According the 2010 Urban Land Institute (ULI) Infrastructure Report, the United States will add approximately 30 million people — every decade from now through 2050. Baby Boomers are fast becoming empty nesters, and the children of baby boomers are expressing a preference to live in urbanized environments closer to transit, jobs, amenities and entertainment. This generation, according to ULI’s John McIlwain and Ronald Terwillinger, could become the first “smart growth generation.”
In addition to these significant demographic changes, our nation,awakened by the Great Recession, the Gulf oil spill, and the realization of our excessive consumption, appears to recognize the need for more sustainable, dense, transit-dependent and economically viable communities. For two decades smart growth advocates — including many transit agencies — have championed this type of transit-friendly planning. Now, the preponderance of real estate professionals and some visionary public leaders understand that the sprawling, suburban-focused, auto-dependent development that has defined our nation since World War II is no longer sustainable or desirable. According to Katherine Perez, the executive director of ULI Los Angeles, “TOD [transit-oriented development] projects will be primary choices of private developers and governmental planners for decades to come.”
One challenge associated with the planning, design and financial feasibility of TOD and smart growth is the need for structured parking. Due to the necessary density of TOD and the scarcity of available property, structured parking is often the necessary and appropriate solution to consolidate and maximize the land available for development. However, the cost of structured parking can strain a developer’s proforma. Further, the mass of the structures, which can approach 50 percent of the built square footage of the development program, can crystallize community and political opposition in many municipalities.
The TOD parking challenge is further magnified when development is planned on transit agency or municipal-owned surface lots that provide commuter parking for regional transit commuters. Typically, where there is strong transit ridership and potential for growth, commuter parking must be fully replaced, even increased, as part of the project to ensure continued access to the transit system.
Transit agencies throughout the United States are planning and undertaking TOD on agency-owned commuter parking lots. These projects increase ridership, enhance the vibrancy and security around station areas, increase non-farebox revenue through the value captured by implementing high density, mixed-use projects, and spur economic development in their host communities. Given the high cost of structured parking, transit agencies, joint development partners, and host communities must implement parking planning and development “best practices” that maximize the use of the TOD parking assets to serve commuters and support development around transit.
These practices must give proper consideration to a number of issues, including user comfort, sustainability and economic viability. The following outlines a sampling of parking “best practices.”
Effective Parking Planning Policies and Strategies
As a first step to meeting the parking challenge, ensure that parking areas are sized correctly and in accordance with TOD parking principles. TOD planners use various strategies and calculations to measure the necessary amount of parking to support the development program, without overbuild.
Parking requirements for high-density developments located at or near transit should be significantly less than areas not served by transit. TODs help to increase ridership, as well as pedestrian access, by creating density in walkable, transit-friendly locations. Parking ratios and standards should take into account walkability and the convenience and availability of transit options. While parking is still an essential component within a TOD, overbuilt parking structures are a waste of costly infrastructure and occupy valuable land, consume energy, and increase operating costs. To combat unnecessary overbuilds and advocate for proper parking planning, planners must apply appropriate parking ratios, recognizing the reduced need for automobiles within the area.