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.

    6. Marc, you cannot possibly be that stupid. Or Craig. Or any of you. You're just stubborn and delusional.

      If you make all schools tiny, you can have schools within a 5-minute walk. This means your school won't offer the 8-15 high school specializations that any decent school now does. (Children were never intended to be warehoused for 13 years in schools. Historically, the "core subjects" were mastered after a maximum of 6 years, for the stupider children or those who missed a lot of class, and 4 years for typical college-bound children, after which upper level studies, an apprenticeship, or other formal vo-tech, "commercial," or teacher training took place. These specialized schools were, in the days before easy travel, generally schools that required a child of 12-16 to move to the school or work, or else it was a low-quality correspondence school. If we are keeping children in institutions until they are 18, we must do at least as well as schools did 150 years ago.)


    7. You can have the 5-minute walk long as your child has no particular interest or passion in any outside activity. You can just sign him up for whatever happens to be close. He wants dance? Too bad! Karate's what's close. Gymnastics? You have to be kidding me. Gymnastics is pretty much never within a 5 minute walk of any homes because it require cheap light industrial-type land to have a gymnastics facility. Music lessons? Sorry, you have to go to the terrible guitar teacher because there's no piano teacher near.

      And how about adult activities? Marriage? I guess you can marry someone in one of a couple of nearby firms. Forget about compatibility. What matters is the 5-minute walk to work.

      Real people with real jobs rarely work in such a close radius from any single place, much less a place where they want to live.

      If you have no hobbies except getting drunk, eating out, and maybe seeing a movie or, a very distant possibility, seeing a live show of a very certain type (say, the playhouse where there are also orchestra performances, OR a big live concert venue), you can do that. If your favorite group comes to town and happens to pick another venue, then you'll get an Uber, right? But what if you have an actual interest or hobby that isn't the lowest common denominator. It's a specialized interest for a specialized group. Other than the ease of overeating in many different restaurants and getting drunk in many different bars, the whole POINT of living in or near a city is that you can find many different "clans" for almost any interest. But at most, you'll live within a 5-minute walk of 11,000 people (assuming that the area is the densest in the US in terms of population, which never happens near employment centers, AND you get all green lights) and more realistically within a 5-minute walk of closer to 6,000 people, tops. Do you really think you can find or create a Battle Bot club in a village of 6,000 to 11,000 people? A drone club? A modern board game club? Even a photography club? That population can support some general interest groups (like darts and pool, or poker or mah jong), but it can, at best, scrape together to make one or two special-interest groups, out of luck, chance, or similar socio-economics. Oh, you don't like Magic the Gathering? That's too bad, because you get that and amateur robotics in this near-university neighborhood. Find open night poetry mic night unbearable and have no interest in spiritualist lesbian activism? Sorry, that's the neighborhood you live in, so that's what you get.

      And forget actually living like a responsible adult, who carefully makes a weekly shopping list and might choose to visit two or three different grocery stores (one has the best prices, one the freshest produce, and another that weird specialty ingredient). Can't do that with the 5-minute rule. It takes 10,000 people to support a grocery store with the kind of product choices that people want. Even if you're a lousy cook and careless with your money, if you have even one shred of time-management, you shop once a week--and good luck doing that for more than 2 people if you walk or take public transit, because it's not happening. Daily shopping only occurred parallel with daily deliveries and stay-at-home wives, who HAD to stay at home because home maintenance and food preparation took up to 13 hours a day before the 1930s. Cold storage was unreliable, so you had to get fresh food frequently, or you'd get poisoned.

      You're living in a delusional world that only is of interest of the TV-bars-and-restaurants singles and (rarely, only if the moon aligns) couples crowd with your 5-minute walk. If you have no real interests, and you do no planning, then living near the only things that give you pleasure (bars, restaurants, and shopping) is of high interest.

      What a sad, narrow, pathetic little life.


    8. Cars are the best thing that's ever happened to lifestyles in the past century. Before that, it was the cable car, because only the very rich could keep a horse and cart just for riding around on. Before that, the public horse carriage and omnibus. Before that, stage coaches and really any functional coach. Before that, the horse and chariot and the all-important wheel.

