Rapid population growth within urban areas is leading to parking problems.

Modern cities have bolstered the need for cars and, as a consequence, the need for parking. Accommodating parking needs will be one of the greatest challenges in the development of sustainable cities in the near future. It is critical to provide enough parking without overdoing it, and integrating parking facilities into existing communities is always complicated.

Large expanses of surface parking have negative impacts on the urban fabric. Multi-level parking garages are expensive and often leave entire city blocks with little street level activity.

A recent study conducted in Seattle by Ben Broesamle, an aspiring real estate development and investment leader specializing in human and transit-oriented development, noted that urban parking must be reconsidered as cities move toward a sustainable future.

Multilevel car parking

Multilevel car parking garage, Chicago.

Seattle faces a projected growth rate of nearly 25 per cent over the next 18 years and will be home to 156,195 new residents by 2030. The challenge in Seattle, as in many cities in Australia, will be to work toward a sustainable future by creating an increasingly walkable, enjoyable, economically successful and diverse place to live.

Based on information provided by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), Broesamle’s study analysed the ‘mobility spatial efficiency’ within the city.

According to the ITE, typical on-street auto parking requires 200 square feet of space per vehicle not including right-of-way for maneuvering, while a parked car in a garage takes up 300 to 450 square feet depending on the specifics of maneuvering aisles and structural design.

On the other hand, each citizen using public transport or a bicycle requires only 12 square feet of parking space. This comparison demonstrates how private cars take precious space from the urban fabric of a sustainable and growing city, Broesamle explained.

“Let’s imagine that half of these 156,195 additional residents by 2030 brought a car with them: 78,097 cars. According to ITE standards, we would need to allocate approximately 200 square feet to park each one in on-street parking spaces. To park them would require 358 acres of parking spaces—imagine a square lot composed entirely of parking the length of thirteen football fields on each side,” he said.

Comparison of space usage by cars

Comparison of space usage by cars versus only one bus.

According to Broesamle, Seattle – like many other cities – faces a stark choice: create more space for parking or have active, walkable, aesthetically pleasing, sustainable urban environments. To fit more people, more activities, and more economic drivers into the same space comfortably, he proposes to encourage people to live comfortably and conveniently without a private car.

As a result, 200 to 450 square feet of space per adult – space currently under-utilized as car storage – could be turned into public areas and recreational facilities such as sidewalk cafes, parks, bike lanes and pedestrian paths.

To allow this, urban zoning regulations should be changed. For example, new commercial and multi-family residential developments without parking are permissible under Seattle’s zoning code provided they are located in an ‘urban village’ within a quarter mile of a frequent transit stop, in an urban centre, or in a station area overlay district.

“Still, developers often over-park their developments in the belief that units will be more marketable, in order to obtain financing from risk adverse lenders or because they don’t fully realize what the market trends are. Currently, developers typically build about one parking space for every two apartments in the Belltown Urban Village and Denny Triangle Urban Village of the Downtown Urban Center. If we think this is a good idea, we’re not thinking ahead,” Broesamle said.

Another way to reduce parking spaces without eliminating them completely, is the shared parking system. This scheme consists of a parking area jointly used by different buildings and facilities in an area. This allows users to take advantage of different peak parking times.

PARK(ing) Day

PARK(ing) Day is an annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces, or temporary public places.

For example, many businesses or government offices require parking during normal daytime business hours on weekdays, while restaurants and bars peak in the evenings and on weekends. This presents an opportunity for shared parking arrangements.

Historically, local zoning ordinances have not permitted shared parking, stating that if two or more uses are located on the same lot or in the same structure, the total number of parking spaces required equals the sum of spaces required for each individual use.

Since most parking spaces are only used some of the time, this policy leads to the underutilization of many parking facilities, with a significant portion of spaces unused. By allowing and encouraging shared parking, local jurisdictions can decrease the total number of spaces required.

This will foster more efficient use of land and create more opportunities for urban and landscape developments.