Parking versus no parking in new developments, a traffic engineer's view

Residential developments in modern cities are under pressure to meet competing demands between affordability, marketability, profit, policy and place making. These competing demands can put developers and decision makers at odds, which has been seen in the recent decisions concerning residential developments with and without car parking in inner Melbourne.

I am commonly presented with a couple of scenarios when reviewing a new residential development scheme:

  1. We are developing a high end product and would like to provide car parking to each dwelling, or
  2. This site has great public transport, is close to a supermarket, and is too small to economically provide car parking, can I get away with none?

These two scenarios are at odds with each other however you will be surprised how often these are contemplated in the same suburb, neighbourhood or even street. Obviously there are a number of factors which will influence the developers’ intent, such as access opportunities, proximity to transport and other amenities and most significantly the risk appetite of the applicant.

When I first entered the game of traffic engineering in the early 2000’s I would rarely come across a development that would contemplate providing less than 1 car space per dwelling. Back then there was no Flexi Car, Car Parking Overlays, Melbourne Bike Share or for that matter Facebook or Twitter! The introductions of not only the fixed infrastructure but the ‘sharing’ community mindset has changed how and what car ownership looks like.

I am of the view that both parking at the Planning Scheme rate and no parking at all can comfortably exist as there is a place in the market for both. Providing parking increases the price point of dwellings, but gives the occupant the flexibility to travel independently on their own terms.

On the other side of the coin, in locations close to public transport, amenities (in particular a full line supermarket), a car share pod, and bicycle routes means no car parking is not only feasible but it works to change behaviour away from private car travel, which can only be a good thing for the environment and the future sustainability of our cities.

Once we are in a position that yes a development with no or minimal car parking can work in this location, the next step is a car parking assessment and despite our best intentions, what if someone owns a car. Where do they park? Will the streets surrounding the site be full of cars?

This question is required as part of a Planning Scheme assessment and is presented rightly by existing residents when trying to comprehend development which of course can be daunting. With this in mind the next part of my assessment is to assess car parking conditions in the area. If long term car parking is available, then there is a possibility that a resident without an allocated car space may park on-street.

With no parking restrictions in place and a level of availability, my experience tells me that car parking in the area is not at capacity as Council have not imposed restrictions to encourage a turnover of parking, so the shortfall of parking can be accommodated on-street.

If our investigations show that car parking is restricted to say hourly parking or a permit zone, this shows that car parking in the area is well utilised and the Council are encouraging a turnover of parking to protect existing residents. These restrictions make it not feasible for a long term resident to own a car without car parking thus changing travel behaviour.

The change of travel behaviour is key for developments with no parking, and that is the challenge that we take moving forward and a challenge that I consider the biggest but most exciting challenge for transport, town and city planners moving forward.

Valentine is a Director and Senior Engineer at onemilegrid.

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