Preparing for LA's Future: Fewer Parking Podiums, More Car-Share Spaces

A parking podium under construction at Wilshire & Vermont in Koreatown. Photo by Muji.

Pretty much everyone hates parking podiums.

For one, they're almost universally reviled from an architectural and aesthetic standpoint. And, even when they're built unobtrusively—as with the upcoming Broadway @ 4th building, where floors 2 through 6 will be dedicated to parking—they're a massive wasted opportunity to provide more space for people to live and work in some of the most desirable areas in the city. The same goes for pretty much every parking structure with more spaces than drivers, but podiums have a particularly unpleasant effect on the street-level experience of urban denizens. With the changing demographics of cities and the declining demand for parking in urban areas, more needs to be done to mitigate the blighting impacts of overbuilt parking facilities, now and especially into the future.

In recognition of this need, the Los Angeles City Council last year adopted a bicycle parking ordinance that allowed developers to replace up to 30 percent of their required parking spaces with bicycle parking. Not only does this make bicycling a more attractive choice, it reduces the total space that developers need to devote to parking (bikes and cars together), lowering the cost of new development and opening up land to a more diverse set of uses. In a place like Downtown LA, in addition to many other transit-oriented cities around the country, a better option would be to simply eliminate parking minimums entirely, but the bike parking ordinance is a start.

In that spirit (and because parking podiums suck) we should provide another incentive: allowing developers to reduce their parking burden with spaces dedicated to car-share services like Zipcar and Car2Go*.

Each car-share vehicle is estimated to take between 9 and 13 (and up to 32) privately owned cars off the road.

Studies have shown that each car-share vehicle takes between 9 and 13 cars off the roadand, under more optimistic study parameters, as many as 32. By allowing builders to contract with car-share services in their private parking garages in return for decreased parking requirements, the city can decrease VMT, save its residents thousands of dollars per household on the costs of car ownership, and leave more space for productive uses like new homes, offices, and hotel rooms. It can also reduce the cost of construction — parking garages can cost upwards of $30,000 or even $50,000 per space to build — and ultimately open the door to more affordable housing across the city.

This is a sensible step forward on the above merits alone, but it becomes even more appealing in light of the coming advances in driverless technology. If mass car ownership is truly to become a thing of the past, which seems likely in the coming decades, all of this space dedicated to parking is going to look extremely foolish when we no longer need a place to store our vehicles for 95 percent of the day. Reducing that space now with a reliable bridge technology like car-sharing is a smart compromise that will better prepare us for a future of greatly diminished car-dependence, and it will have the added bonus of enriching our city and its residents in the mean time.

*These are actual "sharing" services, compared to companies like Uber and Lyft which are more properly described as next-gen taxi services.