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Walkability/accessibility in auto-centric suburbia

March 19, 2010 Accessibility, Suburban Sprawl 4 Comments

I was in Chicago last weekend.  Saturday night we stayed at the new ALoft in Bolingbrook (map), near Ikea.

The location is highly auto-centric) but walkability/accessibility was given some minimal attention.  From our room I could see the sidewalk along the public road as well as the private sidewalk to the hotel. The above is the minimal I’d accept, not the goal.  All the buildings in the area are so far apart that no amount of perfectly green grass or upscale landscaping will make it a good walking environment.  These sidewalks are decoration, a feel-good measures to imply walkability.  Don’t get me wrong, it is better to have them than not, but hopefully we will cease building such environments completely.

To create walkable areas we must:

  • Reduce the amount of auto parking in private lots.
  • Reduce the distance between buildings.
  • Reduce the distance from the public sidewalk and the building entrance.
  • Allow on-street parking.

With every business having a huge parking lot the distances become to great to walk.  But if parking were scaled back they can be closer to each other and walking becomes a viable option.  The total parking in this area far exceeds the total number of cars at any given time.  By significantly limiting private off-street parking but permitting on-street parking you introduce affordable shared parking.  Shared parking is often thought of as a parking lot or garage structure but taking all the cars and spreading them out in a linear fashion along roads reduces the impacts from massive parking lots that  spread our destinations apart to the point we must drive to reach them.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    One, aren't you rewarding bad behavior by staying in a suburban hotel, when ther are many, many great hotels, with no surface parking lots, in and around the Loop?! And two, I agree with two of your four bullet points. I think the first one needs to be nuanced, as in “Private parking lots must be utilized much more intensively”, and I think the last one needs to be discussed in much greater detail.

    In most suburban areas, the office parking lot is used from 8 to 5, the restaurant parking lot is full from 5 to 8, the motel parking lot is full from 8 pm to 8 am and the church parking lot is only full on Sundays. Instead of one shared lot, we typically get four lots that are each empty at least two thirds of the time – change the utilization of each space from 5%-30% to 80% or 90% and you can reduce the number of spaces by a factor of three to five. It all gets back to zoning and development patterns – until we change the underlying assumptions, we're stuck with the existing patterns.

    The whole issue of providing on-street parking, especially in suburan areas, gets back to two fundamental issues, traffic engineering and who pays for it? Traffic engineers, by definition, are interested in moving traffic quickly and safely. Many view parallel parking, or worse, angled parking, as creating conflicts to the smooth flow of traffic. Traffic engineers are also the ones who push for fewer curb cuts, but they're the ones that have the “standards” and get first crack at approving, or not, new street layouts. The other half of the equation is the cost of constructing and maintaining parking, be it added traffic lanes on the public right-of-way or in a private parking lot – somebody needs to pay for it – build it, sweep it, plow it and repair it – and most governments, supported by their voters, would rather push that responsibility onto the private landowner. Again, until we, as taxpayers, are willing to pay higher taxes to provide a significant increase in the amount of on-street parking, we're going to see a continuation of the existing model.

    • Yes, but we were tired and 45 minutes from the Loop. We spent the following night with friends in Evanston.

    • Kara7 says:

      It's too bad that the focus is so utilitarian when designing urban infrastructure. Maybe if beauty were valued more in our public places we wouldn't need so much prozac. Spend less on gasoline and more on flowers, spend more on public art and pretty sidewalks and less on prozac.

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