News & Events

August 2022

Car Parking: What is the response to transport carbon targets if EVs alone are not the answer?

Whilst much has been made of the role of electric and alternative fuels in facilitating a reduction in surface transport greenhouse gas emissions, the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget pathway to Net Zero identifies a reduction in car travel as a key driver – this informs the key strategic priority of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan in accelerating modal shift to public and active transport.

As set out in Mike Axon’s recent insight Mobility and Net Zero, maximising local living and accessibility by sustainable modes is essential if we are to meaningfully minimise our effect on the planet. But what about car parking? We know that a switch to EVs alone is not the answer – so how can car parking policies and strategies be implemented, both in anticipation of behavioural and technological changes, and as mechanisms to reduce parking and encourage further mode shift?

The challenge

Whilst the national direction is welcomed and essential, there is considerable discord as it filters down to local planning and highway authorities. Local car parking standards are typically based on historical car ownership levels with a lack of foresight on future trends and behaviours. Through the rigid implementation of such standards, developments have typically come forward providing a high level of on-plot car parking which encourages private car ownership – often the view of decision makers is that any less would result in issues of overspill or inconsiderate footway parking, posing a risk to vulnerable road users.

However, to address climate impacts, policymakers, decision-makers and designers must be bold and devise innovative, forward-thinking solutions to accommodate changes in the way we use (or abandon) our private vehicles.

The solution

Demand for car parking is location specific and can be determined by a number of factors including the type of development and accessibility to services, amenities and public transport. In that regard, the repurposing of car parking to limit the supply in highly accessible city and town centre locations is nothing new. However, innovative practices to car parking can be the most impactful within strategic residential developments, delivering housing growth whilst managing greenhouse emissions; these provide significant opportunity to facilitate local living, and delivery services can recognise and respond to developments within travel behaviour and to technological advances.

The approach to car parking policy and strategies therefore needs to be two-fold:

Managing demand:

  • In accordance with a ‘Vision and Validate’ approach, to set the vision of the development and align parking provision with a sustainable mobility strategy.
  • Incorporate measures which facilitate reduced car ownership, including shared mobility, car clubs and peer-to-peer car sharing. The 2021 car club study by CoMoUK found that each car club vehicle replaced 20 private cars in the UK.

Designing in flexibility to allow for future changes:

  • Providing a high level of off-plot parking either on-street, within parking barns or parking courts which can be re-purposed for additional amenity space, landscaping or active travel infrastructure as demand reduces over time. Car barns, given their typically remote location, also remove the convenience of car use and can therefore disincentivise car use for particular journeys.
  • On-street bays could be converted to pick-up/drop-off spaces in the future with the anticipated prevalence of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs), whilst parking barns allow for future self-parking CAVs away from homes.
  • It goes without saying that the parking strategy needs to be aligned with the mobility strategy, in ensuring desirable alternatives are available to residents with high quality walking and cycle routes to local facilities and high-quality public transport. This is also true for the route between remote parking areas and people’s homes – with careful design to enhance the security and attractiveness of the connecting journey.

Parking policies and strategies should also consider the mechanisms to reduce car parking. Off-plot parking provides opportunities for spaces to be leased instead of privately owned, allowing residents to make a conscious decision on their car ownership levels when considering the available alternatives. It also allows a parking authority, management company or stewardship body to adapt spaces for other purposes in response to future changes.

Highway authorities also have a role to play deciding on the appropriate level of parking provision and mechanisms to monitor and manage over time. For example, acknowledging current levels of demand during initial development phases, but allowing future phases to reduce parking ratios though observed parking uptake and trends. Car parking provision can respond accordingly to both the increase in local living opportunities as supporting land uses are built out, and future behavioural and technological changes. In that regard, robust Travel Plans and car parking strategies with ongoing commitments following initial planning stages are essential mechanisms in reducing car parking demand and surface transport emissions in response to the climate crisis.