Determining the parking ratio for a commercial property project isn’t complex arithmetic. The number of parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross rentable space is the parking ratio. Sometimes a property’s type calls for a minimum number of spaces, sometimes local zoning regulations call for a minimum. But these minimums are getting a second look in the near future as driving becomes less popular and cities stress walkable development.
A University of California study on parking in 2011 found that the US sports over 800 million parking spaces, taking up 25,000 square miles of land, or about the equivalent of the entire land area of West Virginia — or four New Jerseys.
With a commitment like that, it’s a fact that a huge amount of value is locked up in parking lots. And now, cities across the US and the world are rethinking the level of commitment to parking.
The Guardian’s recent piece “Lots to lose: how cities around the world are eliminating car parks” takes a drive around the issue, looking for a future less committed to yellow painted lines on asphalt and more committed to green — both the sustainable and the folding kind.
As cities across the world begin to prioritise walkable urban development and the type of city living that does not require a car for every trip, city officials are beginning to move away from blanket policies of providing abundant parking. Many are adjusting zoning rules that require certain minimum amounts of parking for specific types of development. Others are tweaking prices to discourage driving as a default when other options are available. Some are even actively preventing new parking spaces from being built.
To better understand how much parking they have and how much they can afford to lose, transportation officials in San Francisco in 2010 released the results of what’s believed to be the first citywide census of parking spaces. They counted every publicly accessible parking space in the city, including lots, garages, and free and metered street parking. They found that the city had441,541 spaces, and more than half of them are free, on-street spaces.
Knowing the parking inventory has made it easier for the city to pursue public space improvements such as adding bike lanes or parklets, using the data to quell inevitable neighbourhood concerns about parking loss. “We can show that removing 20 spaces can just equate to removing 0.1% of the parking spaces within walking distance of a location,” says Steph Nelson of the SFMTA.
The data helps planners to understand when new developments actually need to provide parking spaces and when the available inventory is sufficient. More often, the data shows that the city can’t build its way out of a parking shortage – whether it’s perceived or real – and that the answers lie in alternative transportation options.
Getting Demand Right
Using dynamic pricing, San Francisco managed to reduce the demand for parking by nearly half. But sometimes demand falls without changing pricing, as in Philadelphia:
Since 1990, the city of Philadelphia has conducted an inventory of parking every five years in the downtown Center City neighbourhood, counting publicly accessible parking spaces and analysing occupancy rates in facilities with 30 or more spaces. Because of plentiful transit options, a walkable environment and a high downtown residential population, Philadelphia is finding that it needs less parking. Between 2010 and 2015, the amount of off-street parking around downtown shrank by about 3,000 spaces, a 7% reduction. Most of that is tied to the replacement of surface lots with new development, according to Mason Austin, a planner at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and co-author of the most recent parking inventory.
What becomes plain as more cities line up to improve infrastructure and walkability, or use technology to re-jigger pricing as demand fluctuates: parking as we’ve known it — and priced it — is nearing the end of its era. Fixed minimums or quotas may lag behind the new reality, but developers and property owners will need to stay vigilant as old, reliable parking ratios no longer find space in reality.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)