Environmental impact of car parking

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little green blog effects of car parking on environmentThis week I came across an ecommerce sign company who sell signs to municipalities and business to keep their parking lots (carparks) regulated and safe.

The company have been studying business trends related to urban parking and planning, and have shared research showing how outdated parking regulations hurt the environment.

I have to admit, this is something I’d never considered before.

Sure we all know using our cars isn’t exactly great for the environment, but parking? I was eager to learn more!

Cars pollute, but building and maintaining their parking pollutes, too. In fact, according to MyParkingSign, parking spots add 10% to each American car’s lifetime emissions of CO2.

Sixty years of carving out space for America’s 250 million vehicles has made parking the single biggest land use; taking up more space than buildings, parks, or industrial complexes.

Here’s how parking garages, on street parking and parking lots can affect the environment:

Parking garages / multi storey carparks

Parking garages (multi storey carparks) are designed to store many cars in a relatively compact space. Because most are open-air and high-density, they are friendlier to the environment than other forms of parking. However, they also contribute to urban heat islands and often use a lot of electricity because of lighting-level requirements, during both day and night.

On-street parking

On-street parking uses less land per space than off-street parking  because it requires no driveway, but the land it uses often has a high opportunity cost — precluding other types of infrastructure such as bike paths, traffic lanes, wider sidewalks, and landscaping.
Because street parking is often free or low-cost, and limited in quantity, vacancies are usually few; which results in cruising (circling the block until a space opens up). This has serious environmental impact from emissions.

Surface lots / carparks

Surface lots are cheap to build, making them a popular choice for developers. Unfortunately the proliferation of surface lots has profound environmental impacts. One of the biggest problems is runoff after storms which introduces oil, metals, and soils into waterways. Replacing natural vegetation with concrete also results in increased temperatures which can create higher demand for air conditioning in surrounding areas.


Possible solutions include:

  • Organising carparks to accommodate different types of vehicles , such as motorcycles (several of which could fit in a standard 18-by-9-foot space) and compact cars (which require 20 percent less space than full-size vehicles).
  • Developers routinely overbuild parking; supply exceeds demand by between 35 and 50 percent and wastes both land and money. Simply by building to demand instead of wastefully, resources and land could be preserved.
  • By bringing together drivers with different needs such as offices with demand from 9am to 5pm and householders who need spaces 5pm to 8am mixed-use developments can use one space to serve two different communities of drivers.

What about you; had you considered the environmental impact of parking spaces before?


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