Cities, and the businesses that inhabit them, need to re-think their approach to parking, according to an Urban Land Institute of San Diego/Tijuana luncheon panel Thursday in Vista.
The current method of providing parking — which hasn't changed for decades, according to one panelist — creates traffic congestion, and therefore a drag on a city's economy.
Building developments typically have been required to provide enough on-site parking to support their business' maximum capacity, regardless of how often that capacity is achieved, according to Robert Davis, senior transportation planner for RBF Consulting.
This creates vast areas of asphalt between businesses, which then sit empty for extended periods of time. It also forces customers to get back in their cars and drive between shops within the same development, Davis said.
Some businesses in the city of Glendale, Calif., as an extreme example, have 9.7 square feet of asphalt for every square foot of building space.
"The old approach really doesn't work, especially for compact downtown areas," Davis said. "It's not very inviting. It ends up adding more traffic to the street because it encourages more auto trips between nearby destinations."
One solution is to create a mixed-use development that features businesses with different peak hours, like offices, retail shops and restaurants. One space could theoretically be used by patrons of all three types, getting the maximum use out of the minimum space.
Davis also touted the use of a "park once district," in which pockets of parking lots are spaced throughout a downtown area, enabling storefronts to be located closer together and allowing customers to visit several shops without having to move their car.
Cities should look at creating a Community Parking Improvement District as well, he said. It would allow cities to coordinate parking for a whole area rather than have lots set up on a business-by-business basis.
Christine Eary, an associate regional planner for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), said public transportation is a key to reducing parking congestion.
A way to encourage the use of public transportation, she said, is by creating safe routes for pedestrians and bicyclists to local transit centers.
SANDAG is looking into innovative strategies, as well, like building bike stations — physical buildings that feature lockers and allow biking commuters to shower before heading into the office. One is scheduled to be built at the Oceanside transit station.
Kurt Buecheler, vice president of business development for the Silicon Valley-based company Streetline, said parking lacks innovation.
"Our goal is to fundamentally change the world of parking," he said.
Part of his firm's strategy is to partner with information technology companies to develop new ways to solve the age-old problem of insufficient parking.
Streetline uses data analytics to help consumers locate on-street and off-street parking. The company has a smartphone app that allows users to pay for parking, reserve a spot and compare pricing. The app's voice guidance also lets users know where there's parking nearby.
Buecheler said the company's innovation can benefit cities, consumers and merchants by reducing congestion, increasing revenue and making the city easier to navigate.
He said a 10 percent reduction in traffic congestion equals a 1 percent increase in a city's gross domestic product.