Urbanism Next
University of OregonUniversity of Oregon

Flexible Parking Design

Designing parking with future changes in mind will give more options for accommodating future uses.

Reductions in the need for parking will occur over time and at an unknown pace. Current parking design sometimes prevents structures, garages, or even parking lots from being able to be repurposed into other uses. Using a flexible approach for parking design will better allow for reuse or deconstruction as transportation modes and patterns continue to change in the future.

Issues & approaches

Variable parking types: Instead of designing parking as a fixed element as we do now, purposefully designing a mix of different parking types for projects and districts allows parking to adapt to changing needs. Providing parking can be done in permanent, repurposable, or temporary manners to meet current needs while maintaining flexibility for future demands.

Adaptable parking structures: Current parking structures may have a variety of features that prevent them from being easily repurposed into other uses beyond parking. Some of the most common restrictive features are short floor heights and ramps in the middle of these structures. Creating parking structures with taller ground floor heights, high floor to floor heights, flat slab construction, and building widths that could allow for the insertion of courtyards would increase the options available for future uses of these structures.

Remove parking from buildings: Since parking needs are likely to change in response to emerging technologies, separating parking from buildings is another way of extending the longevity of existing structures. Locating parking separately instead of placing it underground or structuring it within the building can help to avoid the limitations of having an integrated space that hinders the overall potential utility of the building long term. 

Locate parking to be responsive to project phasing: Locate parking so that it can serve the first phase of a development, while also serving future phases of development when less parking is needed, so that the same number of stalls can serve the new development. This parking space can eventually either be retrofitted or taken down and replaced in a future phase.

Demountable design: The materials needed to create parking structures are carbon-intensive, difficult to reuse, and are needed in large amounts. If parking structures and garages are designed with future disassembly in mind, this could allow more options for reuse of these pieces instead of requiring full demolition.

Parking structure design for fleets: As personal vehicle ownership declines in favor of autonomous vehicles (AVs), transportation network companies (TNCs), or other new mobility modes, in the future many of the cars on the road will likely be parts of fleets. Unlike current designs for parking personal vehicles, fleet vehicles do not need to be parked in such a way that any other vehicle is able to move independently through shared drive-aisles. Fleet-operated vehicles can instead be parked in a stacked formation on a continuous ramp with low floor-to-floor height due to their ability to move ahead or be deployed in any order as needed. This would allow more vehicles to fit within any given space, and could also allow for the incorporation of maintenance and charging stations for these vehicles.

Create shared parking: With different users parking during different times of the day and week, cities should encourage more shared parking. In mixed-use developments, where several adjacent businesses may own redundant parking stock, shared parking works in tandem to achieve minimum parking requirements

COVID-19 response and tactical urbanism: During the COVID-19 pandemic, cities across the globe adopted tactical urbanism approaches to transform the public realm into spaces for restaurant diners and retail extensions. These rapid changes have proved that the right-of-way, on-street parking, and off-street parking can be retrofitted to highlight public space

Examples/case studies

northwestern university garage renovation interior

Adaptive Reuse - Parking Structure

Northwestern University Garage

View  Gensler

This project by Gensler in Evanston, Illinois repurposed an existing parking garage into a flexible work environment, incorporating some of the former garage’s features in the new space.

renovated broadway autopark apartment balcony

Adaptive Reuse - Parking Structure

Broadway Autopark

View  Sheldon Architecture

Sheldon Architecture repurposed this parking structure in downtown Wichita, Kansas to include ground-floor retail with housing on the upper floors.

artist rendering of design for parking structure stages

Adaptable Design - Parking Structures

AV Adaptation Stages for Parking Structures

View  Arrowstreet

Arrowstreet is exploring the phases and stages of how parking structure design may change to adapt to the transportation trends of the future.

Related topics

Narrow downhill road in Porto, Portugal with cars parked on both sides

Parking & Urban Form

How will the reduced need for parking caused by the proliferation of new mobility technologies impact urban form?

Empty underground parking garage in London

Parking & Building Design

What opportunities exist for the spaces in and around buildings that are currently devoted to parking?

Bicyclist riding on protected red bike lanes in the center of busy street in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Street Design

As new transportation modes emerge and demands for street space increase, how can the needs of all modes be met?

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