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Thread: Rear parking lots unsafe?

  1. #1
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    Rear parking lots unsafe?

    I'm in a debate with some people in my neighborhood about requiring buildings to be pulled up to the sidewalk, with parking lots placed in the rear. They say this is unsafe, and that parking lots should be placed between the building and the street, so that motorists can see if someone is in trouble and stop and help them out.

    It's hard for me to believe that's true, but I wonder if there's any data showing that rear parking lots are less safe. I've argued that the rear lots would not be dark, abandoned alleys, but well lit, well designed lots and that the stores would have doors that open directly to the parking area. But they say no, parking out front is the only safe way to go.

    Has anyone seen any studies on this? Thank you.

  2. #2
    They aren't that smart then. They must still be under the idiotic impression that pedestrians submit to vehicles... On the contrary, vehicles need to watch out for pedestrians and go slower. Rear parking lots are great for neighborhoods, putting them in front just makes the area dead, it kills any pedestrian activity, and it promotes the automobile-oriented society... Honestly, they need to be slapped in the face for their idiotic statements. It isn't dangerous, they just don't know anything.

    They need to learn how to properly design cities. If they want their city to be montonous, dead, lifeless, bland, etc... Then by all means, build parking lots in front of buildings. But if they want a REAL city, then they need to get smart and put the buildings close to the street and parking in the rear. Even the big cities are recognizing this. They are just stuck in the idiotic mentalities of the 60s-80s era of sprawl and poor planning.

    It's just my opinion, but those kinds of people just make me extremely angry, because they are part of the reason our urban areas are they way they are now.

    I haven't seen any studies however.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Yeah, just tell them they're stupid.

    There are plenty of places that are very unsafe with parking in front of businesses. I imagine South Central LA and Compton are like this. Slowly developing a more walkable environment over time can create the impression of a safer, friendlier neighborhood leading to more customers, etc. Keep in mind that even when parking is in the front, people can still hide in the back even better without being seen.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    It's not the parking that makes a neighborhood unsafe. It's the people in the neighborhood that makes a neighborhood unsafe.

    Parking lots are activity areas on a site. Regardless if they are in front, on the side, in the rear, underground, in a deck or on the street, personal safeness is not dictated by the parking facility itself.

    The bigger issue to overcome is retail's desire to have parking as close to the front entrance as possible...which makes sense. However, retail also wants to provide 200% of the parking they truely need so customers feel the store isn't too busy and no customer could possibly be turned away.

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    Quote Originally posted by boiker View post
    It's not the parking that makes a neighborhood unsafe. It's the people in the neighborhood that makes a neighborhood unsafe.
    Believe me, I don't like parking out front and I don't think it's safer. What I'm wondering, however, is whether there's any actual data on this one way or the other.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    There is something to the statement... Look into CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) principles.

    Try this site:

    http://www.cptedtraining.net/

    This has been a debate for a while.... I belive that with the right tweaks, such as lighting, that parking in the back can be a much better design approach.
    What’s in a name? – Your reputation….:)

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally posted by Flying Monkeys View post
    There is something to the statement... Look into CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) principles.

    Try this site:

    http://www.cptedtraining.net/

    This has been a debate for a while.... I belive that with the right tweaks, such as lighting, that parking in the back can be a much better design approach.
    Wow, that's very helpful, FM! Thank you!!

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    Your welcome....

    The safety issue is secondary. You should make the argument about what the neighborhood is willing to trade off. A walkable retail/commercial area to pedestrian scale and parking hidden in the back.... or Wall-Mart. Parking in the front, no pedestrians. Remind them that this can be about the facades, the feel of the place, not about the car that got us to the place.

    However, do not misread me... I would also make all accommodations for the cars to get to the parking in the back....this will make the retailers and shoppers happy.
    What’s in a name? – Your reputation….:)

  9. #9
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I grew up in an area with many rear parking shopping areas. These areas either adapted to a new model or eventually died. These observations are for the most part found on the West Side of Detroit, where the major shopping districts included Grand River/Greenfield; Grand River/Plymouth/Oakman, Livernois, Plymouth Evergreen, Seven Mile/Evergreen and places like Grandland. I can almost hear Plankton smile!

