Resources to Help Understand the Relationship Between Parking and Walkable Communities



(Update: As described the March 2018 article titled LMST Open Space and School Construction,  a favorable decision was made in late 2017 regarding providing a pedestrian-oriented site design and construction moved ahead in the Spring of 2018.)

Walkable communities provide compelling reasons for people to use their feet. They give people reasons to walk. Think shops, the dentist, movie theater, school, etc. These environments makes us feel safe because we're buffered from traffic, and public safety is not a concern. Walking through these places is both comfortable and interesting. For example, we typically feel good about walking down a tree-lined street lined with houses that are close to the sidewalk. We might look up at a porch and enjoy seeing windows that glow with interior lights as we walk by. Alternatively, we might look through storefront windows. There is a human element to these places. The car is a secondary or tertiary presence in our lives.

Parking lots remove the human element which is why urban designers consistently state that they should be de-emphasized by placing them behind buildings or underground when conditions permit. In many cases they just should not be built in the first place.  

On-street parking does work, even it if means that one must to get out of the car and walk some distance to reach a destination.  We're built for walking. It works.

Rigidly enforced standards requiring a minimum amount of parking are guaranteed to erode walkability. In recent years, progressive municipalities have started to do just the opposite - namely they enforce maximum parking standards to promote to support walkability.

With the above in mind, there are many resources that can help you to place parking lots (and more) in the context of a walkable environment.

General Resources on Walkability

The London Assembly and the Mayor of London have a wonderful initiative called Healthy Streets London which is a broader look at walkability beyond the impact of the parking lot. It provides a great introduction to why walkability is key to quality of life.

London also has a 17 page publication called Illustrated Urban Design Principals which provides an introduction to urban design.  

Urban Designers Reid Ewing and Keith Bartholomew have written an excellent book titled Pedestrian and Transit Oriented Design. If you're a professional designer, builder or run a public agency that runs construction projects, this is a great reference for you.

 It is difficult to overstate the importance of the The Urban Land Institute in terms of their leadership in research and education in relation to pedestrian-oriented environments. They've been around since 1936, and have over 40,000 members world wide with offices in Washington DC, Hong Kong, London, London, and Frankfort. Below you'll find just a sampling of information which informs what we should be doing to promote, build, and sustain walkable communities. 

Parking and the Pedestrian Oriented Environment

In terms of some specific guidelines relating to parking, lets start with the Urban Land Institute.  Below is a sampling of references to the treatment of parking in pedestrian-oriented communities.

  • Reduce the amount of land devoted to parking to increase space for other pedestrian-oriented uses and activities. Leverage shared parking opportunities where possible. Source: Design Well Connected Street Networks at the Human Scale. Read more...
  • The era when anything developed in an urban neighborhood was considered to be better than nothing is over. Desperation has driven many communities to accept developments that are inappropriate for an urban street and antithetical to an enjoyable pedestrian experience. Suburban-style, pedestrian-deficient retailing with blank walls facing the sidewalk, parking lots that disrupt retail continuity, throw-away architectural quality, inappropriate building design and scale, and lack of pedestrian amenities are some of the most egregious mistakes that made many urban streets mean and decidedly unfriendly to shoppers . Source: Ten Principals for Rebuilding Neighborhood Retail. Read more...
  • Enclosure is eroded by breaks in the continuity of the street wall, that is, breaks in the vertical elements, such as buildings or tree rows that line the street. Breaks in continuity that are occupied by nonactive uses create dead spaces that further erode enclosure; vacant lots, parking lots, driveways, and other uses that do not generate human activity and presence are all considered dead spaces. SourceUrban Land: The Magazine of the Urban Land Institute. Read more...

Mark Nickita, AIA, CNU, APA, BSArch, MArch is an architect, urbanist, retail entrepreneur, developer, educator and an elected municipal leader.  As President of Archive DS, architects and urbanists in Toronto and Detroit, Mark has written extensively about the impact of parking on walkable environments. 

  • Surface parking lots are detrimental to a walkable built environment. Wherever possible, municipalities should work to diminish surface lots and identify strategies to minimize parking demands and distribute parking into places that do not negatively affect the pedestrian environment...A person walking along a street with stores, restaurants and building lobbies is far more engaged and entertained than if they are walking by 50 parked cars and a driveway access. Source: Parking Walkabilty: How Parking Strategies Influence Pedestrian-Oriented Places. Read more...

The National  League of Cities and Sustainable Cities Institute has written extensively about Pedestrian/Transit-Oriented development and speaks to the need for reduced parking in walkable environments. Key elements of such environments include:

  • A mix of uses
  • Moderate to high density
  • Pedestrian orientation/connectivity
  • Transportation choices
  • Reduced parking
  • High quality design

Pedestrian/Transit-oriented development is a response to current conditions:

  • Rising energy prices
  • Road congestion
  • Climate change
  • Shrinking household sizes
  • Increasing demand for urban living
  • Interest in green building and walkable neighborhoods
    Source: Sustainable Cities Institute:

City of Hamilton, ON

  • Building orientation should be to the public street with a high degree of visual interest, such as building articulation, windows, and landscaping along the streetfront and walkways and parking should be located away from the streetfront.
  • Streets and buildings should be in a grid pattern and clustered to encourage pedestrian movement and promote easier access to transit
  • Parking should not be the focus within pedestrian-oriented areas, even when available.
  • Parking should be moved to the rear of buildings whenever possible
    Source: TOD Design Guidelines. 

Victoria Walks, published findings from the Australia Department of Transport and several researchers relating to the impact of parking on pedestrian-oriented environments:

  • Pricing factors are tremendously important for spurring non-motorized travel. Auto and fuel taxation and parking are two factors that stand out. 
  • Minimum parking requirements are the single most significant impediment to a more efficient and durable urban form...
  • Hindsight shows that minimum parking requirements have had hugely negative consequences. In the long run minimum parking requirements have generated more congestion, because they have increased the supply (and hence lowered the cost) of parking. This has subsidized vehicle ownership and travel and undermined uptake of other transport modes. Travel behaviour studies show a strong link between the availability and cost of parking and people’s tendency to drive.

Victoria Walks Submission to Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Strategies. (Sponsored by Victoria HealthRead more...

There is much more available online but hopefully the information here provides a starting point.