Access, Servicing & Parking
Even in urban environments, the majority of retail customers in North America travel to their destination by private vehicle. As frustrating (and as expensive) as accommodating the car can be, it is an imbedded part of the local culture which will not change overnight. However we can still challenge this notion by providing transit alternatives, bicycling infrastructure and creating pedestrian linkages. Not only will you harness new customer groups, you can reduce your costs by reducing parking requirements. In the long term, providing infrastructure for alternative means of transportation provides flexibility in the event that automobiles become less dominant in society. Rising fuel prices and changing values suggest that heavily auto-dependent retail with no alternative transit options may be at risk over the next 10 to 20 years.
Having a handful of cars driving through and around a retail node is not a bad thing – in fact, it’s encouraged. Slowly moving traffic can browse the few “teaser” parking spots which help create the illusion that easy parking is available. Generally, however, the majority of traffic should be directed away from outdoor public spaces into parking facilities. To position retail as providing a truly different experience to the typical power centre / strip centre environment, the vehicle access issue must be treated with extreme care. Vehicles remain critical for bringing customers, yet over emphasizing this element has negative implications on the human-oriented and social aspects of retail.
Retailers have relatively rigid parking requirements, often 4-5 parking spots per 1,000 ft2 of leasable retail and as many as 8 spots per 1,000 for ft2 some grocery stores. In more urban areas, these requirements are negotiable, but anchors such as supermarkets can be stubborn. Ultimately, these stores are just responding to behaviour exhibited by their customers elsewhere. Educating retailers by benchmarking stores in more urban environments with different modal splits can go a long way to convincing them to accept less parking.
Different uses generate parking demand at different times: office workers need parking during the day, retail in the afternoons and weekends, restaurants at lunch and dinner time, movie theatres in the evening, hotels and residential overnight. Shared parking facilities are often proposed as a solution. In other words, increase the efficiency of the use of parking spaces rather than build more spaces. In theory, shared parking can reduce parking demand by 20% to 30%. In practice it can be complicated, but an answer is just around the corner. Technology is already in place in parking facilities whereby your license plate is auto-read to record your length of stay, and also technology can tell you which stalls are available and where. An amazing amount of time is wasted having cars circle endlessly looking for stalls (subsequently making the parking area less efficient). Smart parking technology has the potential to transform the number of units required in mixed use developments and could open doors for true shared-parking facilities.
Often the least exciting part of planning retail facilities, servicing is usually one of the first questions asked by architects who really understand retail. In mixed use environments, it is a critical issue. Stores need to stock merchandise on a regular basis – particularly grocery stores. Merchandise comes on large trucks which often idle at obscure hours of the night, much to the displeasure of nearby condo residents. Another servicing issue is garbage removal – projects which used a combined garbage collection area for residential and commercial uses have produced odour complaints from residents. Servicing is where the flowery pleasantries of mixed use projects often clash with reality. It’s not impossible to do it properly, but there are no strict rules to follow except just to carefully consider how servicing will occur and who will be impacted.