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Thread: Shopping centers with rear parking--does this really work?

  1. #1

    Shopping centers with rear parking--does this really work?

    New Urbanists, when faced with the reality of the auto-dependent world, advocate shopping centers on main commercial thoroughfares to place parking behind buildings, instead of in front of them.

    How effective is this? Are we not just creating inverted strip malls? If everybody still drives, then how does this really create an "urban" environment.

    I think one thing that would help is to not provide rear entrances to these stores. In other words, force drivers to walk around to the front of the building and enter through the sidewalk.

    Here's an example. Oak Park is a Chicago suburb with a very nice transit-oriented development near Chicago's blue line. A large shopping center with well-intended design is right off the stop, but there are some flaws.

    I thought I would do a little urban investigating and walked the main street near the rail stop. What I saw were TGI Friday's, Caribou coffee, blah blah blah with nice stores built right up to the street and parking in the back. But then I was apalled.

    Caribou Coffee and one or 2 others had street entrances. But the rest? Here's what I saw from the sidewalk: shopping windows that were completely covered with signs at the "entrance doors" that said "please use rear entrance" which, of course, is where the parking was.

    Developers and Planners have a greater obligation than just to make schematics and run away. I honestly think they share the responsibility of creating development that guides human behavior in a positive way. What should have happened instead is that the sidewalk entrance should be open, and the rear entrance completely closed (actually, developers should not have even provided a rear entrance for customers). Thus, drivers should be forced to walk to the front and use the sidewalk entrance.

    In its current layout, this development classically shows how Americans prioritize transportation. The transit-rider and the pedestrian are second-class citizens, while the drivers are given a red carpet. It's sad and pathetic, and I hope future planners learn from this mistake and design shopping centers better than this

  2. #2

    Well, we can't all be perfect....

    I would agree that Planners and Developers need to think through some of their processes when designing TOD (Transit Oriented Development). Obviously, something was lost in the translation with this particular project.

    Overall, yes, the majority of parking should go in the rear. But that doesn't mean you eliminate on-street parking. The ability to create a workable streetscape is what is going to make a pedestiran friendly retail area thrive. Shared parking for multiple businesses should be encouraged as well as screening parking from the street through the use of off-street rear parking.

    The ability to slow traffic down through a retail center with a workable streescape is a challenge in itself. I would encourage you to look at Petaluma, CA and Hercules, CA Specific plans and how they deal with those issues. I thought they were excellent examples.
    Forechecking is overrated.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    One opened up down the street earlier this year. It has 100% occupancy and does great business. I'll try to get out and snap some pics.

  4. #4
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Well, it's not as bad as you make it out to be. The following is an aerial of the site from 2002:


    The red box are the buildings TUP is referring to.
    The yellow box is the nearest transit (EL) stop, and the Metra (heavy commuter rail) stop. (btw, it's the Green Line here, the Blue line is about a mile south).


    So, TUP's evaulation is about 1/4 correct. It does have entrances from both the sidewalks and the interior parking lot, but most of the stores in the buildings do utilize both entrances (such as Pier One and GAP), and it is easily accessible from the neighboring transit stop. Whether the indvidual businesses utilize the ideal entrances are up to them. The planner's should not get that detailed in their review/requirements. Actually, the fire code probably requires two exits anyhow.

    I live in Oak Park and use this location alot (well I walk around it alot because the Whole Foods is across the street in a neighboring shopping center).

    My only major gripe with the development is the height. It is only one story and could use a couple more floors with office or residential, which downtown Oak Park could definitely accommodate.

    I'll have to get some street-level shots soon.

    Here's a link to a plan by the owners for redevelopment of this property and neighboring properties they own.
    Last edited by mendelman; 19 Oct 2005 at 2:22 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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

    Six seasons and a movie!

  5. #5
    ^ Only 1/4th correct? Come on!

    I'm not saying that Oak Park's TOD is necessarily bad. In fact, I think it's 1 billion times better than most of development in all of suburbia, and I would even consider living there. Please don't take offense

    But I still believe that it's 1 thing to create rear parking, but another thing to create rear entrances to stores. Rear entrances take life away from the street, and there is no reason why, if a proper walkway is provided, drivers can't come around and use the sidewalk entrance. It's smart design, it adds life to sidewalks, and it puts pedestrians first.

