sustainable parking

Creating a context for sustainable parking

Land use planning and facility design can mitigate the inevitability of automobiles
Sunday, November 30, 2014
By Jerry Marcus

Every type of land use developed today — entertainment, retail, commercial real estate, aviation/transportation, medical complexes, convention centres, sports facilities, residential developments or government offices — requires parking. In some cases, abundant convenient parking is essential to the success of the development.

The International Parking Institute (IPI) and the U.S. National Parking Association have engaged many of the industry’s pre-eminent professionals and designers to collaborate on Sustainable Parking Design and Management: A Practitioner’s Handbook. This reviews all forms of parking including stand-alone structures, integrated parking structures, concrete structures and steel structures — both existing and new.

Green building is revolutionizing the business of architecture and engineering, encouraging design professionals to be accountable for their work in a way that promotes a better world. The green building revolution has spurred designers and builders to incorporate sustainable design into many types of buildings, but some have garnered less attention than others.

Many of the leaders of the green design revolution take issue with the concept of a sustainable parking garage. Many feel it is absurd to call a structure built solely for cars anything close to sustainable. After all, the manufacture, distribution and operation of hydrocarbon-burning vehicles are as far from carbon-neutral as it gets.

Many also see the parking garage as a barrier to a more sustainable world. Many green design professionals feel strongly about excluding parking from any green dialogue. Some feel that parking supply shortages will precipitate more transit infrastructure.

However, as an unintended consequence, such shortages also stifle development and produce long circuitous searches for parking spaces, increasing fuel consumption. Unfortunately, just a few metropolitan areas in the United States have sufficient transportation options available to significantly reduce parking demand.

Encouraging best practices

The IPI’s publication (released in May 2014) frames the argument a little differently. It explores options from the point of view of the parking patron who has little choice but to drive and park, and from the parking design community whose members work on this building type.

Reasonably, parking facility users and parking design professionals share the desire to be as environmentally responsible as anyone. An important goal here is to create an overall understanding that parking can be executed as responsibility as any other building type.

Universal goals for sustainable parking aim to:

  •             help reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuel;
  •             reduce the energy required to locate a parking space;
  •             “right size” parking structures and parking lots;
  •             reduce the amount of land required to store vehicles;
  •             encourage the purchase and use of alternative-fuel vehicles and electric vehicles;
  •             encourage change-of-mode commutes;
  •             encourage carpooling;
  •             reduce the energy needed to operate a parking facility;
  •             use best sustainable practices in choosing technologies and materials;
  •             reclaim water from parking structures and surface lots; and
  •             incorporate renewable energy sources into designs.

These goals are similar to the overriding goals for LEED buildings, which are intended to use resources more efficiently, and provide healthier work and living environments. The benefits of implementing a LEED strategy include improving air and water quality and reducing solid waste, benefiting owners, occupiers and the larger community.

Incentives to drive remain strong

Many of those most passionate about sustainability seek to eliminate as many passenger vehicles as possible from roads, for a number of reasons. To begin, when vehicles are  present so is the practice of searching for a good parking space. Many argue that empty parking spaces provide incentives for people to drive their own cars instead of taking more environmentally efficient transit options.

The U.S. has, by all accounts, a significant oversupply of parking. Some put the ratio at eight parking spaces for every car (250 million passenger vehicles and 2 billion spaces). Parking is always the single biggest land use in any urban environment.

It takes a significant amount of energy to build this space, including the creation and transportation of concrete and precast elements. Parking spaces also trap heat, creating an urban heat island that, in turn, raises the temperature of cities. This results in an additional energy load on buildings to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures.

Parking garages can also be as environmentally harmful as the cars housed in them. Vehicles leak gas, oil and transmission fluid. They also shed brake dust and bring in de-icing chemicals. Rain washes these caustic contaminants into drainage systems. Additionally, cars and trucks driving through garages concentrate vehicle emissions.

Meanwhile, paved surface lots are in many ways worse for the environment than garages. More paved area means fewer green areas, fewer carbon-absorbing trees and less soil absorption to replenish aquifers.

These issues underpin the goal of improving the design of parking facilities. What better way to have a big effect on the environment than to provide parking designs that address the specific issues presented here?

If vehicles must be parked, the industry can adopt sustainable principles to do so. Parking garages will never be as environmentally friendly as bicycles or rail, but they can serve as great places for rail stops or bicycle storage areas.

Contributors to the practitioners’ handbook look at a host of opportunities to make the parking structure more sustainable. People are going to keep building parking spaces, but the future can hold a more thoughtful approach to parking.

Jerry Marcus is president and owner of The Parking Advisory Group LLC, and author of the opening chapter of Sustainable Parking Design and Management: A Practitioner’s Handbook, from which the preceding article is excerpted. This article was originally published in Canadian Property Management, November 2014.

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