In the past, I've talked about various negative aspects of parking. Basically, parking encourages driving, parking lots themselves are a special kind of hell, and parking takes resources (land, air, concrete, transit money, builders' money, politicians' time, people's time) away from more worthy uses. The only time I support parking is at the curb, when it replaces lanes for moving mixed traffic. Of course, the famous Donald Shoup has put some numbers on the High Cost of Free Parking.
Tonight I want to talk about garages. More than the one or two car family garages, I mean the big places to park cars that have something on top of them. Sometimes it's more layers of parking, sometimes it's a building. Just about every town bigger than 50,000 people - and many smaller than that - has some kind of multi-story garage, and lots of buildings now include a "parking pedestal" - a few stories of parking with a building on top. When these are at street level, they are deadly to the pedestrian experience, as Ben Fried at Streetsblog has shown on Brooklyn's Fourth Avenue.
In response to that criticism, some architects have come up with the concept of a "parking sandwich": a building with retail on the ground floor, then one or more floors of parking, and then multiple floors of office or apartment space on top. This has been proposed for the Nyack Superblock, a site that now contains a large surface parking lot.
These multi-story parking garages are their own kind of hell. In Angel or really any violent television show or movie that takes place in Los Angeles after 1970, horrible things are constantly happening to people in parking garages. They're the deserted alleys of the Radiant City.
It's kind of understandable why politicians would want to build parking, or require other people to build it. If you take a short-term view of the world and think that everyone is just going to keep driving, then of course you want to build places for them to put their cars. But for those of us who think it's pretty likely that people will stop driving, it's actually painful to see so much land and air and time and money and materials going into building these things.
The problem is that once you build parking garages, they're really hard to retrofit. Often they're built with enough space in between the levels for cars to drive and people to walk, but not enough to be a comfortable place to live or work if you build floors on top of the concrete and ceilings underneath the next level. They've got these weird ramps - who's going to want their desk in the middle of one of those? Or your kitchen table - you'd be constantly getting breakfast in your lap. And the - I can't call them windows - openings to let light in and fumes out. Often they're the wrong size and shape for windows, usually too narrow. There is a plan to replace one of the hardly-used garages at Yankee Stadium with a hotel, but it would require tearing down the brand-new garage.
Look, most of these garages are already mandated by law. I would be much more comfortable if those laws simply went on and mandated that the garages have to all be of a form that can be converted to apartments or offices fairly cheaply. Sure, that's an additional expense that we're foisting on the builders, but the parking itself is usually an unnecessary burden, so what's a little more? If you're really concerned with the developer's bottom line, then just ease up on the parking requirements in the first place.
Can we do this? Build it into the zoning code? Require it for LEED certification? Let's take action now so that we don't waste too much more.