Counting parking spots from above

We came across a really interesting study by two students at the University of Connecticut, who have analysed aerial photographs of a number of cities, figuring out the location of at-grade car parks and counting all the spaces.

It’s interesting for two reasons. Firstly, they found that in some of the cities they analysed (New Haven and Hartford) the number of parking spaces had dramatically increased since the earliest photographs available (dating as far back as the 1950s). In New Haven they counted 21,690 spaces in 1951; by 2009, the number had increased to 106,410. Hartford, meanwhile, went from about 47,000 spots in the mid-1950s to about 141,000 today. All the while, both cities lost considerable population, resulting in the number of parking spaces per driver doubling!

According to Chris McCahill, one of the authors of the study, both New Haven and Hartford are cities surrounded by suburbs, subscribing to ‘conventional’ wisdom that in order for business in the city to compete with business in the suburbs, they need to provide ample (and free) parking.

In contrast Cambridge, another city which formed part of the study, has grown in population, and today has fewer parking spots than in the 1950s, thanks in part to parking maximum regulations and aggressive planning for alternative transportation.

Whilst the authors are quick to point out that there is not necessarily a causal relationship here, Cambridge has proven that the planning theory that more population requires more parking is not necessarily always right.

Oh, and the second reason? As parking consultants, part of our work can often include an ‘audit’ of available car parking supply. We’re now going to consult satellite images first before we hit the roads! Unfortunately we have a great number of underground and multi-level car parks where this, as yet, may not be possible!

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