Park or parking lot?

Monday 23 Dec 2013

Robert Dalton on building sustainable cities

Large expanses of cracked asphalt, utilitarian light poles and minimal landscaping - the surface parking lot is an eyesore we’ve put up with for too long.  Many citizens and urban planners have shifted focus to developing walkable, livable, and sustainable cities, bringing our parking problem into harsh light. How can we build parking lots that are both functional and ecologically friendly?

A Greener Approach

One of the easiest ways to reduce the ecological impact of surface parking lots is to add large areas of vegetation. Plant-life in parking lots benefits the city environment in three ways:

· In the hotter months, surface parking lots are partly responsible for the heat island effect. Trees planted around perimeters and in medians inside parking lots help reduce the amount of solar radiation that reaches the area below the canopy. Shading large expanses of the pavement is an effective way to help cool a community.

· Another way plant-life battles the heat island effect is through evotranspiration. Trees and vegetation absorb water through their roots and release it through their leaves—the water then evaporates back into the atmosphere, cooling the air in the process.

· The pavement in surface parking lots increases stormwater runoff by keeping the water from soaking into the ground. Stormwater has negative impacts on rivers and streams. It causes flooding, erosion and carries pollutants from paved surfaces to our freshwater sources. Trees and vegetation in parking lots decrease the amount of stormwater runoff by capturing and storing rainfall in the canopy.  Furthermore, tree roots and leaf litter produce soil conditions that help the penetration of rainwater into the soil, replenishing our groundwater supply and maintaining streamflow.

Harnessing the Power of the Sun

While not as traditionally beautiful as trees and flowers, the photovoltaic shade structure is another way to dress up surface parking lots - and add to their sustainability. The solar canopies benefit those that use the parking lot by offering shaded parking and better-light at nighttime. They add value to communities by both conserving and producing energy.

Walkable Parking Lots?

One of the most important concepts of sustainable urban design is walkability. While a parking lot might not automatically come to mind when you think of walkability, they’re actually rife for walkable improvements.

It might surprise you to know that many pedestrian accidents occur in parking lots. Pedestrian safety and walkability can easily be implemented in parking lots by:

· Adding pedestrian walkways: Pedestrian walkways substantially increase the safety of parking lots. These walkways also add to the lot’s aesthetics, especially when decorative paving stones are used. Bollards can be used to provide a barrier between pedestrians and motorized vehicles, adding to the pedestrian’s feeling of security.

· Adding pedestrian crossing: Properly marked pedestrian crossings give appropriate right of way to foot traffic, and serve as a reminder to motorists that pedestrians are in the vicinity.

· Creating a mixed-use space: Another way to improve walkability in a lot is through the addition of bicycle racks and benches. This encourages pedestrian and bicycle activity, and promotes the idea that the space isn’t exclusively built for cars.

As cities expand and we spend more and more time in our cars, it’s becoming clear that the parking lot is here to stay. Not only do parking lots have a large environmental impact on cities, they often occupy precious space that would be better put to other community use. It’s important to rethink the design of these spaces to promote a sustainable future. The good news is, it’s not impossible - it’s not even difficult!

Robert Dalton writes on behalf of Reliance Foundry, an industry-leading supplier of bollards and other site furnishings. When he’s not writing, he can be found hard at work in the community garden. 

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