June 2010
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The parking paradox

Slate magazine recently published an article about parking. I found this paragraph particularly interesting:

Instead of requiring minimum parking thresholds, parking maximums should be set. As Norman Garrick and Wes Johnson have pointed out, the goal of meeting parking demand in cities is an elusive, ultimately self-destructive quest. As they note, people complain of Hartford, Conn., that there “is not enough parking,” when in fact nearly one-third of the city is paved over with parking lots. “The truth is that many cities like Hartford have simultaneously too much and too little parking. They have too much parking from the perspective that they have degraded vitality, interest and walkability, with bleak zones of parking that fragment the city. They have too little parking for the exact same reason—they have degraded walkability and thus increased the demand for parking.”

Want an example of that right here in good old Peoria? I went out with some friends last night to Cold Stone Creamery in the Shoppes at Grand Prairie. It’s a popular place located in a little strip-mall out-building. There are a number of entertainment and dining options in this area, but none that were walkable from this little dessert place.

For instance, practically across the street is the Rave theater, and not too far away are restaurants like Steak ‘n Shake and Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse. Theoretically, one should be able to park once, get dinner, walk to the movie, and walk over to Cold Stone Creamery for some dessert, then get back in their car and leave. But the development is simply not designed to accommodate that. No one would even think of doing it because of all the obstacles. Sidewalks end, streets are excessively wide, parking lots are huge, and berms provide a visual cue that says, “you’re not really supposed to walk here.” Instead, the clear expectation (and actual practice of most people) is that you would drive from the Steak ‘n Shake parking lot to the Rave parking lot, and finally to the Cold Stone Creamery parking lot.

They have, as the Slate article says, “degraded vitality, interest and walkability, with bleak zones of parking that fragment the [development].” I like the Shoppes at Grand Prairie because it’s like the whole city in miniature — a little analogy of the City’s transportation deficiencies.

Parking requirements have been relaxed in the Heart of Peoria area, but parking minimums need to be reduced throughout the rest of the city. Too much parking only exacerbates the problems of providing sufficient public transportation. Large lots lower density, and public transportation requires high density to be sustainable. It’s the parking paradox.

Hat tip: Eyebrows McGee

24 comments to The parking paradox

  • My only defense of places like Grand Prairie is that they probably don’t know what business will move in and where it will go. If Cold Stone was located within GP, it would be an easier walk from Johnny’s but not an “easy” walk from Old Chicago. But what is the cause of parking of this magnitude? Check into building codes and see how many parking spots are required for each type of business. There are existing places you could not put a restaurant in Peoria as there isn’t enough parking available (supposedly) for the number of seats you are planning (know this from experience which is why and how all the restaurants that have gone up along Prospect in the Heights boggles my mind).

  • Curmudgeon51

    Peoria, like many cities, is still locked into auto centric culture. Even on greenfield developments, like Grand Prairie, more attention to walking would be plus.

    Not to mention barren streetscapes such as University Avenue, where stores are setback considerably to make room for parking lots.

  • Washingtonian

    However, GP should not need any defense — the basic model for the development was the outdoor walking mall. Then they completely lost sight of this when they expanded to the outlots.

    People complain about building and zoning codes putting too many restrictions on developers, but if you want to encourage pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly and “new-urbanism” (re)developments, you have to modify regulations (and include incentives) to encourage – and in some cases force – the developers to think and design differently.

  • justan observer

    good article. the parking requirements need to change.

  • Chris

    I couldn’t agree more. Glad to see someone bringing up this issue.

    I moved here from Milwaukee, a city where the river front is completely lined with restaurants, condos, bars, etc and is very attractive and entirely walkable. When I arrived here I was surprised to find that while the Peoria riverfront has a few good restaurants and venues it’s mostly covered by parking. Take Kelleher’s: a great place that unfortunately overlooks a parking lot and a commercial building. The lots under the Crab Shack and Old Chicago are rarely ever close to full and completely disrupt the “vitality, interest, and walkability” of the area. I could never keep track of the number of times I’ve wondered why Peoria has sacrificed so much of the potential of the riverfront to parking.

