Parking, New Urbanism, and Small Cities

Traffic congestion in Seaside, Fla.

By Michael Cramer

Small cities are on the cusp of a redevelopment boom. They offer many of the advantages of larger cities, including healthcare, sustainable living, shopping, and eating, but with lower crime rates and small-town friendliness. Bringing parking expertise into these areas will provide long-term benefits by increasing convenience through reduced congestion and increased development costs.

While big city developments grab the headlines, smaller cities like Georgetown, Texas, and Seaside, Fla., are adopting new urbanism to create walkable, pleasant urban cores. But with success comes growth and challenges. The relationship of the city to the transportation infrastructure, specifically parking, can be overlooked, resulting in a parking undersupply and heavier than anticipated vehicle traffic.

Even when parking is available, small cities experience challenges managing their parking. Many redevelopment efforts are led by independent businesspeople with no point of reference for parking as a business. It’s understandable, but as they contemplate Main Street redevelopment projects, they must keep their eye on parking.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who sits on a small city development council. He has a parking problem. The city is successfully redeveloping areas of town but when people come, they have no place to park and the city fears the parking problem is limiting turnout for events.  My friend was not bringing parking expertise to the development table because there is no garage or lot to discuss.

Parking as an afterthought dramatically increases construction costs and diminishes the initial planning vision. For 100 years, automobile parking has been a part of the urban landscape. New urbanism does not change that fact. As I look at places like Seaside, parking has become a challenge and an obstacle to further development.  Large cities often include parking expertise in their planning and it is time that new urbanism developers do too.

Michael Cramer is principal of Parking Dynamics.

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