Traditional car parking cars is, and has been, a critical component of every development feasibility study, pro forma and city approval process for some time. But with new trends in ride sharing, mode shifting and urban development, the traditional approach to meeting locally mandated parking requirements (and the requirements themselves) may be proving outdated due to changing technology and consumer trends.
ULI Tampa Bay recently hosted experts from planning, design, technology and development fields to discuss the “Future of Parking.” The discussion covered how recent technologic advances and innovative ideas can help developers turn their parking challenges into a parking opportunities.
The Parking Problem
Where cities have not adequately invested in mass transit, and single occupant automobile use levels are higher, parking is a critical asset to conduct business and keep the economic engine moving. But finding parking, paying for parking, driving from home to that parking—and sitting (usually alone) in congestion are all adding to greenhouse gas emissions, capturing a large part of an individual’s time and income, while negatively affecting the surrounding city.
Parking accessibility was the key theme of the discussion—is parking available, is it available where people want or need to park, and is there a strategic nature to how it is managed? Furthermore, transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft are changing the patterns of driving and reducing parking needs overall. But with technology and use trends changing so rapidly, how does one plan for the future?
Real estate trends toward mixed-use centers, or buildings, could mean there are more opportunities to create a synergistic parking strategy that allows for sharing of parking capacity based on time of day and day of use characteristics of a project—for example, office buildings not being occupied during weekends, when retail, restaurant, and entertainment uses may be at their highest demand for parking. Tracey Burch, parking planning project manager of WGI, said “mixed-use isn’t just happening in the urban core, it’s happening in the suburbs too.”
The parking requirement disparity could be most evident in specific user groups: rather than renting a car from the airport to drive to a hotel in the city center, many guests are now using a TNCs to get there—reducing the need for a parking space in the city or at the hotel. Airport-to-city distance, and the walkability of the places people go (and access to meaningful transportation options) also play a role in the potential reduction of personal vehicle use.
The panel, moderated by Rebecca Snyder, Strategic Property Partners’ senior vice president of development, also covered some of the growing technological trends in parking.
Technological advances in areas such as user data collection (e.g., car and license plate photos to confirm parking duration), demand management, and parking availability are also changing how parking garages are designed. Charles Dummet, market president of Premium Parking, said “data collection can assist cities and developers to develop trends, and this data can be shared to the benefit of the city.” Another advantage discussed is opening up possibilities for innovations to communicate parking availability to the market to increase accessibility.
These technology offerings aren’t just tied to the parking structures, automobile technology is rapidly advancing as well. John Bushman, CEO of Walker Consultants, said that well before we see fully autonomous vehicles, “we will see self-parking vehicles that will allow the human driver to exit the car just prior to parking, removing the need for car doors to open, meaning cars will be able to park closer to one another,” adding more capacity to existing or future parking lots or garages.
Working Together to Build Efficiency
A collaborative approach between the public sector and the private sector, the panel agreed, was the way to build efficiency. Being able to find parking is key—in advance—“but that doesn’t mean public parking only, many private properties have parking too,” said Burch. Maximizing the use of both public and private spaces could also help alleviate the need for future parking capacity increase.
Joel Mann, principal at Stantec Urban Places Group, reiterated the strategic nature of proper parking planning, saying, “Cities need to build the knowledge [about parking] to be more tactical partners with developers to get creative on parking strategies.”
Future City Design
What does the city look like in the future state of technologically connected vehicles, garages, and transportation management tools? Joel Mann believes that it is important to design the curbside to serve all user types, not just standard on-street parking. The TNCs need places to drop off their customers in higher volumes, and with less impact to traffic flow, and so do delivery trucks and mass transit vehicles.
The panel agreed that there is really no consensus on how to design equitably for each, as the models for use preferences are changing rapidly. So, the suggestion is to plan for future uses of parking garages that may have a significantly reduced demand in the future by adding expansion joints to remove large sections of the garage. Current garages are not conducive to future adaptation, so they may become obsolete.
Strategically planning your curbside design, location of TNC or delivery drop-off areas, and ingress/egress of buildings can help to build a more equitable and walkable environment for all users. “Curbside parking spaces are high revenue for cities,” said Bushman.
Where We Want to Live
With so many advances in technology related to transportation, and the way that people move through their daily lives, it is easy to think that simply making parking more efficient will solve the problem. But, as the market realizes, parking is expensive to build and maintain, and may not represent the highest and best use of available land when not strategically integrated into a thoughtful city design. Considering impacts such as noise and air pollution, economic requirements of dependence on cars, and the health impact of single-user automobiles is also critical.
Planning for a city’s growth, and its sustainable and equitable future, should include the planning and investment in all modes of travel—not just the 1950s-era approach of automobile-only planning. Transformative transportation technology that is now blending cars, bikes, scooters, micro-transit, and foot traffic should be considered when laying out the future use of our communities’ infrastructure.