    Milwaukee has terrible parking downtown and in other entertainment hubs around the city. Never-the-less the restaurants, bars, theaters, and venues are still full of people every weekend. If the attraction is strong, parking really isn’t that big of a deal. People will find a way to get to the fun (carpooling, buses, taxis, walking, etc.) and spend their money, as long as there’s fun to be had.

    This city needs to focus less on cultivating a culture of convenience and suburbia and more on culture, vibrancy, and economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

    A bizarre paradox indeed.

  • James

    I disagree with you completely on the walkability of the area around GP (with the exception of crossing Rt. 150 to the area near Culvers). Some of the factors you listed, and one in particular “excessively wide roads,” are ideal for walking, especially in a limited traffic area like GP as long as the pedestrian follows the Rules of the Road and walks facing oncoming traffic.

    Most of your other reasons listed sound very typical of a person making excuses on why they can’t ever walk anywhere.

  • EmergePeoria

    Chef Kevin:

    I happen to know from experience that for certain businesses, the City will FIND the parking spaces to meet the requirements, and they have no problem being creative when doing it.

  • Laura Petelle

    “But what is the cause of parking of this magnitude? Check into building codes and see how many parking spots are required for each type of business.”

    One of the things the article talks about is how it’s moronic to have parking requirements that are the same for suburban-style malls and urban storefronts, and that cities should be aware of this and adjust urban parking requirements accordingly.

  • Dennis in Peoria

    Perhaps a reason the parking lots are built that way is because a) some folks are too lazy to walk to different places and b) it’s more convenient to park close for those
    who can’t walk too far (handicapped/disabled).

    When we go to a retail store or grocery store, we usually do what? Try to find the closest parking spot to the door. (I’m guilty of that). Those who are able-bodied should be encouraged to walk to where they need to go, regardless of the layout of the shopping area.

  • James says, “Some of the factors you listed, and one in particular ‘excessively wide roads,’ are ideal for walking…. Most of your other reasons listed sound very typical of a person making excuses on why they can’t ever walk anywhere.”

    I walk just about anywhere. Being an able-bodied adult, as I assume you are, I can and do hike over berms and dodge traffic and overcome most reasonable obstacles. The question isn’t whether one can walk, but whether the area is conducive to walking — whether the area is easily accessible and pedestrian-friendly. As Steven Wright has said, “Everything is within walking distance, if you have the time.” (And, I would add, the ability.)

    Unfortunately, not everyone is an able-bodied adult. Many pedestrians are children. Many are elderly. Many are disabled. What about them? Are they just “making excuses,” too?

    Also, roads are designed for water to run off to the sides and into the storm sewers, so those walking according to the “rules of the road” would be wading through water during rainy weather and getting splashed by passing motorists. In short, roads are made for vehicles, not pedestrians.

    And we haven’t even touched on the convenience factor. Why should pedestrians (even able-bodied adults) be deliberately inconvenienced and treated as second-rate in planning and design? Why shouldn’t developments be conveniently accessible to all users, regardless of their mode of travel? You act as if inconveniencing pedestrians is some sort of virtue.

  • Dennis — Some people are too lazy to walk. But I think most people enjoy walking in places that are enjoyable to walk. Parking lots are not pleasurable walking experiences. Neither is walking on the street where you worry about your safety, past ugly/empty lots, over/around landscaped berms that act as barriers to your path, or where there’s no shade when it’s sunny and hot outside. Given the opportunity to walk in a pedestrian-friendly area, more people are inclined to walk and actually enjoy walking.

  • Laura — I would only add that even suburban parking requirements are ridiculously high. Northwoods Mall, for instance, never fills its parking lot, even at Christmas. They always have surplus parking spaces. That’s a terrible waste of land and resources.

  • Laura Petelle

    CJ, agreed.

    One of the malls where I grew up always an older, smaller lot, and at Christmas they would just offer valet parking at one of the entrances, transform part of the lot into a more tightly-packed valet lot, and use a borrowed overflow lot on weekends (like a bank’s lot, since they were closed). The valet cost $5 and people loved getting out right at the door when it was cold and wet and crowded.

