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I was parking my car deep in the bowels of an office complex when this occurred to me.  The unmentioned requirement of traffic is parking.

As much as we are all walkers at the start and finish of every journey in traffic, our cars are parked before and after every trip.  You cannot start your trip unless your car is parked where you expect it to be, and you cannot complete your journey unless there is parking space for you to stick your car when it gets there.  My act of parking deep in a parking deck was just such an action.  If there were no parking spaces, I would have to back out of my journey to someplace more sparsely parked but within a 15 minute walk.  This would not do.  So every place has enough parking for its peak parking demand, and everyone finds a space next to their building.  Even if parking takes up more space than the building.

Much of the traffic congestion on city streets during rush hour is form people in traffic looking for places to park their cars.  Sometimes as much as 70%.  The reason strip malls and their big cousins the category killers (DSW, Best Buy, Home Depot, etc.) and regional malls have the parking in between the stores and the road is that parking is what they are selling.  They are offering something to the driver yearning to park free, the wretched family of their teeming van.  Send these, their errands, master plann’d to them, they lift their lights over the golden lot.

Zoning and “transportation” “engineers” solved the parking problem in two ways, by requiring that new land uses have enough parking for the peak demand of their current use, and by clearing out any surplus buildings that got in the way of enough parking.  The parking requirements for different land uses assumed they would always be in those land uses, and were sometimes based on ludicrous or barely measured criteria..  The thousand page guide is published by the Institute for Traffic engineers every so often, if you’d like to know how America works. Where land was expensive enough, builders would build structured parking or even underground parking, at four or even twenty times the cost of a surface space.

A car is about 6 by 15 feet long, (give or take 2 feet if it is a truck or an SUV).  To allow space to open doors, each parking stall is 9x 18 feet.  Fro cars to get to hose spaces, they need just about as much space to get around in the parking lot as they do to park the car.  Go ahead measure it sometime.

Without parking, traffic does not function.  In order to get out of traffic, vehicles must park.  Otherwise they are taxis.  This is so automated and abstracted in land use practice look at you funny when you mention it as a factor.  It is an assumed convenience, and traffic engineers busy themselves with making the pies flow as fast and  as far as possible.  Where all the cars go when they get there is not their problem.

Maybe it should be, as it is causing problems for nearly every walker, biker, tenant, or developer.

Speaking of bikers, walkers and developers, consider what land uses they need to succeed in a place.  Just as cars need parking to avoid clogging up the streets and taking lanes for parking, walkers and bikers need things worth walking and biking to.  Biking alongside a 45 MPH lane with an empty sidewalk next to you is not particularly satisfying.  Even the jealous joy of biking faster than the peak traffic at rush hour only gets you so far.  There is only one thing on most roads for bikers, and that is their far-away destination.

Similarly, the reason you don’t see walkers on a lot of sidewalks in the suburbs is that there is no reason to walk.  In subdivisions, walkers get to look at the same house or office they just left.  On arterials and collectors, everything is so set back behind parking lots and the clear zone that they may as well have just driven there.  No wonder most cities make sidewalk maintenance the adjacent property owner’s responsibility.  The assumption is that the sidewalk is only good for crossing from home to car.  Not, *chuckle*, walking along.

As important as parking is for the successful operation of traffic, stores and homes fronting the sidewalk, street furniture for protection from the street, wide enough sidewalks to accommodate through traffic as well as chance meetups, and open storefronts, lobbies and yards are important for the successful operation of walking.  Parking is mandated by many subdivision regulations and zoning regulations,,  There is no reason walking assets could not be mandated as well.

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Roland Park Shopping Mall, Baltimore, MD.  Built in 1907 as the first traffic-oriented shopping center with parking in front

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