A Great View If You Like Parking Lots

In our podcast “Parking Is Hell,” we explored how the overwhelming demand for parking space has a lot of downsides. One big problem is that city centers can feel as if they’re practically held hostage by parking lots and garages. I was in Minneapolis the other day, and here are four pictures taken from the window of my hotel room. It’s not exactly a view that makes the heart skip … 







Can you imagine what this downtown might look like without all those parking garages? Bring on the driverless car! If our cars have the ability to drop us off and pick us up with the swipe of a touchscreen, what will these acres and acres and acres of city land turn into? 


I heartily agree (though I'm biased because I dislike urban environments altogether), but I do think it's worth noticing that parking lots at least have a nice orderly look to them, at least from up high. There's something calming about all those little cars neatly parked in a row, with those little spaces and lanes for them to move into or though. I especially like the look of that curly-cue ramp in the last two pictures, leading to the pristine uninhabited parking lot roof in the distance.


I can't see as how removing the parking lots & garages would improve the view at all. You'd still see nothing but buildings, and probably closer.


A city full of parking lots is one that is easy to drive to, but often not worth arriving at.

Nick J.

Look at those pictures and imagine how pristine it would look to have all those parking lots replaced with outdoor gardens, parks, and greenspace for people to eat lunch in and take walks through during lunch breaks. With the contrast of the tall, glass and steel buildings, it would be a beautiful sight to see.


Except that wouldn't happen: the parking lots & garages would be replaced by more tall glass & steel buildings. Simple economics :-)


There is suburban sprawl in the Twin Cities. Most people who work downtown don't live near there and don't have public transportation to get there even if they wanted. Nor is it simply a matter of building out the transportation infrastructure. The Twin Cities is so spread out that it truly is impractical to have public transit that can replace cars for even a majority of people.

There is a new line going in near where I live but even that is so far away that it's impractical to walk. I could drive there but that's of little benefit because it's out of the way and I could simply drive for 10 more minutes and be parked downtown or wait 30+ minutes to take the bus or light rail after I've boarded.

Personally I'd like to see parking less out in the open and a combination of buried or the first several floors of a skyscraper without exposed roofs. Just northwest of those pics is the huge downtown parking garage that span something like 6 city blocks. An interstate literally terminates into the garage.



What's that tennis court doing there in image #4?!? That's valuable parking lot space!


Your idea to render parking garages obsolete would require a driverless car that drives workers to work and drops them off, drives itself home, drives itself back to the workplace at the end of the working day, then drives the worker home. This does not seem feasible for several reasons. First, you are doubling fuel consumption by adding a second round-trip drive to the current commute, causing a massive waste of oil, tire tread, and fuel (whether gasoline, electricity, or whatever) and doubling wear-and-tear on both cars and roads. Second, doubling the miles driven will double the expected accident rate, including injuries and deaths to passengers and pedestrians, even if driverless cars have lower rates than human-driven cars. Third, you would increase traffic during commute times, causing needless delays for the transit of other passengers and goods. Besides, there already is a driverless car that would eliminate the need for parking garages if everyone used them: it's called a bus (or light rail, train, or subway).



Basically I agree with you.

But what if there was a ring of discreet parking garages just outside the city center--maybe ones specially designed to house driverless cars--so the driverless car didn't have to return all the way to the suburbs? True, that requires extra infrastructure to be built, but would it be less than the costs you mentioned?

One point of disagreement:

I wish people would stop talking about buses and trains as though they are ready alternatives to cars.

The best part about driving my own car is not having to share a vehicle with the people who ride on buses and trains. Not only that, but in my own car I can enjoy peace and quiet, privacy, my own music or talk show, personalized climate control, and I only have to smell or see what exists in my car by my own choosing. I don't have to be so aggressively reminded of the "anthros" against whom I proudly--but, it should be said, quite reasonably and naturally--hold my misanthropy.

My car waits less than 10 feet from the front door of my house and drops me off less than 50 feet from the front door of my office. My car is always there ready to go exactly when I want. If I wish or need to make a stop or a detour, my car will oblige me without any further inconvenience. My choice of car and how or whether I decorate it gives me the option to express or conceal anything about my identity that I want. In some cases, the monthly cost of gas and insurance is much lower than the cost of a metro pass. I can take my car just about anywhere, notably to places where there are no rail or bus lines. Driving a car is fun and engaging (especially if it's a stick shift). And should I get in an accident, I will not fly into hard seats and poles, but am restrained by a seatbelt and surrounded by airbags.



Oh yeah, and my car doubles as a storage locker for my coat, a set of tools, a small collection of maps, my hunting knife, half my CD collection, and my frisbee.


Not sure how the driverless car will solve the parking issue. Do you want it driving around the streets all day burning fuel and creating pollution and creating congestion? Or does it drive home and come back to get you? The latter also burns fuel and pollution.


Sad lack of urban transport planning in most US cities. In addition, their small geographical size and "wealth-flight" to lower-taxed suburbs makes commuting mandatory but doesn't give the cities the money to build public transport.

dougal williams

agreed. At least there is one tennis court!

Ben Swatton

I'm currently studying my masters degree in tunnelling and underground space and within the industry there is a increased drive to raise awareness with city planners about the advantages of underground space.

It would be relatively easy to move a multi-storey car park underground and use the recovered space for much-needed green space. The up-front costs may be slightly higher when building underground, but the long-term benefits, increase in value of surrounding property and of course, priceless social benefits will undoubtedly outweigh the cost.

Granted, it may not be that straightforward, as underground construction relies heavily on ground conditions (although, being from the UK, we know that you don't always need rock to build underground) and also interaction with other subterranean infrastructure. But if this approach was considered in a City-wide plan, these problems could be addressed economically at an early stage.

Do we really need to see a structure that we typically spend just a few minutes in every day? Out of sight, out of mind.



Underground is definitely the way to go, but it ain't cheap to build. From my office I'm looking at two large green spaces which hide massive parking garages below. Our city has effectively banned the construction of above ground parking garages for the last 20 years, but it was only after parking rates hit $30/day that the underground projects started making sense.


Don't worry. Within my lifetime I'll get to see a world without cars once oil becomes too expensive.