Parking Lots Shouldn't Take Up Prime Streetfront Real Estate

2282056253_0b5dd5c914.jpgThe parking lot is behind these Boca Raton residences. (Photo: faceless b via Flickr)

It might seem like a simple idea — that having an enormous parking lot in front of a business makes it unattractive to pedestrians and disrupts the fabric of a neighborhood. Unfortunately, this is the way that huge swaths of American towns and cities are designed.

This morning, Kaid Benfield at NRDC Switchboard posts about a relatively simple reversal that can make a real difference in the quality of a community’s street life: Put the parking in the back. He concedes that it’s not a solution for purists:

Some advocates might just wish that cars would go away entirely, or that communities make it so inconvenient or costly for their drivers that they dwindle in number.  But, for most places, that isn’t realistic and could even be counterproductive, chasing businesses out of central cities and exacerbating sprawl at a time when we should be doing the opposite. What we can realistically do is to make sure our buildings and streetscapes are fully supportive of environment- and community-friendly modes of travel. Placing the parking to the rear still allows access for drivers while attracting more walkers and transit users in front. 

That’s the configuration that I encountered when visiting a relatively new neighborhood in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. The central shopping mall was designed with streetfront stores and an interior parking lot; on a pretty Sunday afternoon, it attracted a significant amount of foot traffic from the surrounding residences. The place is deeply car-dependent, but there was still a sense of neighborhood activity and interaction that is largely absent in developments where parking sits in front of retail. While people living there drive to work, they consider it normal to walk to a neighborhood café.

Perfect? No. Better? Definitely.

Benfield’s post is well worth reading in full, so head on over.

More from around the network: Bike Friendly Oak Cliff has a harsh critique of a "complete street" plan in that Dallas community. DC Bicycle Transportation Examiner looks at the ratio of homicides by stranger to traffic fatalities (hint: the second number is higher). And WalkBikeJersey does some dispiriting math on fare hikes for bicyclists using transit in that state.

  • Why do people still want a two or three-car garage for their homes? Not for their car, but for extra storage space. Otherwise, a storage locker would have to be rented.

  • Disco Burritos

    The shopping center on 9th and Bryant (with the TJ’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Nordstrom Rack, etc) sort of does this, with its garage in the middle of the block and the stores on the outside…except access to the stores is from the inside only. I guess this isn’t a particularly walkable neighborhood, though.

  • Isn’t most of San Francisco designed this way? Certainly my apt is built like this.

  • Another problem are the mcmansions of the past 20 years. 30 years ago (and before) all houses had garages located at the side of the house. Now, the 3 door garage takes up 75% of the front of the house. Just visit a new suburban neighborhood and an older established one.

  • JayinPortland

    I wish that picture (Mizner Park, Boca Raton) would zoom out a bit more so we could see where the curb cut is for vehicles exiting the interior parking lot, and how it works with the sidewalk.

    To me, it looks like that sidewalk is way too narrow and there’s enough view obstruction that most cars are just going to zip right out onto the sidewalk and block it while waiting to turn onto the street, if not even coming close to ploughing right through or clipping an approaching pedestrian or three.

    That’s a regular problem with the supposedly “urban” big box Safeway grocery store in my neighborhood, a few blocks from my apartment, which also has interior parking. The cars have to come back out of somewhere, and when they do, many times the mentality of the driver is still an automobile-centric suburban one. It needs to be made clear that cars coming out of these places back onto the street are entering pedestrian space in between, not the other way around.

  • Couldn’t you store stuff in the extra room you’d have if you didn’t need the space for a garage?

  • Another option is landscape screened corner parking lots. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes getting those cars out of sight does.

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