    When I was in Oak Park what I saw was nothing like those renderings you provided. There was hardly anybody on the sidewalk and millions of cars were parked both in the shopping center and the rear lots. Yet there were plenty of people in the stores. They all had driven, parked, and entered the store without even seeing the street. That's not what I call a streetscape--that to me is just a facade of urbanism. I applaud it for providing good access to the pedestrian, but is this enough? People who drive should use the street entrance--they should see those planters and trees, and should see the train whisk by in front of the shop entrances. Just visualizing this kind of environment, to me, encourages an urban mentality in people.

    Regarding 2 entrances--I think cities should discourage them. If they are required by fire code, then have 1 primary entrance at the street, and a smaller rear entrance for employees and as a fire exit. I would even argue that the city of Chicago should promote this in their zoning ordinance.

    Anyway, that's what I think. I'm not married to this thinking, and am open to opposing viewpoints--just want to create discussion.

  6. #6
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Yeah...I guess a 1/4 correct is harsh, sorry. I think it is really a product of the locality.

    Although Oak Park is an urban suburban (streetcar suburb built out by 1930), being a pedestrian is easy, but it is not so urban that one could be car free or expect the downtown to thrive without relative easy auto access. Given this environment, having car parking facility close by is an unfortunate necessity for the the developer (needs to lease the spaces) and the retailer (needs to sell product).

    The design of the buildings with their facades adjacent to the neighboring pedestrian streets is great, and the parking was moved to the rear. This necessitates access from the sidewalk and the parking lot. It is unfortunate that a couple retailers are ignoring the accesibility of the sidewalk entrances, but that is only a minor flaw.

    I agree that the design of this type of developments (shallow lot commercial) needs to be careful considerate, with the pedestrian as more important.

    I think codified rules regualting rear entrances is unnecessary. it would be very hard to create a code that is general enough with its specifics to be useful.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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

    Six seasons and a movie!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    It looks like you still have a lot of dead space between the station and the stores. That can kill off a lot of street life that would otherwise be drawn to the stores' front entrances. You exit the train station to the ass side of those buildings, with all the attendant service functions. Did they try to hide or dress up any of that?
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  8. #8
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater
    ...Did they try to hide or dress up any of that?
    Yeah, the design is essentially two-sided with like finish materials on both the rear and front. I think the dumpsters and such are off to one side of the development in a non-pedestrian accessible area.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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

    Six seasons and a movie!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The Urban Politician
    I think one thing that would help is to not provide rear entrances to these stores. In other words, force drivers to walk around to the front of the building and enter through the sidewalk.
    I think an effective way to deal with this is to provide passageways, either covered or open, that connect the rear parking lots to the sidewalk in front of the buildings. That way, people do not have to walk "all the way around" the buildings to reach the store entrances. I have attached two images of successful urban shopping strips with rear parking in the Boston area. The first is Coolidge Corner in Brookline (a streetcar village) and the second is in Wellesley (a rich commuter rail suburb).

    Click image for larger version

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    Click image for larger version

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  10. #10
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I donít think that it would be much different than Malls that have parking garages. In fact, that might be a better alternative because they could be under ground, or fully contained by the stores.
    Invest in the things today, that provide the returns tomorrow.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I grew up in an urban area where this was the norm. It wasn't until the late 70's early 80's when these things were ripped apart and turned into the normal strip malls. Most small towns in Michigan still operate this way, with the parking behind the stores.

    The gradual effect to watch out for is the closure of the front entrances of the buildings, making it more difficult for pedestrians or transit riders to enter the stores. In many cases you can mitigate this through planning shopping arcades and store placement.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    I donít think that it would be much different than Malls that have parking garages. In fact, that might be a better alternative because they could be under ground, or fully contained by the stores.
    This is an image of the Cambridgeside Galleria, a huge urban mall with all of the requisite mall stores and underground parking.

    Click image for larger version

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  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by The Urban Politician
    New Urbanists, when faced with the reality of the auto-dependent world, advocate shopping centers on main commercial thoroughfares to place parking behind buildings, instead of in front of them.

    How effective is this? Are we not just creating inverted strip malls? If everybody still drives, then how does this really create an "urban" environment.

    I think one thing that would help is to not provide rear entrances to these stores. In other words, force drivers to walk around to the front of the building and enter through the sidewalk.

    Here's an example. Oak Park is a Chicago suburb with a very nice transit-oriented development near Chicago's blue line. A large shopping center with well-intended design is right off the stop, but there are some flaws.

    I thought I would do a little urban investigating and walked the main street near the rail stop. What I saw were TGI Friday's, Caribou coffee, blah blah blah with nice stores built right up to the street and parking in the back. But then I was apalled.

