|Driveways and abundant on-street parking help bring parking spots as close as possible to housing|
|Low-rise multi-family housing surrounded by parking|
|Typical North American mall, surrounded by acres of parking|
All of this means that one way to discourage using cars is simply to make it less convenient to use them by placing parking locations farther from housing and destinations, which goes against the current regulatory regime that insists on on-site parking.
A theoretical demonstrationSo how much impact does parking location convenience has?
Well, first, let's take a typical case of on-site parking with every house having a parking on the lot, in the form of a driveway. Houses are on side streets, so drivers go down to the arterial road then drive to the destination, either an office, factory or a store, which also has parking on-site. Schematically, this is what it looks like:
|In yellow, the trip using cars, in blue, the trip using transit, dotted sections are done on foot, bus stops are the blue dots|
So, if we do a mode race to see how much time it takes to reach the destination on foot, on a bike, on a car or on a bus, we'd get something like this:
|Mode race of the case with on-site parking, cars have a massive advantage|
In this case, a 5-km trip (roughly 3 miles) would take nearly 25 minutes on transit, but only 10 minutes in a car. Cars start with a 10-minute advantage over transit and only increase that advantage over longer trips thanks to their higher speed.
Now let's take the exact opposite case, where both residential and commercial/office parking are off-site. In this case, car drivers have to walk 2-3 minutes to their car from their home and 2-3 minutes from the parking to their destination. Bus riders still have to walk the same distance to their stop, but as there is no parking in front of the destination, they will save quite some time walking to their destination from the bus stop at which they alight.
|Schematic representation of the case with off-site residential and destination parking, car drivers have to walk much more in this case, even more than transit users|
|Trip distance vs time for the off-site parking example, here, cars lose most of their advantage for shorter trips|
Finally, there is the on-street parking scenario, which is in the middle. If there is plenty of parking spots on the street, the results are very close to the first case with on-site parking. If there is a shortage of parking spots, then people may need to walk a bit, approximating the off-site parking example. In both cases, if parking is on-street, then destinations tend to be built next to the sidewalk, reducing walking distances for transit users.
The Swedish modelOK, so what got me thinking about this is exploring Swedish cities through Google Maps, trying to get a sense of their organization. Many neighborhoods of Swedish cities have a particular form. These cities have very strong planning, and the Swedes often live in multi-family housing, 40% of them do, many of them inside apartments built by a government program, the Million programme, under which the government motivated the construction of one million dwelling units in 10 years, a massive undertaking in a country of 8 million people.
Anyway, many multi-family neighborhoods in Sweden have a peculiar form in modern developments, take a look at this area from Vaxjo:
|Residential area in Vaxjo, Sweden|
|Distinct subsections of the neighborhood|
Technically, I guess the parking is still on-site. as it seems clear this whole area is one big development project, but for all practical purposes, the parking is effectively off-site due to its distance from residential areas.
Here is a particularly striking example (at least, from the sky), from Norkoping, a concentric neighborhood with parking on the outside ring, then two rings of apartment blocs, all surrounding a park:
|Concentric neighborhood in Norkoping|
Here is another example in Karlstad:
|Suburban neighborhood in Karlstad, Sweden, with the neighborhood's commercial area identified, as well as the main footpath/bike path|
|Walking trip from an apartment bloc to the neighborhood commercial sector, time of trip: 4 or 5 minutes|
|And here is the directions for the shortest car trip, note the time: 5 minutes, about the same as walking, so you would save no time by driving instead of walking|
This total separation of motorized vehicles from pedestrians and cyclists may also be partly responsible for Sweden's excellent traffic safety results. Indeed, Sweden is in the Top 5 safest countries on Earth both by traffic deaths per 100 000 people and by 100 000 cars.
