and, ultimately, that’s a primary goal of linkage.
Obviously, cities can’t eliminate parking from city centers. Some people are unable to use public transportation because of disabilities or other factors. Others may just be making a quick trip to buy something at a local store or pick up someone, which makes the use of alternative transportation nodes inconvenient or impractical. These people should be accommodated with convenient downtown parking. However, planners should take steps, such as pricing anchor parking more competitively than downtown parking, to encourage long-term parkers to use facilities on the outskirts of the neighborhood or municipality and take public transportation or walk to their ultimate destination.
A Vital First Step in Promoting Mobility
The challenges facing 21st Century municipal planners are much different from those of the past. No longer are we merely adapting to evolving demographics and non-stop growth. And as our cities evolve into smart cities, planners must find ways to promote curb management and mobility. The first step is to reduce congestion on downtown roadways.
Transportation linkage can play an important role in achieving these goals. By developing community-wide programs that link parking, public or other alternative transportation modes, and pedestrian wayfinding, we can reduce traffic, make it more convenient for people to reach their ultimate destinations, and facilitate curb management.
David Burr is a parking planner with Rich and Associates. He can be reached at email@example.com.