Thursday, January 20, 2011

Parking lots as polluters

We know driving creates pollution: ozone, other toxic tailpipe emissions such as particulates, contaminated water that runs off streets, the heat island effect of the asphalted street and highway network, etc. etc. But until now, few people had studied the polluting effect of parking lots.

But Eric Jaffe, in The Infrastructurist, writes about new work from researchers at University of California at Berkeley that looks at energy and emissions related to America’s vast parking infrastructure. The researchers write,

"The environmental effects of parking are not just from encouraging the use of the automobile over public transit or walking and biking (thus favoring the often more energy-intensive and polluting mode), but also from the material and process requirements in direct, indirect, and supply chain activities related to building and maintaining the infrastructure."

There's no national inventory of how many parking spaces, lots, decks are out there – one academic who's studied parking compares it to the "dark matter" in the universe – but the researchers point to such things as the heat island effect, where pavement raises summer temperatures which requires more energy for air-conditioning, etc. They calculated that when parking spots are taken into account, an average car’s per-mile carbon emissions go up as much as 10 percent.

And as long as we're trashing parking places (which even die-hard environmentalists probably wish they could find as they circle, circle, circle the lot on the Saturday before Christmas) check out "Six Reasons Free Parking Is the Dumbest Thing You Didn't Know You Were Subsidizing," by Christopher Mims in grist.org. The point is not that we shouldn't have parking, but that we should all be a lot more aware of the costs of building and providing it. Maybe we'd be more conservative in how we spend that money – if we realized we were spending it.

And for a parking-related footnote, here's a way Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools might bring in a bit more revenue so CMS won't have to cut a whopping $100 million from the budget and lay off 1,500 people including hundreds of teachers:

Charge high school students more money to park their cars. If CMS provides buses to the schools (which it does, except to magnet high schools) then families that opt to let kids drive can pay for the privilege. Wake County Schools charge $170 and they're raising the fee. CMS charges $25. Ahem.

Each parking space adds $2,500 to the cost of a high school, a CMS architect told me a few years ago. Yes, staffers need parking spaces, and some students probably do, too. But a lot of that money could be better spent.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are you going to get rid of the parking lots for the Blue Line, Mary? Be careful what you ask for....

wiley coyote said...

And Mary, by the way, we could save millions just in CMS by eliminating waste and fraud in the Free & Reduced Lunch program and cutting out all sports programs - which I might add, would help save the environment by not burning all that fuel getting people back and forth to games.

Mary Newsom said...

The issue of transit and park n ride lots is interesting and complex.

As you imply, without the lots and "free" parking (actually, of course, the cost's embedded in CATS' construction and operating expenses), would people use the light rail? Probably not, at least not now.

But as future development around the rail stops allows more people to be able to live so near that they can walk or bicycle, the land now used for surface parking will probably get too valuable and will be developed, likely with parking decks. CATS planners assume that will be the case, though likely that's a decade or more away.

And at some point, when traffic gets really, really bad and bus service is a lot more frequent, people may opt to take buses to the rail stations to avoid the costs and hassles of driving and parking downtown.

Anonymous said...

The various LEED rating systems offer opportunities to redesign parking lots, using light-colored pavement or permeable surfaces, to help reduce the impact of heat islands. But I like the idea of charging the students more to park, too.

David P said...

I agree that the parking fees for students should be at least $100 per year. CMS could use the income.

Anonymous said...

I would think the man with no coat on his back, nothing to eat, and not a dime to his name that has to sleep in that parking lot is far more pressing a concern than minute/highly isolated changes in air temperature/quality near parking lots. Let's solve the big problems before we go looking for new little problems to blog about.

Anonymous said...

If parking causes environmental damage then what do massive traffic jams do to the environment because we've deliberately ignored roads and allowed it to happen?

There is no more money for light rail:
1. Charlotte is broke.
2. North Carolina is broke.
3. The federal government is broke.

Anonymous said...

As long as Gorman is the Super(?), any extra money going to schools would find it's way, somewhere else.

Old Daddy said...

This might be the most ridiculous thing I have read in a long time-maybe we should see if holes in the ozone appear over Chicago and Pittsburg this weekened above the parking lots for the NFC/AFC championship games!!! Lots of problems this is really low on the list..

Claire Voyance said...