    Caribou Coffee and one or 2 others had street entrances. But the rest? Here's what I saw from the sidewalk: shopping windows that were completely covered with signs at the "entrance doors" that said "please use rear entrance" which, of course, is where the parking was.

    Developers and Planners have a greater obligation than just to make schematics and run away. I honestly think they share the responsibility of creating development that guides human behavior in a positive way. What should have happened instead is that the sidewalk entrance should be open, and the rear entrance completely closed (actually, developers should not have even provided a rear entrance for customers). Thus, drivers should be forced to walk to the front and use the sidewalk entrance.

    In its current layout, this development classically shows how Americans prioritize transportation. The transit-rider and the pedestrian are second-class citizens, while the drivers are given a red carpet. It's sad and pathetic, and I hope future planners learn from this mistake and design shopping centers better than this
    I used to work for a shopping center developer and today work with large shopping center developers every day.

    The location of parking matters - big time. Developers don't care where the parking is situated on a site plan. In fact, developers want as much floor space and as little parking as possible on site because floor space generates revenue, most of the time parking doesn't. The reason parking location matters is because retail tenants are fixated on it - they want their entrance to be closest to where the customers arrive from - usually the parking lot. If the parking lot is in back, it makes sense to have the entrance there too. If parking is in front, the entrance should be in front. If people arrive by walking, the entrance is near the sidewalk.

    Shopping center layouts prioritze what they should prioritize - retail sales. The reason entrances are at the back is experience tells the retailer that's where the customer enters. And planners don't design shopping centers, architects and engineers hired by developers do - and their design reflects tenant demand, not sinister plots to favor one mode of transportation or another.

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally posted by jtmnkri
    Shopping center layouts prioritze what they should prioritize - retail sales. The reason entrances are at the back is experience tells the retailer that's where the customer enters. And planners don't design shopping centers, architects and engineers hired by developers do - and their design reflects tenant demand, not sinister plots to favor one mode of transportation or another.
    Ah, but it's so much more fun to BELIEVE in sinister plots. Just like the only reason we abandoned mass transit in the 1940s and 50s is because of a conspiracy by oil companies and general Motors.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Ah, but it's so much more fun to BELIEVE in sinister plots. Just like the only reason we abandoned mass transit in the 1940s and 50s is because of a conspiracy by oil companies and general Motors.
    ^By the way, you and Mendelman by far have the most hilarious avatars ever

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally posted by The Urban Politician
    ^By the way, you and Mendelman by far have the most hilarious avatars ever

    Bug-Eyed Earl is one of my favorites. http://www.redmeat.com/redmeat/

    Dan had ol' Earl as one of the original avatars available, and I don't have photoshop handy, so I've never changed him (unlike my always shifting left wing rant signatures)

  17. #17
    The only form of parking that really makes sense from an urban point of view is structured parking. What do people complain the loudest about not having? Open space! Why would we reserve sunlit open spaces for car storage? It makes absolutely no sense. Move the cars into the dark, damp basements that nobody wants to live in. This will have the added benefit of making the main street entrance the main entrance period. Drivers will exit their cars right under their destination and move up through stairs or elevators.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian cmd uw's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    The only form of parking that really makes sense from an urban point of view is structured parking. What do people complain the loudest about not having? Open space! Why would we reserve sunlit open spaces for car storage? It makes absolutely no sense. Move the cars into the dark, damp basements that nobody wants to live in. This will have the added benefit of making the main street entrance the main entrance period. Drivers will exit their cars right under their destination and move up through stairs or elevators.
    /\ but then you have to deal with safety.

    Furthermore, sometimes u/g parking is just not feasible.
    "First we shape our buildings, and then our buildings start shaping us." - Sir Winston Churchill

  19. #19
    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    The only form of parking that really makes sense from an urban point of view is structured parking. What do people complain the loudest about not having? Open space! Why would we reserve sunlit open spaces for car storage? It makes absolutely no sense. Move the cars into the dark, damp basements that nobody wants to live in. This will have the added benefit of making the main street entrance the main entrance period. Drivers will exit their cars right under their destination and move up through stairs or elevators.
    I couldn't agree more. The added benefit of garage parking is that if you place a parking garage on a main street, you can have retail on the ground level of the garage, thus adding even more to the pedestrian experience. Entrance to the garage can be accessed through an alley

  20. #20

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    Obviously, none of you have priced the per space cost of structured parking versus a surface lot. Unless you are talking about intense, expensive, high volume urban centers (which describes maybe 10% of the country's commercial districts), structured parking generally doesn't "work."

