The Economist visits parking — setting aside of large amounts of urban space for storage of motor vehicles during that 95% of the time they aren’t moving. The author looks at parking minimums and strategies in:  London, Tokyo, Beijing, San Francisco, Amsterdam and others.

For 14,000 workers, Apple is building almost 11,000 parking spaces. Many cars will be tucked under the main building, but most will cram into two enormous garages to the south. Tot up all the parking spaces and the lanes and ramps that will allow cars to reach them, and it is clear that Apple is allocating a vast area to stationary vehicles. In all, the new headquarters will contain 318,000 square metres of offices and laboratories. The car parks will occupy 325,000 square metres. . . .
. . . Parking can seem like the most humdrum concern in the world. Even planners, who thrill to things like zoning and floor-area ratios, find it unglamorous. But parking influences the way cities look, and how people travel around them, more powerfully than almost anything else. Many cities try to make themselves more appealing by building cycle paths and tram lines or by erecting swaggering buildings by famous architects. If they do not also change their parking policies, such efforts amount to little more than window-dressing. There is a one-word answer to why the streets of Los Angeles look so different from those of London, and why neither city resembles Tokyo: parking.


  1. With a little imagination the Apple headquarters could be connected to the CalTrain station at San Jose Diridon via an E-W ~10 km light rail line down the median on Stephens Creek Blvd. I’m sure Apple can afford to contribute to their community by partially funding transit in the area and by removing half or more of that surface parking and devote it to park land.

  2. Interesting how cars are treated so royally. Corporations cram workers into as tiny a space as possible, yet at Apple HQ, each car gets a total of close to 30 sq metres of space. Car is certainly king.

  3. I’m reminded of a recent anecdote, in which someone recently asked former President Obama what they could do to win the next election. He replied “Move to Idaho”.
    How much better it would be if instead of clustering lemming-like along the coast, these tech companies picked some of fading Midwest towns with compact historic downtown cores and brought their jobs and values with them, instead of building suburban “campuses”

  4. I read the whole article and the summary leaves out a key piece of information.
    “Apple is building 11,000 parking spaces not because it wants to but because Cupertino, the suburban city where the new headquarters is located, demands it. Cupertino has a requirement for every building. A developer who wants to put up a block of flats, for example, must provide two parking spaces per apartment, one of which must be covered. For a fast-food restaurant, the city demands one space for every three seats; for a bowling alley, seven spaces per lane plus one for every worker. Cupertino’s neighbours have similar rules. With such a surfeit of parking, most of it free, it is little wonder that most people get around Silicon Valley by car, or that the area has such appalling traffic jams.”
    All cities are starting to rethink “parking minimums” for a number of recent developments and future developments coming on rapidly. Those developments would be reduction in number of cars per 100,000 residences, automated cars shift of population to downtown urban living, car sharing, etc.

  5. Current regulations tend to represent past thinking if they are not updated frequently enough, becoming dated and eventually can be counter-effective to original intentions. But updating is difficult and requires extensive study to build a sound evidence base and business case. However, it can and should be done if the subject is significant enough. An example is the Metro Vancouver Apartment Parking Study, led by Raymond Kan and Eric Aderneck. A key finding is that the buildings surveyed had over-built parking capacity in the order of 18-35% (i.e. empty stalls), with less parking usage as the buildings were found to be situated near increasing transit provision.
    Although parking bylaws didn’t change overnight as a result of the study, it is hoped findings such as this would inform both developers and local governments to ensure parking matches demand. And I would suggest if you are going to err, to err on less parking because it seems people adapt to what is available over time. The worry is that surrounding streets would be filled but that issue can be managed through parking control.
    And although surface parking optically seems to take up more space and is a bit of an eye-sore, at least the land can be redeveloped fairly easily. One could consider surface parking as a temporary placeholder for future buildings or other urban uses. It’s above and below-grade parking that is not only costly but difficult to re-use without expending high costs. So it’s best to err on the low end for structural parking at the very least. And if that argument isn’t enough, the power of the ubiquitous “app” will short-circuit much of the need for parking in the future. So goes the irony of Cupertino’s requirement for effectively the inventor of the “app” ecosystem.

    1. The trouble is, the vast acreages in blacktop dedicated for dead storage space tend to be placeholders for decades and decades. It takes a long time for the suburbs to catch up to the city with more efficient land use.
      Cupertino also has an extremely generous zoning bylaw that allows Apple to land its spaceship amidst large lots and detached homes riven with large freeways and arterials. If the Apple execs were as progressive as they portray themselves and their products, then the spaceship would have landed closer to the San Jose CalTrain station with its direct connection to the airport, Stanford, and downtown.

    2. I’d say Vancouver’s underground parking solutions have worked very well. That’s how so many people living downtown with jobs in the burbs can make a go of it. And it saves the pollution that comes with endless circling for parking that comes when not enough parking is provided.
      What stratas and the condominium act need to do better is allow reversible solutions for non-car owners to convert their spots to storage lockers etc.

      1. Alex, yes it does take time and the conversion follows rise in land prices. It is dead space somewhat but what difference is the dead space many of the unoccupied condos in downtown Vancouver (Andy Yan’s recent look-see) create under the veil of density. Density works but the challenge is to keep it affordable. Unfortunately land prices sometimes have to go up for developers to consider building housing or more useful facilities.
        Bob, a few years back a student group looked at the usage of parking at Metrotown Mall and found many parking areas under used. One of the recommendations I suggested for them to consider is to convert the underground space for storage, shops (underground alley?), and even shared parking with adjacent condos (which would need some sort of tunnel or at-ground access for residents). This would solve some of the excess of both residential and commercial parking. However i doubt it would be this simple and require a number of regulatory amendments and appropriate modifications.

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