Mobility 2050/Recovering Land Lost to Parking Craters

Introduction edit

Throughout the United States, cities are overrun by large swathes of land taken up solely by parking spaces. These areas, coined by critics as “parking craters”, are occupying valuable real estate, creating less space for other forms of development and encouraging the rampant car use that currently exist throughout the US. This heavy emphasis on car ownership is a major contributor to environmental issues, as the US EPA reports that light-duty vehicles account for 58% of the transportation sector’s carbon emissions[1]. In our vision of 2050, parking craters are less prevalent, leading to more effective land use, lower carbon emissions, and a more satisfying transportation experience for those living in US cities.

Present Day edit

While many US cities devote a significant portion of their land to parking craters, there are exceptions. The downtown area of Atlanta, GA has 25% of its land dedicated to parking, whereas New York City, NY has only 1%[2]. Discrepancies like these are due to two major factors: public transportation and business density. New York City has one of the most elaborate and widely adopted public transportation systems in the country. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the New York City metro system) has more stations than any other metro system in the world[3]; this allowed the city to have only 0.65 cars per household in 2016, a huge drop-off from Atlanta’s 1.28 cars per household[4]. Fewer cars in the city ultimately means less demand for parking, which helps contribute to NYC’s low parking crater count. The New York metro area also has extremely high business density - 79 businesses per square mile, over 10 times the national metro average of 6.8[5]. Similar trends to New York City can also be seen in Tokyo, Japan, which has only 0.32 cars per household, a highly effective transit system, and very little parking: 95% of streets have no parking at all, and only 42% of condominium buildings have parking for their residents[6]. While US cities don't need to be converted into super-dense and completely car-free utopias to help solve the parking problem, popular and effective public transit systems and the promotion of higher business density within cities are the key to reducing parking craters - in order to lower car usage while ensuring communities can continue to travel within their city, alternatives need to be supported.

Replacing Parking Craters edit

The elimination of parking craters will provide much needed space for urban centers, especially as populations continue to expand. In our vision of 2050, developments in the form of parks, public space, housing, and public transit will replace these parking lots, providing better connectivity and mobility for communities. It brings the opportunity for increased housing that can be affordable as there is more availability. Steps towards this vision would involve a change in zoning policy and parking mandates. Currently, many cities across the U.S. have mandates that require building developers to provide a particular amount of parking spaces. It has created cases where the parking lots are larger than the accompanying buildings themselves. Removing these mandates would give the developers more freedom to utilize space that would otherwise have been put aside for parking spaces. Removing minimum parking requirements has become a recent trend in cities across the U.S. with Richmond, Anchorage, and Lexington being recent examples[7]. Towards 2050, we expect more cities to follow suit, especially as many aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. As transportation contributes to being one of the largest sources of greenhouse emissions, cities will look for ways that incentivize inhabitants to use alternatives to their personal vehicles. It will not be only major urban centers that will pursue this change, but also suburban cities. Smaller suburban cities will revamp or build new town centers that are more walk-friendly with all amenities in close proximity. They’re designed around the concept of “Live. Work. Play.” Removing mandatory minimum parking requirements will tackle the parking issue for future developments. Regarding existing parking craters, the straightforward solution is removing them, but it is not a process that will happen overnight. Financial support through the government will incentivize local businesses to gradually repurpose unused space. Building owners will also have the option to sell off remaining space left by parking lots to developers and with the minimum parking mandates gone, they would not be subject to constraints in building up that space. A smooth transition away from parking craters would depend on investment and development in infrastructure of alternative travel such as public transportation, biking, and walking as the presence of such will be viewed as viable options as spaces for personal vehicles diminish.

The Role of Public Transportation edit

As the American population grows, so will the demand for public transportation. This is due to the increasing difficulty of finding parking spaces and the decreasing ownership of cars. Cities such as Atlanta have a primitive subway system because of the reliance on cars. In contrast, Los Angeles (LA) has several metro development projects. One project that just finished was the Regional Connector that connects downtown LA to LA County. For many Angelenos, this is more convenient to travel. As of September 2023, this metro saw an increase of ridership by 23% on weekdays compared to the three lines this metro replaced[8]. This is one step LA is taking to reduce traffic congestion, increase housing affordability, and reduce emissions.

