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Home > Feature Articles > Landscaping > Landscape Design for Sustainable Urban Environments

Green Parking -- Stationary Solutions for Transportation

Green parking techniques can dramatically reduce impervious cover and reduce stormwater runoff.

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Landscaping the Parking Lot

Green parking refers to several techniques that applied together reduce the contribution of parking lots to total impervious cover. From a stormwater perspective, green parking techniques applied in the right combination can dramatically reduce impervious cover and, consequently, reduce the amount of stormwater runoff. Green parking lot techniques include: setting maximums for the number of parking lots created; minimizing the dimensions of parking lot spaces; utilizing alternative pavers in overflow parking areas; using bioretention areas to treat stormwater; encouraging shared parking; and providing economic incentives for structured parking.

Effectiveness of Green Parking Lots

Applied together, green parking techniques can effectively reduce the amount of impervious cover. They can help to protect local streams, reduce stormwater management costs, and enhance a site's ascetics. Proper design of bioretention areas can help meet stormwater management and landscaping requirements while keeping maintenance costs at a minimum.

Green parking lots can dramatically reduce the creation of new pervious cover. How much is reduced depends on the combination of techniques used to achieve the greenest parking lot.

Bioretention of Runoff with Parking Lot Design

While the pollutant removal rates of bioretention areas have not been directly measured, their capability is considered comparable to a dry swale, which removes 91 percent of total suspended solids, 67 percent of total phosphorous, 92 percent of total nitrogen, and 80-90 percent of metals (Claytor and Schueler, 1996).

Applicability of Green Parking

All of the green parking techniques can be applied in new developments, and some can be applied in redevelopment projects, depending on the extent and parameters of the project. In urban areas, some techniques, like encouraging shared parking and providing economic incentives for structured parking, can be practical and necessary. Commercial areas can have excessively high parking ratios. By applying green parking techniques in various combinations, a site's impervious cover can be dramatically reduced.

Implementation of Green Parking Alternatives

Parking lot designs frequently result in far more spaces than are required. This problem is exacerbated by a common practice of setting parking ratios to accommodate the highest hourly parking during the peak season. By determining average parking demand instead, a lower maximum number of parking spaces can accommodate most of the demand.

Minimizing the dimensions of parking spaces is another green parking lot technique. Besides reducing the length and width, parking stall dimensions can be reduced by providing compact- vehicle spaces. While large sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are often cited as barriers to stall minimization techniques, most local parking codes require stall widths wider than the widest SUVs (CWP, 1998).

Another effective green parking technique is the use of alternative pavers. Alternative pavers include gravel, cobbles, wood mulch, brick, grass pavers, turf blocks, natural stone, pervious concrete, and porous asphalt. In new developments and redevelopment projects, they can replace conventional asphalt and concrete. The effectiveness of alternative pavers in meeting stormwater quality goals can range from medium to relatively high. Alternative pavers require proper installation, and they generally need more maintenance that conventional asphalt or concrete. For more specific information on alternate pavers, refer to the Alternative Pavers fact sheet.

Bioretention areas can effectively treat stormwater leaving a parking lot. Stormwater is directed into a shallow, landscaped area, where it is temporarily detained. The runoff then filters down through the bed of the facility, where it is either infiltrated into the subsurface or collected into an under-drain pipe for discharge into a stream or another stormwater facility. Attractively designed bio-retention facilities can be integrated into landscaped areas and maintained by commercial landscaping firms. For detailed design specifications of bioretention areas, refer to the Bioretention (Rain Gardens) fact sheet.

In mixed use areas, shared and structured parking are green parking techniques that can reduce the conversion of land to impervious cover. A shared parking arrangement involves two parties that share one parking lot. For example, an office that experiences peak demand during weekdays can share their parking lot with a church that experiences peak demand during weekends and evenings. Costs may dictate the use of structured parking, but building above or below-ground structured parking garages can help minimize surface parking.

Green Parking Reference Charts and EPA's in-depth planning information

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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