How much of this new develop you claim will sprout up will occur on undeveloped land? Thus eliminating trees, etc? For such a so-called champion of the environment you failed to think about that.

Our bus system is highly inefficient. Besides during rush hour, they typically circle their route with 3 or 4 people at a time. I realize buses are the only mode of transportation for some individuals, but the current system cannot be touted as saving the environment..

Anonymous said...

Mary has given us some insight into what the environmentalist would like on their legislative agenda. Their attitude is if they, meaning us, are going to drive anywhere make them pay. Those evil parking garages are now the culprit. Since they cannot implode them all just add a 'tax' equal to the parking fee to discourage their use. The anonymous poster who asked Mary about the parking lots for the 'green' light rail tried to bring her back to some type of reasoning. Of course our social engineer needed to make Charlotte a future Metropolis for her vision to be viable. Clearly Mary has not received the memo: We are tired of taxes, fees, surcharges, especially to fund some Utopian concept.

Anonymous said...

Build more mass transit. Less need for parking lots.

Anonymous said...

Mary, the jig is up. We are BROKE. Let's fix our financial and fiscal problems before we tackle any other perceived parking lot problems.

Anonymous said...

Where did CMS get all that money for those brand-new buses they have? I'm driving an 18 year old Honda because that's what I choose to afford. My company's fleet of vehicles are all at least 15 years old. I, and my employer, simply keep repairing them. Does someone on the school board have a brother-in-law who makes buses or something?

Anonymous said...

For Heaven's sake, if you people want to keep harping about the budget deficits, then at least start paying attention to what things cost:

Roads cost money. They cost so much money, in fact, that in other countries it's common to see 2-way 1-lane roads. When you meet oncoming traffic, you both slow down to a crawl. You go halfway onto the shoulder. The other guy goes halfway onto the shoulder. You meet up close enough to know if the other guy shaved this morning, pass, and speed up again. You can't just drive on autopilot, but it saves money.

Parking costs money. A new parking lot costs several thousand dollars a spot to pave and complete. A new parking garage costs 20K a spot to build.

Water filtration costs money. And it costs a lot more to clear up highway runoff from the drinking water than it costs to clear up goose droppings and the like. Highway runoff contains motor oil, heavy metals, ground up rubber, brake pads, et cetera. How much money, you might wonder? Well, this is why New York bought huge tracts of forest land in upstate New York for the watershed that supplies New York City with water. It was cheaper to do that than to allow development up there and then have to clean up the highway runoff from the water. Boston did the same thing. And that is why New York and Boston have better water than the Carolinas.

Flooding costs money. Maybe you haven't noticed, but we're getting "100 year floods" a lot more often than once in a 100 years. It's not because of more rain. It's because paving makes flooding worse.

Care to pay attention to more than what your favorite talk radio moron tells you?

Anonymous said...

This is a good post; thanks for writing it and having people look into it. The usual trolls have taken over the comments, but they don't usually read the articles anyway.

Anonymous said...

It's time to cut back on entitlements and live on leaner budgets, unless of course, you're talking about subsidizing and maintaining my auto-dependent lifestyle, then that deficit-spending is very much needed.

J said...

I agree with the poster that said we really need to fix our financial issues. Problem is, there is hardly a politician to be found that will actually cut spending for anything - because, of course, every line in every government budget is an item that, if cut, would cause the Earth to stop spinning on its axis (sarcastm). While I agree that global warming is real, I don't agree that it is 1,000% man-made; I think human activity is one contributor. That being said, changing our behavior to lessen the impact on the climate should be a priority. It would be nice if all parking were like at The Green downtown, where the parking is underground and there is real, actual grass on top of it. But it costs a gazillion dollars to build that way and a bazillion dollars a day/month to use that parking. It's a tough call.

Greg Dinnsen said...

Mary,

Did you have a free parking space when you were in high school? I did, but it was a dirt and gravel parking lot.

Sports, parking, etc. were free when I was growing up, why isn't it now? Long ago when communities first began, the first things that got erected by the public besides a church was a school. Why? Because they knew it was (and is) important for our future as a community.
The city has a spending problem downtown, not in the schools. The beautiful arena that was on Tyvola road - only 20 years old was imploded and a new one built downtown. Things like that need to be under the microscope more, not the school.
Give me a break. I already now hve to shell out $100 smacks for every sport that my kids want to join!