    Here is what was common:
    - Stores generally like to control access. This means that the front of the store is often closed so that it would be of most convenience to the shoppers who arrive by car.
    - This lead to decreased ped traffic at major intersections. Yes you would get some catching the bus, but for the most part these folks were commuters transferring buses, not shoppers. Lack of livelyness looked odd when many of the stores were full.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  10. #10
    Quote Originally posted by Juliea View post
    I'm in a debate with some people in my neighborhood about requiring buildings to be pulled up to the sidewalk, with parking lots placed in the rear. They say this is unsafe, and that parking lots should be placed between the building and the street, so that motorists can see if someone is in trouble and stop and help them out.
    I have no definite knowledge and don't know of any studies. I'd have to say intuitively that they are right. Places are made safe by creating an "eyes on the street" sort of environment. The more activity there is around, the safer an area is. Vast parking lots disconnected from pedestrians, storefronts, streets, and traffic have fewer eyes on them. Since there are usually a few controlled and visible points where people and cars enter them, it's also easy to keep an eye out.

    However, as FlyingMonkey has said, this is a "secondary" issue. I think you need to be conscientious of it, but it the safety/security issue could be addressed by conscientiously designing the rear parking lots, including plenty of security cameras, and perhaps having occassional security patrols.

    Quote Originally posted by HeartlandCityBoy View post
    They aren't that smart then. They must still be under the idiotic impression that pedestrians submit to vehicles... On the contrary, vehicles need to watch out for pedestrians and go slower. Rear parking lots are great for neighborhoods, putting them in front just makes the area dead, it kills any pedestrian activity, and it promotes the automobile-oriented society... Honestly, they need to be slapped in the face for their idiotic statements. It isn't dangerous, they just don't know anything.

    They need to learn how to properly design cities. If they want their city to be montonous, dead, lifeless, bland, etc... Then by all means, build parking lots in front of buildings. But if they want a REAL city, then they need to get smart and put the buildings close to the street and parking in the rear. Even the big cities are recognizing this. They are just stuck in the idiotic mentalities of the 60s-80s era of sprawl and poor planning.

    It's just my opinion, but those kinds of people just make me extremely angry, because they are part of the reason our urban areas are they way they are now.

    I haven't seen any studies however.
    HCB, I respect that you are passionate about your beliefs. But you should not let your passion blind you. Her friends aren't idiotic. People who disagree with you don't deserve getting slapped around. Everything, and I mean everything, is a trade-off.

    For example, consider what DetroitPlanner has mentioned. If you put the parking lots in the rear, history teaches us that the streets become monotonous, dull, lifeless, and bland. Cars, entrances, storefronts, and people begin to face alleys. The streets become dead. This is what the real-life (non-theoretical) application of your progressive ideas can result in.

    But back to the point, her friends are right. There are security concerns with parking lot placement. Denying that and insulting those who even mention the issue will not be a successful strategy for you. Instead, you need to persuade about the value choice and figure out a way to balance the concerns. For example, "Yes, it might be better for security to have the parking lots in front. But there are more important things than security--for example, the livability of our neighborhood, property values, and public health. Besides, with a little extra effort we can make the rear parking lots safe too."

    You can't always be right, and when talking about design issues you can *never* be "right." Design issues are largely a matter of taste, values, priorities, preferences, etc.. Many people would consider your utopia to be hell. Likewise, what you consider to be design hell would be considered utopia by many others. Thus, fundamentalism, arrogance, and crass insults won't help you win ground.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    What ever happened to the best of both worlds - putting the storefront up against the sidewalk and having diagonal parking on the street? Or was that just a small-town Midwest thing?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by gsys View post
    What ever happened to the best of both worlds - putting the storefront up against the sidewalk and having diagonal parking on the street? Or was that just a small-town Midwest thing?
    That is a wonderful solution, but with many old Main Streets now converted to 4 lane thoroughfares... diagonal parking is a thing of the past. It'll take a state DOT or public works department to spin on its head to accept a change like that.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    You guys are doomed, you realize that, right?

    On a more serious note. In Lawrence, KS, which still has a thriving main street (Mass. Street), they have parking lots at the rear of the businesses. The blocks are relatively shallow, so the parking lot goes through to the next street and is not huge. That means that passing cars and occupants of buildings in adjacent streets have eyes on the lots. Of course Mass. Street also has diagonal parking out front.