Again, make no mistake, this is a suburban area, and one that has strict use separation as commercial uses are set apart from residential areas, but a suburban area that seems to focus more on walking, biking and transit than on cars. Not to say that Swedish cities are only made of such neighborhoods, not at all. They have plenty of traditional Euro-blocs in older areas and single-family areas with driveways in front of every house:
|Single-family houses in Stockholm|
|Elevated parking structure in the center of the image, to absorb the parking demand for the high-density housing without overwhelming the residential area with cars, in Stockholm|
This type of neighborhood design is more typical of multi-family housing, but some single-family housing also use parking lots and garages put at the periphery, leaving the inside of the neighborhood free from cars:
|Single-family area with parking lots put at the periphery, in Lund|
|Image of one of the parking lots, in fact, parking garages, that would typically be built adjacent to houses but that are instead grouped in the same location|
|Images of the houses with footpaths separating the houses|
|Mode share in Stocckholm, the biggest city of Sweden (metro population of 2 millions), extremely high public transit usage, relatively low active mode shares|
|Mode share in Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city (about 500 000 people)|
|Mode share for Linkoping, a city of 140 000, there we see bikes being much more used, with still a significant amount of public transit use|
|Mode share for Lund, population of about 100 000. To compare, transit mode share in Toronto and Montréal is about 20%, so 16% in a 100 000-people city is quite high|
|Mode share for Uppsala, pop. 140 000|
I'm not so keen on the strongly planned cities of Sweden, but their aesthetics may be more in sync with North Americans used to lots of greenery. Enclosure may be favored in urbanism, but not everyone likes it. Still, they are pretty successful at offering modal choice to people and at favoring all modes of transport, save for cars. The biggest flaw of this approach is inflexibility, when roads and infrastructure are built only for a certain type of development, making the area evolve over time is quite difficult.
The advantages of off-site parkingI think this model showcases how useful off-site parking lots can be, especially for a transition from suburbs to more sustainable, walkable cities. One of the big problems of density in suburban areas is that it results in cars taking over the public sphere entirely, being everywhere. The Swedish approach of putting cars in their own little zone apart from residential areas can help make it more palatable to live in an higher density area in transition from car-dependence to multi-modality, where cars will still be very present. Like a shameful disease, cars are best kept out of view of the community, allowing for more human-friendly design to dominate the public realm. The inconvenience of the parking location also encourages other modes of transport by reducing the time advantage of cars.
Off-site parking could also have an additional advantage of being possibly adaptive to demand rather than simply being regulatory. When parking is required on-site, since unused spaces on one lot cannot be used by residents of another, every lot is obliged to provide enough parking for its residents' highest possible parking demand. Off-site parking could allow for parking spots to be attributed to those who need them, so less of them would be needed, because residents not using their "allotment" could simply sell the spaces or stop renting them, allowing someone else to use that space. If parking spaces get rare, a new parking lot could be built. So off-site parking lots could theoretically do away with the need of minimum parking requirements.
For example, let's take the typical example of houses which regulation says needs to have 2 parking spots, built on-site. The regulation being what it is, the parking spots are privately owned by whoever owns the housing, and the price for the parking is bundled with the house's price. But since the regulation is there to make sure that enough parking is provided, in fact, it may well be that a significant amount of parking is not actually regularly occupied by a car.
|Schematic example of houses with on-site parking spots, in light blue, ones not regularly used by vehicles, in dark, spaces that are regularly used|
On the other hand, if you have another approach, where the 28 parking spots have been put in one parking lot, with homeowners having the choice to separately buy parking spots, then you have the following:
|Schematic example of houses with off-site parking spots|
To be fair, this can also be done with on-street parking, but I think I've made it clear that I dislike that solution, as cars parked on a street claim it for cars and clutter up urban areas. As the city is typically responsible for building and maintaining streets, reliance on on-street parking also makes public authorities responsible for providing parking for residents, opening the door to all sorts of conflicts as the city is then forced to manage parking and held accountable if there are parking problems. I find it much better to leave parking in the hands of private residents and businesses, so that the costs can be borne by those who use it, not by the community at large.
So anyway, the more I think about it, the more I think this is a way of tackling parking that could be promising. This is also valid for commercial parking lots. This approach is scalable, it could work in suburbs, where low land prices and density could at first lead to abundant, affordable parking, but also allow for a gradual reduction of the amount of parking as land prices increase due to development and better public transit options slowly make car ownership less important. In other words, I think it could be a complementary approach to incremental developments.