Locate Parking Strategically

Where to Put Parking in Walkable Districts

Businesses often want parking to be as readily visible and easily accessible as possible so that potential patrons arriving by car will know that they will be able park nearby quickly and easily. Building parking in front of buildings where it is most visible from the street, however, seriously detracts from the pedestrian environment and makes the area less comfortable to spend time in. When buildings front directly on the street, they create a lively and inviting environment where people can feel comfortable walking from store to store, rather than getting back in the car to drive a block or two to their next destination. To balance these concerns, one solution is to require that new buildings in a downtown or any area that is intended to be pedestrian friendly locate their parking behind the building, away from the street, but ensure that there is adequate signage directing drivers to available parking. In more auto-oriented areas, a few “teaser” spaces can be provided along the side of the building on the driveway that takes drivers to the lot in back (see graphic below).

Teaser parking image

Source: Van Meter Williams Pollack and Urbsworks, Inc. “Parking Design Issues”, Report for the City of Palo Alto, CA, March 2004, p. 2.

In more urban areas where structured parking is more common, the quality of the urban environment can be preserved by wrapping parking garages in other uses, such as retail.

Local examples:
  • The Metropolitan Area Planning Council worked with the towns of Millis, Stoughton, and Bedford to develop and secure adoption of bylaws defining mixed use overlay districts that include language encouraging strategic location of parking: “To maintain a pedestrian-friendly environment, motor vehicle parking spaces shall be located behind or beside buildings to the maximum extent possible. Motor vehicle parking shall not be located directly between the building and the street alignment.”
  • The City of Cambridge zoning code states that “No on grade open parking space shall be located within a required front yard setback.” (Section 6.44.1(b))
  • The City of Beverly prohibits accessory off-street parking within the front yard of any district (except for one- and two-family dwellings) and employee parking within the front yard in the restricted industrial, research and office district (see regulation).
  • The Town of Acton prohibits parking between the front of a building and the street in its four village districts (see regulation).
National example:
  • The City of Palo Alto’s Comprehensive Plan includes a policy to “Minimize the negative physical impacts of parking lots. Locate parking behind buildings or underground where possible (Policy L-75).” [1, p. 1]

Additional resources:

  1. Van Meter Williams Pollack and Urbsworks, Inc. “Parking Design Issues”, Report for the City of Palo Alto, CA, March 2004.
  2. Maryland Governor’s Office of Smart Growth, Driving Urban Environments: Smart Growth Parking Best Practices, March 2006; p. 19-20. Available as a download.