      Self-driving cars will be next, and then all your deluded hand-wringing will be pointless. Cars ARE obnoxious. They're large and unwieldy. They take up huge amounts of space. They're also a huge improvement on what came before--and what will come after is not more mass transit or more walking but autonomous vehicles that will be no larger than you need for that trip, that will drop you off at a given location, and that will then go away to an edge-location up to several miles away where it will then pack itself into a much more condensed space than humans could with the awareness that that PARTICULAR car will not be called for at any given time, so it can get in a dense queue where it gets out whenever it gets out.

      All of this is coming very soon. The transition will take about 50 years to be complete, but at that point, most parking lots will become superfluous. Personal garages will be kept only for lawn equipment, storage, and outdoor toys/sports gear--most will be replaced by more living space (and more granny flats).

      Your approach to "the car problem" is just like someone approached "the horse problem" of the late 1800s by declaring that everyone should stop using horses. It's idiotic, and it will make people's lives far worse.

      Now, pardon me as I get into my car to drive my kids to college (he's too young to drive himself), to martial arts, and to piano, while I drive my family to the church we prefer, while I drive 15 minutes away, passing four closer grocery stores, to get to one of the ones that always has tahini paste and sells 3 regional varieties of curry in the big bags, and then drive even farther for atta flour at the only Indian grocery in 50 miles.

      I live in one of the "best" metro areas for public transit, too. "Good" public transit is terrible--even in Hong Kong and London, where it's better than here, it's only better than walking. Great for tourists. Good for residents to lose a lot of time.

      I'll happily give up my car when autonomous vehicles are mature. Happily. I'll read or teach in the back or play games on my phone. And I'll "drive" more, not less--just like everyone else will, too.

  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.

    6. So you want to shift household management chores onto children? That's your solution? Because they don't need time to play--no, they need to make a daily trek to a store and carry back a gallon of milk or eggs or whatever else is needed?

      Next, you're going to condescendingly explain why women should be hand-washing all the clothes, too.

      Again, you're completely delusional. Menu planning for the week, as responsible adult use it, takes 15-20 minutes. Driving to the store I use most often takes 6 minutes from my kids' martial arts. Shopping for all the groceries and weekly consumables, checking out, and loading it into my car takes just over an hour. (Checking out is generally 15 minutes of that--I sacrifice short lines by going when I do.) Back to martial arts in another 6 minutes. I'm usually gone a total of 1 hour and 15 minutes.

      So instead, I (or someone else) is supposed to spend 5 minutes every day figuring out what's needed for that night, walk to the store your delusional 5 minutes or a much more realistic 20 minutes or more (please--a full grocery store takes 10,000 people to support. In 3rd world countries these days, it's more than half an hour by bus to a clean, reasonably priced supermarket, and that's about what it takes in the US on public transit. Then you rent a cab to get home. But you wouldn't know that, because you don't live in the real world with real people but in a fantasy world.) Then we shop for no more than we can carry home or fit in your bike basket--but of course, in dense urban areas, if you have a bike, that means it gets to live in your tiny living room with you, yay!, or get stolen. You check out. You've now taken at least 8 minutes in the store but far more likely closer to 20 because you have to plan your trip to the store based on when you happen to be closest to it, which is the same time everyone else is, too. Then you haul it home.

      You have just turned a task that takes about 1.5 hours a week into a task that takes AT LEAST 25 minutes a day, in an ideal world that bears no resemblance to reality. In the real world, it's 45 minutes to an hour a day of time that you've flushed down the toilet for no reason at all.

      Oh, and that little kid you sent to the corner store? (It was usually people sending Johnny for a "pack of cigs", not eggs, anyhow.) In 1940, he had a high chance of getting hit by a car, because larger stores need lots of traffic.

      In the past, people lived with having incredibly restricted choices. They bought from the corner store where Mrs. Brown never threw old eggs away and sifted mouse droppings from the flour. Rich people had choices--in both variety and in vendor--because they paid others to travel for them.

  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.

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

  5. 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!