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An Evaluation of Automobile Use, Parking Provision, and Urban Activity


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Early American cities were built around dense street networks and relied upon a wide variety of modes for transportation. For more than 50 years, however, many small cities have been physically restructured in efforts to provide automobile access comparable to that in the surrounding suburbs. In those cities, the level of automobile use, the physical form, and the level of activity are now very different from cities that, instead, made greater efforts to preserve their existing urban form. This study looks at 11 small cities that have exhibited very different trends in terms of automobile use and infrastructure provision since 1960 in order to gauge how these differences have impacted long-term urban vitality in those cities.
This study relies on socioeconomic and demographic data dating back to 1960, historical travel mode share data, maps depicting the amount of land used for transportation purposes, and policy review. This approach provides unique insight regarding the aggregate impacts of automobile use on urban land consumption and urban vitality as well as a historical perspective revealing how these cities evolved and key policies that enabled these changes.
In our study, we found that higher levels of automobile use correspond with lower concentrations of activities (residential and employment). This is due in large part to the amount of land needed for automobile infrastructure. The cities were divided into two groups: “low automobile use” and “automobile dependent.” On average, parking consumes more than twice as much urban land per activity in automobile dependent cities. These cities also have fewer than half as many productive activities per square mile. The study also reveals that incomes and automobile ownerships rates are higher in cities with low automobile use, suggesting that individuals will choose not to use their automobiles if there are diverse transportation choices and if non-automobile modes of transportation are attractive options. This lessens the amount of automobile infrastructure needed.
Evidence suggests that policy decisions within each city have greatly influenced the changes they experienced over time. Based on the trends revealed in this study, a productive, long-term policy approach should incorporate measures that support diverse transportation systems and efficient use of urban space.

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An Evaluation of Automobile Use, Parking Provision, and Urban Activity

  1. 1. An Evaluation of Automobile Use, Parking Provision, and Urban Activity<br />Christopher McCahill<br />Ph.D. Candidate<br />Civil & Environmental Engineering<br />Norman Garrick<br />Associate Professor<br />Civil & Environmental Engineering<br />UTC New England<br />UCONN<br />Conference on Performance Measures for Transportation and Livable Communities<br />Austin, TX<br />Sept. 7-8, 2011<br />
  2. 2. “Parking Demand”<br />Nantucket Parking Study<br />2010 Draft<br />Utilization study<br />Max utilization: 94%<br />+ 77 spaces (on-street)<br />Land use study<br />Demand: 2,870 spaces<br />+ 670 spaces<br />Local zoning codes<br />+ 2,337 spaces<br />
  3. 3. “Parking Demand”<br />< 3/4 mile<br />
  4. 4. Increase parking?<br />
  5. 5. Theoretical model of land consumption<br />Land used for transportation<br />2<br />B<br />Automobile mode share<br />Land used for activities<br />1<br />C<br />A<br />3<br />Taller buildings and/or Fewer activities<br />
  6. 6. Hartford, CT - 1953<br />
  7. 7. Hartford, CT - 1965<br />
  8. 8. 1957<br />
  9. 9. 1995<br />
  10. 10. Cambridge, MA<br />
  11. 11.
  12. 12.
  13. 13.
  14. 14.
  15. 15. Land used for transportation<br />Automobile mode share<br />
  16. 16.
  17. 17.
  18. 18. Level of activity<br />
  19. 19.
  20. 20.
  21. 21. Limits on growth?<br />
  22. 22. Driving to work:<br />
  23. 23. Findings…<br />High levels of automobile use (and parking) correspond with fewer activities<br />
  24. 24. Findings…<br />Cities with the most activities have preserved their urban fabric and provide a range of transportation options<br />
  25. 25. Contact:<br />christopher.mccahill @<br />
  26. 26. Good urban planning must provide a place for the motor car: that goes without saying. But this does not in the least mean that the motor car must be permitted to penetrate every part of the city and stay there, even though it disrupts all other activities.<br />- L. Mumford (1961)<br />Too much dependence on private automobiles and city concentration of use are incompatible.<br />Depending on which pressure wins most of the victories, one of two processes occurs: erosion of cities by automobiles, or attrition of automobiles by cities.<br />- J. Jacobs (1961)<br />