Fort Collins has a parking problem.

Parking minimums required by the City mean that we’re paving over substantial amounts of land in order to provide space for vehicles when they’re not in use. But most parking lots in the city of Fort Collins tend to be only half full… or less. We have some lots that were built during the mid-to-late 1900s, when parking maximums were at their… maximum… that don’t even get full on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. But even developments from within the past decade have more parking than is needed.

In my last article, Fort Collins’ Parking Problem, I included an aerial view of the fairly new Front Range Village shopping center that’s located near the intersection of Harmony and Ziegler Roads. The sprawl of parking and the vast stretches of unused spaces was pretty stunning. It appears that the most popular places to park are near the library and the shops at the very center of the development. But the big box stores along the fringe of the project have fairly insignificant numbers of cars, especially when compared to the broad rows of parking stationed in front of their doors.

But, whether in use or not, I wanted to have a better sense of how much land is getting taken up by building and how much by parking (and the lanes required to access that parking). If we forget about environmental impacts, heat impacts, stormwater impacts, pedestrian impacts, and congestion impacts for a minute and focus only on land use, what kinds of priorities are we employing to determine how our limited developable land is being used?

I had hoped to color code the entire aerial photo of the Front Range Village shopping center, but that got tedious pretty quickly. So I only focused on Lowe’s (the large blue block to the upper left), the Sherwin-Williams paint store (just to the right of Lowe’s), Staples, Sprouts, World Market, Ulta Beauty, and Sports Authority (all along the left hand side). I color coded the area as follows:

  • Buildings are colored blue.
  • Streets used for loading and unloading are in purple
  • Parking is in red.
  • Parking access is in orange.
  • Pedestrian routes are in yellow.
  • Streets are in aqua.

If you compare the amount of blue (the shops themselves) with the red and orange together (you can’t have parking without a means of accessing it) you’ll note that the land taken up for parking is more than that taken up by the buildings that they serve!

In looking at the photo before the color coding, I could tell that the parking took up a lot of space. But it hadn’t hit me that we actually pave over more land to house the cars (that are likely only going to be in each spot for an hour or less) than we do to house the businesses! We value parking spaces more than we value additional amenities.

Do we really need this much parking in front of these stores? Are there spaces that are seldom, if ever, used? And if so, why did we require the developer to build them in the first place? Is this really how we want Fort Collins to look — with fields of empty asphalt surrounding a few cars near the shop entrances?

It’s time to rethink our building codes in Fort Collins. As much as I’d love to see transit oriented development in parts of town outside of the Mason Corridor, when I see vast stretches of unused space that we’ve paved over because our zoning code, it seems like the first step we need to take is just to shrink those parking space numbers down closer to what we actually use on a day to day basis.