    Then they renovated the mall, enhugeified the parking lot, and got rid of the valet, and now it’s just ACRES of pavement. Ugh.

  • Yep, Emerge, it all depends on who you are and who you know.

    My guess is that if they wanted to make the WHOLE Grand Prairie area walkable they would have built all of the “out” buildings closer. But who walks? Heck, I witness people drive from Lowe’s to Cubs.

  • Jim

    How about “Going Green?” Build an attractive, multilevel parking garage in place of all of the surface parking.

    I have always wondered why the city of Peoria Heights does not eliminate street parking along the strip. It could easily build a multilevel parking garage and encourage business patrons to walk. This would also encourage outdoor dining. The town could rebuild the parking strip along the street into a tree-lined bike path. (No need to convert old railroad tracks into a bike path that few people would ever use.) Not “rails to trails” but “street lanes to trails.”

    Why are so many of these central IL towns still stuck in 1970s mode of urban planning? New urbanism has been around for a while.

  • Murrel

    Grand Prairie is a classy place … they should have one of the trolleys run the circuit delivering people to/from the out lots.

  • EmergePeoria

    ….”enhugeified”, I like that Laura. 🙂

  • Jim — There’s nothing wrong with the street parking in Peoria Heights. It’s part of the buffer between pedestrians and moving traffic. What is unfortunate is the new development just south of the strip that is all set back from the road with parking lots in front.

  • Garth Madison

    The problem with Grand Prairie is not the individual outlots, but the general lack of access. It is moronic to build an island of self-professed walkable shopping in a sea of automotive infrastructure with no pedestrian or bike access. Kevin, I must disagree that your point is a valid defense. If you plan for access from the outset, you do not need to know what will eventually grow around you, your customers will be able to walk to it and you will be encouraging the kind of development that adds walkable shopping. If you cloak yourself in pavement, you will isolate yourself from even the possibility of other walkable shopping. I submit that we should want to encourage the former, and discourage the latter.

    I recently sat down with a map of Peoria and tried to figure out a safe route to bike from central Peoria to the northwestern enclave that includes Grand Prairie. It is impossible to do without riding on War Memorial for at least two stretches. Whether you call this point a weak excuse or simply a deterrent, it is still unacceptable. The same motif is repeated throughout Peoria: even the malls and such where shopping and restaurants are combined are built without pedestrian or bike access in mind. Patrons are expected to drive there, park, walk around, then drive somewhere else, whether that is Grand Prairie, Northwoods Mall, Metro Centre, or even to a certain extent Peoria Heights. The Heights is the most pedestrian and bike friendly on that list, but even there the main focus is on roads and parking, not bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalks. You can add a walking path to Main Street, as is now being planned, but it does not help much if you ignore walkable routes to get there.

    For my part, I have decided to boycott the Grand Prairie area as the best means of discouraging such poor city planning. That is not the kind of development I want to support, or that supports me. I would prefer to stay off of War Memorial and bike or walk to a closer, friendlier location, or at least as friendly as Peoria gets. Unfortunately, unfriendly cars can break a cyclist’s bones, as I discovered yesterday to my detriment. But I persevere!


  • New Voice


    Good post. I understand you have a number of issues concerning Grand Prairie development, etc, but don’t you think a bike route connecting all of Peoria is a little far fetched? I mean the cities of U.S. [great and small], will never be as ‘biker-friendly’ as their European counter-parts.

  • Garth Madison

    I think habit is a formidable opponent, but that habit must change, in this and a lot of other ways. Unsustainable growth can only continue for a limited period of time – an undeniable conclusion that leaves open to argument only the question of timing.

    A number of American cities have made great strides towards improving pedestrian and bike access. I believe that progress is not possible only in San Francisco, or Chicago, but also in Peoria.

