Monday, June 10, 2013

Common Garage Parking, In Practice: Part II

An article in a recent issue of the New York Times, spotlighting Charlotte in covering the trend toward less driving among younger Americans, opened with the following paragraph:
"Dan Mauney keeps misplacing his car. Mr. Mauney, 42, lives in an apartment tower in this city’s Uptown neighborhood, a pedestrian-friendly quarter with new office buildings, sparkling museums and ambitious restaurants. He so seldom needs to drive that when he does go to retrieve his car in his building’s garage, he said, 'I always forget where I parked it.'"
Although Mauney may have little "need" to drive his car, need does not always align with behavior when it comes to transportation choice. When one's car is steps away from the front door, its use, relative to need, is likely to be high, even where other options are available. By contrast, where the car is kept in a remote storage facility, out of sight and immediate access, it is likely that use of the car more closely coincides with genuine need. In Mauney's case, that need turns out to be surprisingly low.

Mauney's building may be a high-rise, but a similar common garage parking approach has effectively been adopted among new apartment buildings of the type seen here, in an example from Dallas:

This is of course the notorious "Texas Doughnut," a mid-rise residential liner wrapped around interior structured parking.  The product of on-site parking requirements and building codes which permit cheaper wood framing for lower-rise buildings, these structures have proliferated throughout the Sunbelt, though they can be found, with less frequency, outside that geographic range. To the extent these cities are experiencing urbanization near their centers (hello, Dallas), this is the form that urbanism frequently takes, for better or worse.

Despite the prominence of the parking facilities and the transportation mode choices that suggests, note that many residents are required to walk non-trivial distances to reach their vehicles. In some cases, as in the example from Houston below, the walk may actually exceed three minutes for some residents (Google maps shows no parking of any kind, underground or otherwise, associated with the apartments to the NE, NW or SW):

In debates about parking in urban areas, pricing and availability tend to garner the majority of the attention, with proximity only a secondary concern (although many complaints about these first two issues implicitly involve proximity). Similarly, attempts to reduce reliance on the car through parking reform have tended to focus on eliminating or reducing parking maximums or establishing a market pricing mechanism for parking spaces, rather than considering the location of the vehicle itself.

It should be common sense, though, that in an otherwise reasonably walkable area with some transit options, the further the car is from one's residence, the less use that car is likely to receive, since transportation is above all a matter of immediate convenience. Given that the "five minute walk" is generally accepted as a key walkability measure, having the car three minutes away inevitably helps shift the advantage toward walking. Other ways in which this modest time advantage could be magnified to privilege non-car modes could include:
  • Keeping cars in a centralized and fairly distant garage, as in the case of Vauban, but allowing bikes to be stored on-street or in another convenient location. 
  • Exploiting the limited access to parking garages by closing off certain streets to through traffic, but allowing permeability for cyclists and pedestrians. 
  • Prohibiting or greatly limiting on-street parking on surrounding streets, thereby reducing the perception of convenient parking while making the streets more hospitable to other modes of travel.
  • Reducing speed limits by law and through design features, including lane narrowing, textured paving, shared space, etc. 
Although these design elements are all consistent with the seemingly car-oriented Texas doughnut, they have rarely been put into practice. Rather, even where transit is present, the whole is often less than the sum of its parts: buildings are set back and present blank faces to the sidewalk, streets are engineered for vehicles, and the overall impression can be one of isolated and gated enclaves rather than a neighborhood (Dallas again, from Streetview):

For a city to make a system like this work, an entirely new approach toward both parking policy and thoroughfare design would be necessary. Rather than managing on-street parking, as with parking benefit districts, cities would need to arrange for coordinating off-street parking, something which many cities have neglected (for instance, Norman Garrick and Chris McCahill have found that a city like New Haven, CT, does not even have a count of its available parking supply, even though off-street requirements for individual buildings are typically micromanaged to an absurd degree -- truly a case of failing to see the forest for the trees), and which is not necessarily resolved simply by abolishing parking minimums. The "fee in-lieu of parking" model is one promising approach, although it is often undermined by the continuing presence of on-street parking, which encourages endless cruising for temptingly convenient spaces rather than use of public garages built with the collected fees.

With the common garage parking model emerging in these Sunbelt developments, however, something similar is taking place though the independent actions of developers, and residents seeking to live a life somewhat less tied to the car are apparently finding it there.

Related posts:
Common Garage Parking, In Practice


  1. Having a car a five-minute walk from your residence -- or getting around entirely by transit or foot -- is fine if you're a young single professional or a childless couple. But add kids to the mix, or retirees, and the situation changes.

    Why should cities be designed solely for affluent twentysomethings?

    1. Hey Cambias! A five-minute walk would be on the extreme upper end of the range for attached garage parking -- the examples shown here range from one to three minutes, depending on where one lives relative to the garage, where the car is parked, etc.