    In any case, crime reduction by passive measures is a bit of a canard. Crime abatement is best achieved through vigorous policing.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  14. #14
    And good policing is also through concentration, less sprawl as well as eyes on the street by pedestrians.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HeartlandCityBoy View post
    And good policing is also through concentration, less sprawl as well as eyes on the street by pedestrians.
    The safest I ever felt was when I was living on a 170 acre farm. I had a neighbor across the street. My other neighbors were 600 feet north and 1200 feet south. There were seven houses on a two-mile stretch of road. I don't think that was concentrated. There not many eyes on the street, and almost no pedestrians. But it was safe enough that I never locked my doors.

    Brandonmason offered some good advice. Rigid adherence to a theory will get you nowhere, and an approach based on doctrine is usually not going to work. Each situation deserves to be looked at independently and without any bias. One thing I learned long ago -- always assume that what the other person is saying is valid. Then look for evidence otherwise. You will often find yourself coming to a conclusion somewhere in-between, and that is usually a good fit for the area.
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  16. #16
    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Brandonmason offered some good advice. Rigid adherence to a theory will get you nowhere, and an approach based on doctrine is usually not going to work. Each situation deserves to be looked at independently and without any bias. One thing I learned long ago -- always assume that what the other person is saying is valid. Then look for evidence otherwise. You will often find yourself coming to a conclusion somewhere in-between, and that is usually a good fit for the area.
    Well put... One size does not fit all.
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  17. #17
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    The safest I ever felt was when I was living on a 170 acre farm. I had a neighbor across the street. My other neighbors were 600 feet north and 1200 feet south. There were seven houses on a two-mile stretch of road. I don't think that was concentrated. There not many eyes on the street, and almost no pedestrians. But it was safe enough that I never locked my doors.

    Brandonmason offered some good advice. Rigid adherence to a theory will get you nowhere, and an approach based on doctrine is usually not going to work. Each situation deserves to be looked at independently and without any bias. One thing I learned long ago -- always assume that what the other person is saying is valid. Then look for evidence otherwise. You will often find yourself coming to a conclusion somewhere in-between, and that is usually a good fit for the area.
    But how does this apply or not apply to the development of rear parking lots?
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  18. #18
    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    But how does this apply or not apply to the development of rear parking lots?
    First off, what is the objective.... a pedestrian type retail area with dining areas and such? Is it on the water? (Then the front is the waterfront, no) Is this one block with a Wal-Mart on the next block and a Target on the other block with huge lots already out front? (If so, then the lots in the back idea may not be successful). Design is site specific. Design principles and guidelines are just that, general guides. This only a sample of what should be explored. What is the cliental? What are the hours of operation, are there residents nearby? One size never fits all (Sorry Frank Z.)
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  19. #19
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    You guys are doomed, you realize that, right?

    On a more serious note. In Lawrence, KS, which still has a thriving main street (Mass. Street), they have parking lots at the rear of the businesses. The blocks are relatively shallow, so the parking lot goes through to the next street and is not huge. That means that passing cars and occupants of buildings in adjacent streets have eyes on the lots. Of course Mass. Street also has diagonal parking out front.

    In any case, crime reduction by passive measures is a bit of a canard. Crime abatement is best achieved through vigorous policing.
    Many small towns in upstate NY have parking lots in the rear in their older downtown areas. This goes back decades before I was kid (which was several decades ago, too), probably back to the days when the buildings fronted the main streets required deliveries of large, bulky items and double parking wasn't allowed (possibly because of the need to tie horse teams up while unloading?).

    In my hometown, even the supermarket has parking in the rear! The larger stores have back entrances, and for the smaller shops, there's a pedestrian way between the parking lot and the street. Even now, most new builds in and around the downtown area tend to having parking on the side or in the back rather than all in front.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian JNL's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Flying Monkeys View post
    This has been a debate for a while.... I belive that with the right tweaks, such as lighting, that parking in the back can be a much better design approach.
    I've just completed some CPTED work on the main street of a small town that is automobile oriented with parking out front and some parking at the rear. They're not going to get rid of the parking out front but they're looking at changing it to diagonal and making a few other changes to make it more pedestrian and cycle friendly. We recommended they consolidate the rear parking which is currently unsafe (poorly lit and unsupervised) into one or two larger rear parking lots that are well lit, better supervised and easier to control (fewer access points). They don't have major problems with vehicle crime or personal crime but if crime increases in the future it will be easier to make effective use of a CCTV installation if there are only one or two entries and exits.