    I previously used the Metro Centre as an example of some of the problems. You have lots of the bleak parking surfaces talked about in the Slate article. You have shopping and restaurants and a farmer’s market with great potential. The traffic lanes are placed right next to the shopping areas where pedestrians are supposed to be pleasantly strolling and spending money in the local economy. This is a perfect example of both too much and too little parking, of the existing parking destroying the enterprise that it is supposed to support. Imagine how much more pleasant and profitable a better designed layout could be. Leave the buildings as they are, but design the rest for access and minimize the need and wasted space for automotive infrastructure. Then you get more customers, having a better time, spending more money on local business and local food (or as local as that farmer’s market gets). Obviously this cannot happen everywhere, or overnight, but if we realize that there are more effective, efficient, and sustainable ways of living, and start working towards them, we have a start.

    You suggest that expecting to change our infrastructure is far-fetched. However, we got here because of conscious choice. We did not have to encourage development in Peoria to sprawl up into the northwest, far away from existing residential neighborhoods, and isolated by impenetrable highways. We did not have to build Grand Prairie, and make our lives so much harder than necessary. We could have encouraged more intelligent, sustainable growth, designed around easy access. We can still do so. There is action to remove a traffic lane on Main St. and paint in pedestrian buffer zones. The City is throwing around all these TIF districts and such to encourage certain development. People are pursuing the Kellar Branch trail. Why can’t we take a step back, and look at all of this in context, and figure out where our priorities should be? What is stopping us? Habit. And habit must be recognized, and overthrown, and renewed with progress. The only other option is surrender, and I hope we are not quite there yet. We have been having great success since March of this year with the city wide Community Garden Initiative ( There’s every reason to hope we can encourage the spread of community gardens and pocket parks across the city – there are already a number in existence, and more contemplated. There is no reason we cannot start on the infrastructure issue in small ways and likewise expand it. Heck, we could even start by installing a few bike racks, or riding to our workplaces once in a while on days when the weather is nice. Infrastructure is added every day in this city, and is only good as long as it is maintained. We are free to make different choices as we move forward than the ones that got us here.

    Europe is no panacea either. But Peoria is such a geographically small area, that we have no excuse not to find more efficient ways of traveling it than each in our own private automobile, across endless miles of pavement. Other places may show us that other ways are possible, but we can and should make our own way in Peoria.


  • Garth:

    My morning commute to work takes me down Main Street, to Farmington Road, to Southport Road to Koerner Road and a few more blocks on U.S. 150. I work very near Orange Prairie Mall.

    I think that the short segment of U.S. 150 is probably the safest for bicyclists because, and Koerner is the lest safe. There is no safe places for them to ride. Invariably, the cyclists I encounter on Koerner are using part of the narrow driving lane.

    Say what you want about how all highways OUGHT to be bicycle friendly, those lanes are already plenty narrow and there’s not a lot of room on the side for an additional bike path.

    The solution is, I think, to do away with urban sprawl. I say tax green field development out the wazoo and make them pay not only the taxes they would as businesses, but also the property taxes they would had the property been left for use as farm land.

  • Garth Madison

    I agree and understand, Billy. Some ways west are only by narrow county roads, which also doesn’t work. In most cities, you can avoid the busier, faster roads by detouring through neighborhoods, but this is not possible with War Memorial or other ways west. Wider shoulders are one option to accommodate bikes, but even where they exist here, they tend to be in serious disrepair. I feel lucky to have a bike route to my office that runs through mainly quiet residential streets. I see the best and easiest way to develop bike infrastructure as the addition of bike lanes to some of the streets that are both wide enough and receive less car traffic. Your routes would thus be very different for bike travel than for car travel through the city. Bikes require much less room than cars, and do not add noise, pollution, or fast traffic, and thus can be accommodated in different areas than major car traffic. That has the added benefit of segregating the bike and car traffic, which some disagree with, but I believe is safer in terms of both risk of collisions and the cyclists’ exposure to emissions. I also think this could be done in many places simply by restriping, without requiring costly and undesired additional paving.

    I agree that the basic problem is the northwest attempt at urban sprawl, and that better urban planning calls for encouraging this kind of shopping to be developed close to your core residential base. Taxing accordingly would be great, but in the meantime the only method I see is to not shop there.


  • When I travel across the city, I do everything possible to use low-traffic residential streets. The drive is more pleasant and I get a better idea of what is going on in the neighborhoods.

    That they have turned city streets into high traffic highways has hurt our city, not helped it.