STORRS, Conn.– As retailers prepare for the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush, researchers at the University of Connecticut have released a new study of six New England sites showing local rules governing the number of parking spaces required for buildings in Connecticut create too many spaces – with many remaining unused even during the holidays – sapping the vibrancy of urban areas and wasting valuable space.
The two-year study examined parking in six different sites throughout New England. Three were traditional downtown areas: West Hartford Center; Northampton, MA and Brattleboro, VT, while the three other sites have more conventional layouts: Somerset Square in Glastonbury; Glastonbury Center and Avon Center. Of the sites studied, researchers found that the average local requirement for parking spaces – about 5.5 spaces per 1000 sq. ft. of floor area – is more than 2.5 times the amount of parking that is actually used – even during peak shopping times. It found that, on average, the peak parking use - generally during the holiday shopping period - in the Glastonbury and Avon sites was about 2.3 spaces per 1000 sq. ft. of building square footage.
The study also shows that the downtown sites – West Hartford Center, Northampton and Brattleboro use much less parking and use the parking more efficiently than did the conventional developments.
“This is indicative of the overly cautious approach that Connecticut cities have adopted in providing for parking,” said Norman Garrick, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering affiliated with UConn’s Connecticut Transportation Institute (CTI) and the study’s lead researcher. “Connecticut towns are demanding far too much parking, thus increasing development costs, wasting land, deadening our urban centers, discouraging walking and riding, and adding to the runoff into our streams and rivers.”
“This lower demand for parking in downtown areas is noteworthy when one considers the fact that the West Hartford, Northampton and Brattleboro sites were much more vibrant in terms of the number of people actually on site. The main factor accounting for this difference was the large number of people that access the mixed-use study sites by foot, bicycle, and public transit,” said Garrick.
In terms of efficiency of use, less than 50% of the parking spaces at the conventional sites were filled during the peak shopping period, versus 80% occupancy at the downtown study sites. This means the amount of parking provided at the conventional Glastonbury and Avon sites was more than twice that required even during the peak shopping period.
“This is a tremendous waste of land and is also environmentally unsound, as it means that a significant amount of unnecessary impervious surface is to be found at these developments,” said Garrick. “This amount of unused parking also serves to dampen the vibrancy of urban centers – it is essentially a double whammy, since parking itself is a negative in terms of attracting human activity and, at the same time, parking takes up land that could be put to more productive use.”
Garrick outlined several suggestions that could improve parking situations in cities and towns:
- Reduce Minimum Parking Requirements: Most towns in the state have very conservative minimum parking requirements. The towns in our study mandate 2.5 times the amount of parking than is actually used during peak shopping time. This suggests that most towns could significantly reduce the minimum parking requirements without any noticeable adverse effect. Most developments could get by with less than 3 spaces per square foot of building, depending on the level of activity expected. Even at this lower level, peak occupancy would still be only about 80 %.
- Encourage Connected, Mixed-Use Development: Our study suggests that mixed-use centers use fewer parking spaces and use the parking provided much more efficiently. We stress the point that these mixed-use places must be connected by walkable streets to residential areas in order to accrue the full advantage in terms of reducing parking demand. In Connecticut, we are beginning to see the development of ‘life style’ centers, such as Evergreen Walk in South
Windsor, which are ostensibly mixed-use centers. The problem is that these centers are still isolated from the rest of the community and cannot be accessed without a car. Places like
Evergreen Walk are unlikely to see reduced parking demand, but will use the parking provided more efficiently because of the mix of businesses sharing the same lot.
- Re-instigate On-street Parking: Our study showed that on-street parking was the most valued by customers and often the most convenient. In addition, on-street parking cuts down on the size of the off-street lot that is needed, thus reducing development cost and the amount of impervious surface. However, in the interest of efficient traffic flow, many towns have eliminated on-street parking and do not provide on-street parking in new development. On-street parking brings other benefits in that it serves a traffic calming function, making a town center feel safer to pedestrians and more like a real center to drivers and pedestrians alike. On-street parking clearly delineates the street as a place rather than just a conduit for traffic.
- Consider Shared Municipal Lots: Our study suggests that effectively ran municipal parking systems provide many advantages in a commercial center. Lots shared between different types of businesses are used much more efficiently and do not have as many hours where they sit empty. In addition, consolidated municipal parking promotes a ‘park once’ mindset, which benefits all the businesses in a center. Finally, the parking revenue from municipal parking systems can be used to landscape, beautify and maintain the streets and other public areas of the center. The issue of charging for parking is a contentious one, but a number of studies suggest that customers are not resistant to paying a reasonable rate for parking.
“Few cities and towns in Connecticut have a comprehensive plan for the provision of parking in their commercial centers,” said Garrick. “However, we believe many town centers in Connecticut could benefit immeasurably from having a considered and coordinated approach to managing parking demand. The current system of oversupplying parking is wasteful of land and money, is environmentally unsound, and dampens the economic and social vitality of commercial centers. The good news is that our study shows that relatively small changes, such as improving pedestrian connections, can go a long way in reducing the amount of resources that are devoted to parking and in creating more vibrant centers in our cities and towns.”
For a full copy of the report on the study, contact Professor Garrick at 860-617-2208 or Norman.Garrick@uconn.edu or Michael Kirk with UConn Media relations at 860-486-0715 or Michael.Kirk@uconn.edu.