Post by Marines Pocaterra

How does parking affect cities? One of the main themes of this blog is the physical, social and operative improvement of our cities.

“Have asphalt fatigue? You’re not alone. In the United States, reports say there are an estimated three non-residential parking spaces per vehicle. That makes for more than 800 million parking spaces total, covering an incredible 4,360 square miles.” http://www.zipcar.com/ziptopia/future-city/parking-innovations-future-of-urban-driving
When we, architects and planners, discuss new concepts to improve the quality of cities, we often mention bicycle routes, relevant architecture and public transport issues. It seems we are underestimating the effects of parking space which totals more than 50% of the built area required by most American cities.

The American approach, with parking minimums, is spreading to some of the world’s fastest growing cities. “The more spread out car-oriented the city, as a result of enormous car parks, the less appealing walking and cycling become.” Donald Shoup, an authority in parking economics, estimates that creating the minimum required space for a shopping mall in LA adds 67% to construction costs, if above ground and 93%, if underground.(1)
Cars consume a lot of space when they are not moving. Two cars, including access lanes, occupy approximately the area of a small apartment: apx.600 square feet or 50 m2.
London abandoned minimum parking requirements in 2004, after which, new blocks went from 1.1 spaces per apartment to 0.6; the parking minimum had duplicated supply, beyond the market demand, concludes an investigation by Zhan Guo from University of NY.
In 1990, 73% of USA population drove to work alone, but in 2014, after expensive public transport investment in rapid Bus and Tram systems 76% still do. This indicates low cost and availability of parking affects commuting habits more than fast track public transport.
“The average car moves just 5% of the time. To improve transport and cities, focus on the other 95%.” (2)
“In spite of some cities, like San Francisco, which abolished parking minimums, USA continues to have a costly and damaging solution to parking. Free or underpriced parking, might be holding back the expected transport revolution. With future driverless cars, a decline on private car demand with a drastic change of parking needs, will begin. Instead of harboring idle cars for hours, garages would become service centers for cars to recharge batteries, be cleaned and repaired. These centers would hold fewer cars and most importantly, they can be located out of city centers. The space now occupied with parking could become home, office and park space, bringing a positive transformation, not only in their aspect, but in the mixture of uses, achieving a better rate of cost- efficiency with increased density and a more continuous and agreeable urban tissue. “(1)

Fig. 2. Sample of parking proportion in Houston

Underpriced street parking or residents permits bear a hidden cost: in excess vehicle miles, the cost of building, lighting, repairing and securing those areas, which are paid by everyone, whether they drive or not. It also represents a subsidy to the wealthy paid by the poor. If parking reflects indirect costs, it becomes expensive for those who really use it, and shared cars systems become attractive.
The fast-growing metropolis of Africa and Asia need to apply corrective measures before repeating the same mistakes. Students from American universities tend to return home to developing countries, with the car-centered recipe: “more off-street parking” no longer adequate to their countries, which have other mobility traditions, nor adequate to our present reality, on the verge of driverless technology.


Fig.3. Cable car to access extense unplannedareas in Caracas 

The risk conditions of the land where favelas and informal sectors are built upon, plus accesibility issues, are particular challenges in their development ecuation. Steep slopes, few streets narrow passageways, low proportion of open space and services. The progressive nature of unplanned development tends to reduce the public areas even further, because the growth of each home structure uses the road space to place stairs for access to upper floors; diminishing security as they densify and generate blind surfaces towards the “street”.
We have seen the effects of overplanning on formal city tissues, becoming huge dead parking surfaces, dotted with isolated buildings, which kills interest in walking/enjoying the city.
The opposite happens in unplanned areas which generate an intrincate pedestrian system, with few areas dedicated to vehicles, where intense human contact is normal (although insecure, due to inaccesibility and a tendency to be controlled by gangs).
Both ends of the urban spectrum have their pros and cons for us to learn from, in order to plan for smarter cities.


Fig.5. Ojo de Agua , Bulevar over former creek.

(1) Briefing Parking The Economist, April 8th 2017
(2) Aparkalypse Now The Economist April 8th 2017
(3) http://www.zipcar.com/ziptopia/future-city/parking-innovations-future-of-urban-driving

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