    You're also forgetting the attachement of people to driving and their cars.
    Move the cars into the dark, damp basements that nobody wants to live in.
    People drive those cars and walk to and from the cars. Not that a baking field of asphalt is that pleasant, either, but you can't assume that the cars exist by themselves.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Obviously, none of you have priced the per space cost of structured parking versus a surface lot.
    Fought that fight here. It was something like $1200 per surface lot space to $15,000 per structure space, depending on how many stories the garage is.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Obviously, none of you have priced the per space cost of structured parking versus a surface lot. Unless you are talking about intense, expensive, high volume urban centers (which describes maybe 10% of the country's commercial districts), structured parking generally doesn't "work."
    You have to price the rent on the surface lot as well. In a dense city rents are enormous. All ground space must be economized to its fullest. The first question to ask is 'what is the optimal use for open space'? Parking is last on the list after buildings, streets and squares.

    Big surface parking lots increase distance, and distance has severe costs. You have to drive longer and farther on average to get to any random destination. Your mass transit system can't make a profit. You can't walk to any local shops, meaning you have to drive to them, meaning you increase the need for parking.

  23. #23

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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    You have to price the rent on the surface lot as well. In a dense city rents are enormous. All ground space must be economized to its fullest. The first question to ask is 'what is the optimal use for open space'? Parking is last on the list after buildings, streets and squares.

    Big surface parking lots increase distance, and distance has severe costs. You have to drive longer and farther on average to get to any random destination. Your mass transit system can't make a profit. You can't walk to any local shops, meaning you have to drive to them, meaning you increase the need for parking.
    Keep in mind I believe we are talking about the standard American commercial corridor or faded smaller city downtown. Your factors don;t make much difference to developers in these markets. Commercial developers don't care at all about "open space." As for the increased distances, true, of course, but who cares? All of their customers are arriving by car, and the extra distance is a non-issue for the automobile-bound. Most downtowns are so desperate for ANY commercial development that nonody is willing to impose the requirement for structured parking, especially when therer is plenty of open space in the fringes (or even the core) of the downtown area.

    The only time you see this change is when there is absolutely no space for the surface parking to expand. Our local mall is reaching that absolute capacity point-if they want to expand, they need new parking-and they are completely landlocked practically speaking.

  24. #24
    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon
    Fought that fight here. It was something like $1200 per surface lot space to $15,000 per structure space, depending on how many stories the garage is.
    You're underestimating the cost of the surface lot because you aren't taking into account the potential rent to be earned from a building on the lot. That is part of the cost as well. If your $15,000 per structure space leaves you enough land to build apartments or office space that pay rent, the true cost isn't 13,800$ per space.
    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Keep in mind I believe we are talking about the standard American commercial corridor or faded smaller city downtown. Your factors don;t make much difference to developers in these markets. Commercial developers don't care at all about "open space." As for the increased distances, true, of course, but who cares? All of their customers are arriving by car, and the extra distance is a non-issue for the automobile-bound. Most downtowns are so desperate for ANY commercial development that nonody is willing to impose the requirement for structured parking, especially when therer is plenty of open space in the fringes (or even the core) of the downtown area.
    Well yes, that's why I was talking about urban areas. If you're not even trying to be an urban area, it doesn't matter. Nobody walks, nobody takes the train anyway. The rent on the land is immaterial.

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    You're underestimating the cost of the surface lot because you aren't taking into account the potential rent to be earned from a building on the lot. That is part of the cost as well. If your $15,000 per structure space leaves you enough land to build apartments or office space that pay rent, the true cost isn't 13,800$ per space.
    Many downtowns outside the major centers don't have all that much demand for development. A surface parking lot can be a very, very profitable use of land, as the capital investment and operating costs are minimal. Hence, the vast fields of parking surrounding most downtown cores.

    Well yes, that's why I was talking about urban areas. If you're not even trying to be an urban area, it doesn't matter. Nobody walks, nobody takes the train anyway. The rent on the land is immaterial.

    We're kinda talking past each other, then. The original question was focused on strip malls/suburban environments where these factors don't come into play that much. In the major downtown areas, of course there is less incentive to retain surface parking. Plus, when parking garages exceed $30/day in fees, the higher costs make more sense. When you can park for $3.00 on the edge of downtown, there is no reason to build a garage (especially since $3/day is still very profitable for a surface lot)

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