FACT: Parking facilities cover between 6 and 40 percent of the land in American cities, while in urban centers, parking can average up to 30 percent of the land use.* As one example, the Central Philadelphia Development Corp. notes that close to one-third of land use in Center City Philadelphia is devoted to off-street parking. On campuses with major surface parking lots, the percentages of land devoted to parking are much the same.
Yet with parking being such a significant land use, why do we often encounter situations in which parking appears to have been an afterthought in the comprehensive planning and/or site design process? Thinking about our own individual approaches to destination planning presents part of the answer. When making arrangements to meet a friend for an evening out, what do we consider first? "How's the food?" and "How do I get there?" would likely be the initial questions in our minds, not "Where do I park?" Most of us would think about parking as an afterthought, as well.
However, once the "Where do I park?" question is resolved, then undoubtedly other issues come to mind. "How much will it cost to park?" "How far will I have to walk from the garage or lot?" "Is it safe to park there?" "Will I even find a space once I arrive?" These are the same questions that planners and architects need to address effectively in their plans and design schemes if their projects are to ensure a positive parking and pedestrian experience. However, this is not always the case.
As a certified professional urban planner who has worked within the parking industry for several years now, it seems to me that the significance of parking is downplayed as a land use due to popular planning trends. Within the planning and design fields, the popularity of transit-oriented development, smart growth and other similar planning trends has often diminished the significance of parking. While admirable and supportive of public transportation, these initiatives have not become mainstream patterns in the United States and have not significantly affected private vehicle use. This trend is demonstrated not only in areas lacking adequate transit, but even in large urban areas having significant transit systems, such as in Philadelphia, where commuting patterns have seen the private vehicle increasingly outpace public transit as the favored commuting mode. Despite the advocacy of public transit by many planners, Americans still choose to drive their private vehicles and want a safe, convenient and economical parking space on reaching their destinations.
The result of this difference in the relative priority afforded parking versus other issues has been witnessed on a personal level, as well. Having worked on numerous planning and development projects involving master plans, site plans, garages and related facilities, it is not uncommon to observe parking consultants and architects or planners having dissimilar viewpoints on the importance of the parking issues at hand. Further, differences have been observed in the quantitative approaches and standards used when estimating parking demand (e.g., a ratio from a book versus the research needed to establish parking demand for the individual development being considered), as well as in the qualitative approaches used for designing and locating motorist and pedestrian wayfinding systems.
Expertise offered by parking consultants specializing in these and related fields is best -- and most economically -- applied during the planning and design phases of a project. This will permit effective parking solutions to be provided in a proactive, rather than reactive manner. And doing so will help ensure that parking is afforded the priority it deserves, and is not just an afterthought in the planning and design process.
Kirsten McGregor, AICP, is a planner for Chance Management Advisors Inc., Philadelphia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org