    Sorry no stats, just more anecdotes!

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    Rear Parking Lots

    How would a rear parking lot be more or less dangerous than a front parking lot? Or a parking garage? I often read stories about carjackings or other crimes occurring in traditional front parking lots. Just the other week there was a story about this "kid" snatching a purse right in the parking lot of a local Target in the middle of the day (they caught him because he's a moron leaving a shoe behind, was clearly seen on security cameras and someone got his license plate number).

    If all the parking is in the back doesn't it stand to reason that there will be plenty of people coming and going from the parking lot? If you put all the people there all the people will be there. I think the thinking is along Yogi Berra's statement about no one going there anymore because it's too crowded.

    I think the key is to use the safety standards for crime prevention suggested in a previous post and use some common sense (which is really sort of a redundant statement, I know).

    I figure crime exists where the opportunity exists - reduce the opportunity and reduce the crime - front, back or side.

    We forced several new commercial and residential developments in the downtown area to located right up or very close to the front property lines placing parking in the rear. They look great, fit in with the existing fabric of the area and feel safe. The parking lot is landscaped but open, well lighted and I think will work out well. They are still very new so time will tell.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally posted by Tobinn View post
    How would a rear parking lot be more or less dangerous than a front parking lot?
    That's an easy question: As a general rule, more eyes=more security. Rear lots have fewer eyes because passing motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists can't don't pass by it. In addition, neighboring storefronts usually won't have a view of the parking lot either. Additionally, the enclosed area and restricted viewing angles that makes up many rear parking has a psychological effect. It makes criminals feel safer, thinking they have cover. It also makes customers feel less safe.

    Yes, there are still people coming and going from the store to their cars. And crime can of course happen in front parking lots as well. It's a matter of degree. Rear parking lots can be perfectly safe.

    I honestly think that security needs to be a consideration in the design of parking, but shouldn't be a trump card. The security/safety really depends upon the implementation. Careful planning and a little investment in lighting, surveillance, and security personnel can counteract any security concerns.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    To echo several previous posts, you really have to look at these things on a case by case basis, because the details of each site and its surrounding community will have impacts that general theory can't specifically predict every time. I wouldn't recommend anything definite without seeing the site itself (and surrounding community) in person, or some very thorough site maps and photographs (again including surroundings). Still, there's one other option I've seen that nobody's brought up yet: joint parking. Every poster so far seems to be assuming that every individual store or strip will have it's own seperate lot. Yet here in Maryland, in the denser parts of Baltimore, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace there's no room for every business to have its own lot, so there are city lots. Why not have a smaller number of mid-sized lots every so often, with frontage on the main street, if possible extending all the way back to the street behind it on the back side of that block. It would have clear sight lines to the streets and sidewalks on at least two sides, and if it takes up all of one (short) square block, than you can have businesses (and maybe homes or apartments, too) facing it from across the two cross streets bordering that block. It is possible to bring business fronts up to the sidewalk and still have off-street parking that's clearly visible from the street. There are other examples of this in Towson, Md and Lancaster, PA that I can visualize off the top of my head (Prince Street in Lancaster, I think; whichever of Lancaster's twin one-way main streets is the southbound one, in any case.)

  24. #24
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    While I don’t know the specifics of the situation, I would just simply ask your friend if they have ever stopped the car on the street to assist someone who is getting mugged in a parking lot in front of a building? The drive by traffic does not make something safe, pedestrian interaction at a pedestrian level does. If it is normal size store, (like a Walgreens or something) then there should be enough customer traffic to accommodate a safe environment.

    The building that I live in (in an older urban area) and the parking lot is behind the building and feel that it is better because the increase pedestrian traffic around the entire building limits the possibility for illegal activities.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  25. #25
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    Enough Opinion

    English Partnerships offers a good guide to parking solutions, Car Parking: what works where, with case studies showing the pros and cons of different parting forms.

    This thread is heavy on the opinion... the original question was for sources of information, not opinion.

    I don't have the document handy, but parking that is visible from windows in houses typically does provide a greater level of security and where people are interacting with the street frontage on a daily basis, (ie going in and out their front door rather than the rear), the street will generally be safer.

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