One major risk of expanding more metro systems is the willingness of Americans to use public transportation over a car. The 20th century marked the idea of individualism and freedom with the introduction of the car. Individuals would not be bound to strict train schedules and predetermined routes. Compared to the car, the individual is “free” from these restrictions, and thus the adoption of cars rose. However, this trend is starting to reverse as major cities such as Dallas and LA expand on public transportation. This is an important step in changing the American mindset because these projects reintroduce the idea of public transportation. Greater public transportation infrastructure reduces the need to own a car by making important places easily accessible. Our vision does not foresee that Americans will completely switch to public transportation, but rather Americans will desire for cheaper and more efficient public transportation. Compared to Japan, which has a mature train system, American public transportation severely lacks accessibility. Parking craters can be converted into more metro stations, increasing accessibility of communities that may be far from public transportation. Increased accessibility will help poorer communities access places that are once restricted by cars.

Another major issue with expansion of metro systems in cities is the cost of planning and building the metro system. The Regional Connector cost about $1.8 billion[8]. This steep cost and lack of budget prevents many American cities from adopting a metro system because of the high investment and low return. Countries with advanced metro systems, such as Korea and Japan, have invested heavily in public transportation infrastructure. America only spends about 1.0% of its GDP on transportation infrastructure compared to Japan who spent about 1.41% of its total GDP on transportation infrastructure in 2021[9]. Investing in more public transportation would help develop efficient technologies to build metros and reduce costs. Additionally, America’s legislation process for building more public transportation infrastructure is either too slow or too complex. For example, transit agencies would have to get authorization to prepare an area for construction. Streamlining the legislation process can speedup construction times for public transportation. As we approach 2050, American desire for more public infrastructure will increase, which can aid in pushing through the complex legislation process. Furthermore, as development increases, America will be able to gain the necessary experience to build better public infrastructure, thus reducing costs associated with this.

Currently, living expenses in major cities are high because of the lack of space to build new housing. For example, New York City’s housing cost is about 385% higher than the national average[10]. As a result, demand for housing is high, and prices are driven up. One way to reduce housing costs in major cities is to convert space taken by parking craters into more housing. This would free up valuable land that could be used to build new homes. However, this is not a sustainable solution in the long term. As cities continue to grow, the demand for housing will only increase. Eventually, we will reach a point where there is simply no more space to convert into housing. Another way to reduce housing costs in major cities is to build more public transportation. This would make it easier for people to get around without cars, which would reduce traffic congestion and free up more space on the roads. Additionally, public transportation is often more affordable than owning a car, which could save people money on transportation costs. By combining these two approaches, we can reduce housing costs in major cities and make them more affordable for everyone. Constructing more houses from the parking craters can help reduce housing costs, but this is not as sustainable because of the lack of space in the city. Suburbs offer more space at the cost of distance. Constructing more public transport can reduce traffic, while reducing housing costs for both the city and suburb. Traffic and car-reliance would be reduced, since buses and trains are more efficient in traveling from one place to another.

References edit

  1. "Fast Facts on Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions". United States Environmental Protection Agency. June 2023. Retrieved 12/7/2023. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |access-date= (help)CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. Wheatley, Thomas (April 20, 2023). "Downtown Atlanta is 25% Parking". Axios Atlanta. Retrieved 12/7/2023. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |access-date= (help)CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. "New Yorkers and Their Cars | NYCEDC". edc.nyc. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  4. "Vehicle Ownership in U.S. Cities Data and Map". Governing. 2014-12-09. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  5. "The Geography of Business Density" (in en). Bloomberg.com. 2012-09-10. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-09-10/the-geography-of-business-density. 
  6. "How Tokyo Became an Anti-Car Paradise - Heatmap News". heatmap.news. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  7. Meyersohn, Nathaniel (2023-05-20). "This little-known rule shapes parking in America. Cities are reversing it | CNN Business". CNN. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  8. a b "Los Angeles Is On a Transit-Building Tear. Will Riders Follow?" (in en). Bloomberg.com. 2023-10-26. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2023-10-26/los-angeles-is-on-a-subway-building-tear-will-riders-follow. 
  9. "Japan". www.gihub.org. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  10. "Cost of Living in New York, NY | PayScale". www.payscale.com. Retrieved 2023-12-08.