Parking and Urban Form

Parking has had a profound though not necessarily a desirable effect on urban form over the last century. Modern cities have in many cases been built especially to serve automobiles rather than people, as Robert Heinlein pointed out with marked distaste half a century ago. This is quite an unfortunate series of events, since automobiles were reinvented by Henry Ford in 1908, not so much to mobilize cities, but rather to serve the people living in small towns and rural areas.

Global urbanization patterns inevitably yield more and more people living in larger and larger cities increasingly unsuited to this unprecedentedly powerful technology. Growing world affluence, which is ironically almost always concentrated in the largest of world cities, leads to ever increasing demands for the theoretically heightened mobility and enhanced social status that only personal automobile ownership apparently can provide. There is a heavy price to pay for this universally desired luxury good.

Fortunately, there is a very simple solution to this problem.

Parking Management and Commuter Rail

This article examines the relationship between parking management and commuter rail transit using the Chicago metropolitan area in northeastern Illinois as a case example. Commuter rail transit and parking management are discussed within the broader context of transportation planning in the Chicago metropolitan region. Commuter rail ridership, mode of station access, and parking utilization rates are compared. Related air quality, social equity, and land-use concerns are reviewed. There are no simple solutions to the problem of spillover parking around commuter rail stations. The construction of new parking can be expensive. Raising parking prices may induce spillover parking. Doing nothing to address observed parking shortages may inhibit ridership. Shared parking is an excellent compromise in many situations, but even this is far from a universal solution. (Ferguson 2000).

Zoning for Parking as Policy Innovation

Zoning for Parking in American Cities

In local zoning ordinances, it is easy to criticize minimum off-street parking requirements. Zoning in general can be economically inefficient, socially inequitable, harmful to the environment, and wasteful of limited natural resources. Zoning for parking may be nothing more than a well-hidden and largely unnecessary subsidy intended primarily for the benefit of the automobile industry and its many influential friends. What remains true, regardless of the veracity of any or all of the foregoing statements, is simply this: zoning applied to parking is among the most popular of all local planning tools—today as it was yesterday—and apparently tomorrow as well (Ferguson 2003).

Development Subject to Parking Regulations

Zoning for Parking as Policy Process

Zoning for parking is reviewed as a historical process of public policy development. Zoning for parking was relatively rare among US cities before the Second World War. By 1969, however, virtually all US cities with populations exceeding 25000 zoned for parking as their primary method of dealing with land-use problems associated with rising automobile ownership rates. A brief history of zoning for parking reveals that despite its continuing popularity, it has almost always been a controversial topic. A review of major studies reveals important aspects of zoning for parking as it has changed over time.

Zoning for parking began as an occasional or piecemeal approach to resolving specific problems associated with growing automobile storage requirements. It gradually became the preferred method to ensure adequate parking space in an automobile-oriented society. It was first employed to address the unusually high parking requirements of more affluent neighbourhoods in higher density areas, but gradually grew to encompass most land uses in most urban areas of any size or location. Zoning for parking originally was a supply-side strategy, but has since become more demand oriented in its approach.

Parking experts originally promoted a diversity of parking standards based primarily on those observed in planning practice. Today they generally advocate more specific parking standards based on broader national experience. Zoning for parking nonetheless appears to be a more flexible strategy today than it was 50 years ago. Parking standards, whether observed in planning practice or recommended by national authorities, have increased much less rapidly than automobile ownership rates over the last 50 years. This may help to explain why a policy so frequently decried as inefficient, ineffective and inequitable has nonetheless managed to survive even in a more socially and environmentally aware world (Ferguson 2004).

Parking and Accessibility

Parking and accessibility are inexorably linked in an automobile-oriented society, particularly when parking oversupply conditions force the marginal price of parking to zero in most instances. Minimum parking requirements in zoning contribute to this phenomenon, as do parking size and location requirements. Parking is often neglected in travel demand modelling, but this can be justified (at least technically) as a function of parking access (which is generally better than comparable transit or pedestrian access) and cost (which is generally nothing).

In the absence of parking pricing, accessibility to adjacent land uses is paramount in determining the desirability and use of parking. Curb parking is heavily regulated, due to its relative scarcity, close proximity to adjacent land uses, and resulting desirability to a wide range of motor vehicle drivers and their passengers. Although parking is rarely considered in modelling accessibility as a determinant of location patterns and land use intensity, this omission distorts the large-scale effects excessive parking requirements may have on macroscopic urban development patterns and the location of activities across time and space (Ferguson 2005).

Ferguson (2006)

The Law of Centrality in a Sea of Parking

Building and/or activity center size may be constrained by the parking requirements necessary to adequately serve such facilities. A mathematical model describes this relationship in more rigorous fashion. Historical trends in shopping center size and parking requirements are used to illustrate the operation of the law in land use planning, zoning, and development practice (Ferguson 2006).


Kelowna, British Columbia


Ottawa, Ontario

Theory vs. Practice

Parking 101


Edmonton, Alberta


Mexico City, Mexico

Next, please!

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