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What do we do with underutilized parking spaces?

Parking lots and garages are everywhere. One study says we’ve built eight parking spots for every car in the country. This sounds like a good thing for the daily commuter, but what will become of these real estate assets as private car ownership declines or covid-impacted occupancy rates remains with us?

empty parking spaces

In “Rethinking a Lot,” a professor of urban planning at M.I.T., points out that “in some U.S. cities, parking lots cover more than a third of the land area, becoming the single most salient landscape feature of our built environment.” Another study by Eric Scharnhorst shows there to be as many as 2 billion parking spaces in the United States.

America devotes much of its precious real estate to parking which is especially troubling given that driving is supposedly in decline. Less drivers means more empty parking spaces, even in major cities. In Seattle, for example, parking covers 40% of the land area and half of these parking spaces sit empty. Seattle is not the exception, but rather indicative of a parking vacancy trend that is expected to accelerate. In their May 2017 report, RethinkX predicts that by 2030 private car ownership will drop by 80% in the U.S. and that 95% of all U.S. passenger miles will be served by transport-as-a-service (TaaS) providers. Should these predictions prove to be even close, one major impact will be that massive acreage of land or large percentages of structures will sit empty. What will become of these stranded assets? Enter, e-commerce.

E-commerce penetration in the U.S is expected to reach 25% by 2026. This growth is expected to continue with little consideration given to the traffic problems it will have on those urban areas not equipped with the necessary supply chains and logistics infrastructure. As troubling as this may first appear, the reality is that these urban areas may, in fact, already be equipped. It’s just masking itself in the form of a standard parking garage.

Because of their prime locations and availability, parking garages may just be a perfect solution for storage and fulfillment of e-commerce orders. Several within the industry are already exploring these alternative uses. It’ll be fun to see where their explorations lead.

Our team is currently working on real-world solutions on this topic and we have much more to share regarding our ideas and projects in future posts!

Matthew Wiatrek

Vice President


  • ReThinking a Lot by Eran Ben-Joseph

  • “Quantified Parking: Comprehensive Parking Inventories for Five U.S. Cities” by Eric Scharnhorst

  • The Disruption of Transportation and the Collapse of the Internal-Combustion Vehicle and Oil Industries by James Arbib & Tony Seba, RethinkX

  • Image: Houston Chronicle

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