Bike Parking Overtakes Auto Parking in Some Places

At a recent tour of Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health in Washington, D.C., Dr. Ted Eytan displayed a photograph of Kaiser Permanente’s Colorado Springs, Colorado medical office (see below), and asked: “In this picture, what’s the most toxic structure to humans?”

Colorado Kaiser

You might guess the correct answer was the office building, or the carbon dioxide-emitting automobile. But you might be surprised the correct answer was the surface parking lot.

Synonymous with sprawl, surface parking isn’t just ugly and environmentally harmful, but a new study shows that is also costs cities money.

Arlington’s Parking Plan

Arlington County, Virginia has been progressive in discouraging new surface parking. However, the county, one of the densest in the United States, still possesses an abundance of parking garages. Arlington’s zoning ordinance requires a minimum number of parking spaces for buildings, a law that critics say leads to sprawl.

Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) told Mobility Lab that “Arlington should evaluate lowering or even eliminating parking minimums in its major transit corridors in conjunction with other parking and demand-management strategies. We look forward to working with the county on such an initiative.”

Until the county’s zoning ordinance is changed, however, Arlington does have one mechanism for the provision of a more accurate number of automobile parking spaces: the county’s site-plan process.

Providing an appropriate number of parking spaces is important to both the county and developers. Too few spaces decreases the usefulness and marketability of a property, but too many spaces encourages car ownership, excessive driving, and congestion. The cost of constructing each garage parking space is exorbitant as well. Construction of each underground parking space is estimated at around $40,000.

Nevertheless, determining the appropriate amount of parking is difficult. Mobility Lab has been assisting Arlington in determining whether the county’s site-plan commercial parking spaces are being built in correct numbers. Research director Stephen Crim has been heading up a commercial building study, a follow-on to a 2013 residential study that found, in part, that apartment and condominium site-plan buildings might have too much automobile parking.

Bike Parking or Car Parking?

Interestingly, Arlington gives as much attention to bike parking as it does auto parking. As bike ridership numbers rise in D.C. (and nationally), so does the demand for bike parking. The county currently requires developers of site-plan buildings to construct one bike parking space per 2.5 residential units. John Durham, transportation demand management planner for Arlington County Commuter Services (ACCS), believes that number may be too low because 50 percent of all households in the county own at least one bicycle.

Bike and Car Parking

Not only are quality bicycle-parking facilities an effective way to encourage and influence bicycle-ridership numbers, but they also are a more efficient use of land and maximize resources. One automobile parking space can accommodate 10 bikes, according to Durham.

Mounting research suggests that bike facilities pay off economically to business owners. In D.C., businesses located near Capital Bikeshare stations appear to benefit economically. Similarly, protected bike lanes in New York City have been shown to  increase retail sales by 49 percent. Just as Arlington County is focused on moving people instead of cars, some businesses are recognizing that cars don’t buy things, people do. Particularly in areas of density with scarce parking generally, it can make sense to provide bike parking as a complement to (or replacement for) car parking. The goal is to maximize foot traffic.

Durham and his TDM team give a great deal of attention to bike parking in buildings that go through Arlington’s site-plan process – possibly more attention per square foot than anywhere else in the building. This attention to detail is not just an example of a county agency doing a good job for taxpayers, it may also be a way that Arlington is helping to move the market – or at least precede it.

No Car Parking At All?

In Los Angeles, some buildings are being constructed with more bike parking than automobile parking. And in D.C., one condominium project called Elysium Fourteen will be built entirely without auto parking. Its developer, Madison Investments’ Sia Madani, explained that consumers are demanding far less car parking in the current marketplace, while bike parking is in greater demand.

The location of Madani’s project – a block from D.C.’s U Street corridor and directly across the street from a popular Trader Joe’s grocery store – undoubtedly factors into the ability of this condominium to be constructed without car parking. It makes sense that, in well-connected places with an abundance of transportation options, car ownership might become entirely unnecessary.

Elysium Fourteen may be simply an experiment, but it’s hard to ignore that bike parking is proliferating and auto parking is being removed in many urban areas. A subtle rebalancing is underway, and this trend could have big consequences on how our cities look in the future.

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Photo courtesy of Mobility Lab.