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Parking Lots Shouldn’t Take Up Prime Streetfront Real Estate

8:01 AM PDT on April 20, 2010

2282056253_0b5dd5c914.jpgThe parking lot is behind these Boca Raton residences. (Photo: faceless b via Flickr)

It might seem like a simple idea — that having an enormous parking
lot in front of a business makes it unattractive to pedestrians and
disrupts the fabric of a neighborhood. Unfortunately, this is the way
that huge swaths of American towns and cities are designed.

This morning, Kaid Benfield at NRDC Switchboard
posts about a relatively simple reversal that can make a real
difference in the quality of a community’s street life: Put the parking
in the back. He concedes that it’s not a solution for purists:

Some advocates might just wish that cars would go away entirely, or
that communities make it so inconvenient or costly for their drivers
that they dwindle in number.  But, for most places, that isn’t
realistic and could even be counterproductive, chasing businesses out
of central cities and exacerbating sprawl at a time when we should be
doing the opposite. What we can realistically do is to make
sure our buildings and streetscapes are fully supportive of
environment- and community-friendly modes of travel. Placing the
parking to the rear still allows access for drivers while attracting
more walkers and transit users in front. 

That’s the configuration that I encountered when visiting a
relatively new neighborhood in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. The
central shopping mall was designed with streetfront stores and an
interior parking lot; on a pretty Sunday afternoon, it attracted a
significant amount of foot traffic from the surrounding residences. The
place is deeply car-dependent, but there was still a sense of
neighborhood activity and interaction that is largely absent in
developments where parking sits in front of retail. While people living
there drive to work, they consider it normal to walk to a neighborhood

Perfect? No. Better? Definitely.

Benfield’s post is well worth reading in full, so head on over.

More from around the network: Bike Friendly Oak Cliff has a harsh critique of a "complete street" plan in that Dallas community. DC Bicycle Transportation Examiner looks at the ratio of homicides by stranger to traffic fatalities (hint: the second number is higher). And WalkBikeJersey does some dispiriting math on fare hikes for bicyclists using transit in that state.

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