      I would disagree, though, that this arrangement necessarily implies hardship for families or the elderly. Vauban, which I linked, functions on the common garage model, and is immensely popular among young families with children (in large part because the environment is mostly car-free). In any event, large-scale multifamily housing is simply not compatible with ultra-convenient access to one's personal vehicle* -- for those for whom that is a deal-breaker, Dallas, Charlotte and the other Sunbelt cities certainly don't lack for alternative options!

      *With very rare exception:

    2. But Cambias, surely kids can walk too? ;-)

      Old timers from small towns *and* big cities constantly tell me how their parents made them walk to school, to hobbies, to get a couple groceries every day, and so on. But apparently now we assume kids are so helpless they have to be chauffeured everywhere... I guess we'll pay for their diabetes and obesity later.

    3. Very intrusive Teutonic style social control seems necessary to make Vauban work. See this article from the Guardian.


      I mean this article

    5. Design a city for children and their needs and you will like the city as a softer more livable place.

  2. It ain't the kids walking -- it's the parents hauling a family's worth of groceries without a car. You try it some time.

    1. Exactly... parents used to make their kids pick up a few things every day so that grocery shopping need not be an arduous bimonthly military expedition. ;-)

      I'd humbly argue that these kinds of comments (i.e. the groceries-as-expedition thing) are made by people simplistically mapping suburban behavioral patterns onto urban settings, as if expecting the same types of patterns/trips to take place regardless of urban form.

      In reality people adjust their habits to each environment: a mom living in an apartment building wouldn't cart a month's load of groceries in a car; she'd make her kids pick up a few things on the way home each day. That way they'd learn adult responsibilities at an early age rather than remaining infantilized till 16.

    2. Adding to what Marc said, keep in mind that the shopping cart itself, the very device which permits the shopper to accumulate a car-load of groceries, only dates to the late 1940s, long after the car had become common. Shopping carts are incompatible with a dense urban environment (you won't find them in most Manhattan supermarkets), yet the supermarkets do very well, thanks to a high volume of shoppers buying a moderate quantity of goods. Those who wish to really load up for a family can bring in a wheeled cart of their own (they cost only $30), and carry out up to 100-150 lbs of groceries. Rather than walking your cart back to the car, you walk your cart back to your home, thus saving you the process of loading and unloading the car, and arduously carrying the groceries inside. Another benefit of this lack of carts/cars is that people generally buy closer to what they actually came for, and frivolous impulse purchases, which can simply be flipped into a giant cart elsewhere, are greatly reduced. Of course, a city offers many other supplemental options too -- fruit carts, greengrocers, corner markets, etc., that can easily fill gaps and reduce the need for these unpleasant suburban-style shopping expeditions.

      If that doesn’t sound appealing, there are lots of grocery delivery options out there these days (FreshDirect, Peapod, etc) that save you the trouble of going to the store in the first place, or, at least, can deliver the heavy staples that allow you to shop sans car for the less common and lighter options – making shopping more fun and less of a chore. It’s even better than having a milkman.

    3. As a parent of a very young child, a city dweller, and a car-owner, I can say that the idea of even a weekly grocery trip with the car doesn't bother me that much. But I cannot imagine using such infrequent use to justify constantly having my car with a 3-5 minute walk. I could just as easily pick up a bag of groceries every other day on an afternoon walk while wearing my daughter.

    4. I heard a similar sentiment expressed about drive-thrus recently. That old folks and people with children just need the ability to not get out of the car all the time. And yet. Here in my center city neighborhood, parents are walking around pushing strollers. My favorite bakery is a place always populated with babies in strollers and kids running around. Urbanism actually is a kind of lifestyle that rewards childhood with freedom and a rich experience.

      ...Speaking of bakeries, every place in Europe and the Middle East I have spent much time in had one in every corner for a reason. None of these places sell bread that is meant to last more than 24 hours, meaning, the habit is to eat fresh bread only. You pick it up daily and it is far superior to the kind you buy in plastic bags. That's why I can't find a decent pita in the States.

    5. I want a ride through - i.e. a "drive through" for my bicycle. I live in a European city with an above average bicycle use, however none of the bakeries sports a "ride through" window where I could just ride up with my bicycle, get my bread and be on my way. That would be *so convenient*.

      I only ever lived once in a city with a bakery with an accidental "ride through" window. Basically the bakery closed at 6 pm and the staff began cleaning the shop. Everything that remained unsold that day was sold at a discount through a window. I liked to ride up to it whenever I passed by on my bicycle and see what was on offer.

  3. Do you know when the Texas Doughnut type came into being? I ask, because it reminds me of the parking strategy of the Union Carbide Building, by Kevin Roche (1982). It would be interesting to see if he picked up the design from Texas, or vice versa.

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  5. this is a good common parking garage for cars and it will help the people to keep their cars in proper place.

  6. Hi, Charlie Gardner! I always look forward to your part II, after reading your common garage parking, in practice: part I. Very useful! Thank you so much!