By Ravali Kosaraju, PE, PTOE

In some corners of the parking industry “mobility” is considered a dirty word. For some professionals who have devoted their careers to finding new ways for people to park conveniently and safely, the current emphasis in mobility is off-putting. 

In fact, though, parking and mobility are intrinsically connected. Mobility isn’t meant to replace parking; it’s meant to collaborate with it. In fact, as counterintuitive as it may seem, parking is an essential element of mobility.

To understand this, it’s first necessary to take a step back and look at what mobility really is. Mobility is the essential element of urban life. It’s about access. Access to the things people need to live a healthy and rewarding life. Access to friends and relatives, healthcare and other essential services, entertainment, shopping options, work, and recreation opportunities. Transportation is an element of mobility, but it’s not the totality of mobility. Rather, mobility is about having high quality transportation options. 

What makes mobility options “high quality”? First is choice. Do residents and visitors have multiple transportation options? Are there opportunities to use their personal vehicles, access ride-share servicers, utilize public transit, and take advantage of micromobility? Is the community pedestrian friendly? Having a single transportation option isn’t conducive to mobility.

Time is also a key element. If it takes too long to go to and from destinations in a community, because of traffic or because there are too many stops on a bus line or subway line, you don’t have mobility. No one wants to spend hours to get to a grocery store and back, or from work and back.

Finally, safety is a key element of mobility. If it isn’t safe to walk, drive, take public transit, or bike you don’t have mobility. 

So, transportation doesn’t equal mobility. You must offer multiple safe, and timely transportation options to have mobility.

Where Parking Fits In

When you look at that definition of mobility, it’s easy to see many places where parking fits. In fact, in some of those places, parking is an essential element of success. Let’s take a deeper dive.

Access

Mobility is about access to friends and relatives, healthcare and other essential services, entertainment, shopping options, work, and recreation opportunities. Well, how do people access those things in an urban environment? Some may take buses and other forms of mass transit. Some will walk. But what about those who drive? For drivers, access is limited by the types of parking options they have available to them. If they have parkades and lots available to them near their ultimate destination, they have access to that destination. They can drive to the parkade and walk to where they need to be.

Parking even impacts access for some people who use public transportation. For those who don’t live within walking distance to a bus or train station, parking is essential. If these commuters don’t have access to parking at bus or transit centers, that public transportation is inaccessible to them. 

Choice

Another element of mobility is choice. Do residents and visitors have multiple transportation options, including personal vehicles, access to ride share services, public transit, and perhaps even micromobility? 

If the answer is yes to all these questions, where does parking fit? Obviously, parking is a necessity for people using their personal vehicles. But what about the other modes of transportation? Parkades often offer drop-off and pick-up spots for people using TNCs. They are also popular places to store and offer micromobility options, housing bike share (and bike lockers) and micromobility areas where people can rent and return bikes and scooters. And as pointed out earlier, parking is essential to the success of many bus and transit systems. 

Time

Time is a key to mobility. If it takes too long to go to and from destinations, you don’t have mobility. Having sufficient and easy-to-use parking, both on- and off-street options, significantly impacts the time it can take a driver to get to and from their destination. If drivers need to circle blocks for 10, 20, or more minutes, they are going to give up and go someplace else. Likewise, if parking lots and parkades are always full, people are going to look for other places to shop, seek entertainment, or do other things. This isn’t mobility.

That’s why urban planners must consider all types of transportation when creating plans for downtown areas and central business districts. A lack of parking—both private and public—undermines mobility.

Safety

The final element of mobility is safety, an issue that has been at the forefront of parking design and planning since the beginning of the automobile age. Safety is a topic that merits an article of its own, but the measures that have been created to improve visibility within structures are still the best ways to protect parkers from other vehicles and people. These, combined with sealing off stairwells and other places where attackers could potentially hide, can go a long way towards providing a safe parking experience. 

When it comes to parking design, safety outside lots and garages are just as important. It’s essential to keep queuing to a minimum to avoid vehicle backups that could lead to accidents on roadways outside parking entrances. Traditionally, this was accomplished by increasing the number of entrance lanes to get drivers into the garage or lot more quickly. Today, with the advent of advanced PARCS and frictionless parking systems that can admit cars into facilities without having to pull a ticket, drivers can get into parking facilities even more quickly. In fact, modern frictionless parking technology even allows parkades and lots to go completely gateless, which keeps cars moving in and out of parking facilities even faster.

Doing It Right

Some cities are installing parking guidance technology to keep track of how many spaces are available in each garage or lot at a given time, while at the same time requiring private owners to do the same. Eventually, the private and public parking facilities will be connected to a smart city app that will tell drivers where parking is available at that moment and how much it costs.

As cities implement these programs, it will be essential to not focus solely on parking, but to treat these apps as mobility tools. It’s not enough to show people where parking is available; you want to show them where parking is available near their ultimate destinations or near transit and bus stations or stops. In a good smart city app, parking will be one essential element of the overall mobility network. The app must provide detailed, easy to understand guidance about how to find the best parking space for drivers to reach their ultimate destinations.

In developing a mobility app, cities should be sure that drivers can use the app to see real-time pricing and availability information for municipal and private parkades and lots, both large and small. The app should also provide availability and pricing information for on-street parking assets. A good app will also permit cities to introduce dynamic parking pricing to encourage drivers to use lightly utilized spaces. By eliminating long searches for a parking space by guiding drivers to open spaces while, at the same time, encouraging drivers to park away from more congested areas, cities can expect to significantly reduce congestion and pollution on city streets.

Ultimately, a mobility app should manage more than parking. It should be a centralized event portal where every event that’s held in the city, whether publicly or privately sponsored, will be uploaded onto the platform. It can provide a single point of access where residents and visitors can access everything that’s happening in the city. All of these elements can be combined to provide a true mobility app.

About the author
Ravali Kosaraju is director of mobility for WGI, Inc. She can be reached at Ravali.Kosaraju@WGInc.com
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