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January 5, 2017

How should parking fit in with transit-oriented development?

We can continue to make our roads wider and our parking garages taller, but as the population grows and the proportion of urban dwellers rises, cities will face increasing pressure to utilize space more efficiently. City planners are turning to the principles of transit-oriented development (TOD) as a technique to mitigate urban sprawl and reduce our reliance on cars. TOD mixes housing, office space, and amenities within a walkable distance that is served by a pubic transit system.

And yes, while more and better public transit is part of the solution, realistically cars aren’t going away anytime soon. As planner Bill Fulton describes it, many cities have “dysfunctional densities” where their densities are high enough to swamp streets with traffic, but not high enough to sustain an effective public transit system. So in these cases how should cities plan for, let’s call it, transit-oriented parking? I put together a short list to summarize my thoughts:

New parking facilities should be built primarily outside of a city’s core, with connective modes of transportation for access to the downtown.
Long-term parking should be inexpensive near transit stops along the outer-ring of downtown, but should be priced at a premium in the core to encourage transit ridership.
To avoid spillover parking, parking ratios should be lowered in cases where it is appropriate based on walkability, public transit accessibility, overflow parking proximity, and carsharing opportunities.
One major critique on TOD is that property values increase from their success, and therefore they aren’t affordable to those who might benefit from public transit the most. While suburban homes are inexpensive, they often come with the necessity of owning a car and the price of a longer commute. Also, parking rates near employment centers downtown are usually priced at a premium. Strategic parking planning can play a key role in making TODs more inclusive and accessible.

City land is becoming increasingly valuable, and by locating parking facilities in the outer-ring of a downtown, the core can be developed into a more vibrant and usable space. Outer-ring parking should be coupled with connective modes of transportation such as a bus line, shuttle service, or biking and walking routes. This will give suburban residents the option to commute downtown without facing congestion and costly parking rates, while helping to preserve the quality of the city. Additionally, providing inexpensive long-term parking outside of the core will help dissuade drivers from parking downtown for an extended amount of time. This can help reduce congestion and increase turnover in the more convenient spaces downtown. In these ways, parking can help contribute to the success of TOD.

TOD has also been criticized for causing spillover parking issues because of reduced parking ratios. Parking ratios should not be lowered for housing developments unless there are nearby shops and amenities, as well as an established public transit system. In many cases, the public transit system is not developed enough to substitute for car ownership completely, which is why carsharing programs can be critical to the functionality of TODs. However, dedicating on-street parking to carsharing companies can be controversial because it allows private companies to profit off of a public resource, while limiting public access to parking. To mitigate this, stakeholder outreach campaigns can highlight projections for reduced congestion as well as opportunities for more equitable access through carsharing.

As the TOD ideals become increasingly prevalent in our cities, it will be important for city planners and parking professionals to understand the relationship between density and parking. Moving forward, I hope that the compartmentalized and sprawling land uses in our cities will be transformed into more diverse, walkable, and livable spaces. Perhaps with the appropriate planning, parking won’t be a hindrance to that vision, but instead it will support it.

Emily Kwatinetz is a Junior Associate with DIXON Resources Unlimited.

The article can also be found here.

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