Abolish minimum parking space requirements to create walkable cities

In a recent article by the Economist , the authors put a focus on what is potentially a major design and policy flaw in current cities in the western hemisphere, and at some point also at other places.

As a kid, visiting various US cities, I was always surprised to not experience what I know from European cities: Buildings are in close proximity, within walkable distances and connected with public transport.

Except for the big metropolitan areas in the North East and the West-Coast, most cities in the US appeared to me to have an “old” town center, which is walkable, but without too much attractiveness and activities. Other parts are covered with office complexes, shopping malls or acres of low density housing – all with massive central parking lots, or in the case of low density housing individual parking.

Until now, this method was working also for the US, since space is widely available, but there are some factors that change. These thoughts are of course only valid for people who work in a facility or office where they do not need a car for the actual work.

Empty parking lots – a waste of money

But what is actually about to change? Until now, we used cars for about 5% of the time per day. This means that automobiles where standing in parking lots at home, the office or service buildings or 95% or the time. Everywhere there, they occupy space for parking and for access roads to the parking lots:

parkingspace

If we assume now that autonomous driving of level 5 can be achieved in the 2020ies, we can basically rethink the concept of ownership of a car. It just has to pick us up and bring us to the work place and back, the parking space and relevant access roads can be significantly reduced.

Already now, the article explains, we have sometimes an over-availability of parking space driven by past and current minimal requirements for parking space. While these requirements were sound in the historic context they were drafted, they create only excess costs and space requirements nowadays.

How could we plan the parking spaces of the future?

If we want to plan for the cities of the future, we should either let the planners of the buildings decide what special requirements they foresee for the purpose of the building, i.e. let the market decide it. Or we can simplify the process where a building planner can easily argue for going below minimal requirements due to the purpose of the building or the specific transport mode for commuting.

This would create the following benefits:

  • Reduce spacial requirements
  • Reduce building costs
  • Reduce unnecessary standards
  • Create the opportunity to construct buildings in between, making for instance business areas in the US more walkable and viable for public transport

I believe, with the outlook to a changing transport landscape, we should better sooner than later address its impacts into our urban transport planning and steer towards sustainable solutions with limited costs and benefits for various stakeholders.

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