Black Friday Parking in Cedar Rapids, IA


As part of Strong Towns's Black Friday Parking event, I roused myself out of my warm house this morning after Thanksgiving--traditionally the start of the holiday shopping season, and possibly the biggest shopping day of the year--to go study parking lots. [Memo to non-Iowans: It had to be morning, just to be fair. Afternoon would have been like shooting fish in a barrel, because the Iowa Hawkeyes were playing Nebraska, and when the Hawkeyes are on, all commerce in our town pretty much ceases.]

Strong Towns, of which I am proud to be a charter member, has a particular animus towards local ordinances that require a certain minimum number of parking spaces for stores and offices. Minimum parking requirements "create a barrier for new local businesses and fill up our cities with empty parking spaces that don’t add value to our places." They encourage members to cruise their towns, cameras at the ready, to show that even on the busiest shopping day of the year, we're wasting acres and acres of urban space on off-street surface parking.

If Strong Towns was a very large organization, and every member participated, I could see where all of us would descend on mall parking lots across America, filling them with our cars and ruining each others' pictures, thus defeating our purpose. Well, we can't take that chance, can we? So I took a city bus to one of our main shopping areas, the north side of Collins Road NE.

Coming through the Lindale Mall parking lot a little after 9. Shopping was definitely on, but the lot was about 50 percent full.

Once across Collins, I debarked near the new Hobby Lobby...

which anchors a strip mall, and was doing a brisk business, but the lot was about 30 percent full.

I walked from there up the service road to Blairs Ferry Road NE, every bit as stroad-y as Collins though with somewhat less traffic (20000+ daily traffic load as opposed to 30000+). A strip mall anchored by a Dollar General was at about 25 percent of parking capacity.

A nearby discount store had a fair number of cars parked, but in an enormous parking lot. Call it 20 percent full.

It was nearly 10 when I'd made it as far as the Super Target at Blairs Ferry and Rockwell. They were certainly busy, with an unusual number of vehicles turned out.

Even so there were plenty of spaces yet available.

Point made and (I hope) taken, I forded my way through this decidedly non-walkable area to Roasters Coffee House on Center Point Road in Hiawatha, where a chocolate-peanut butter scone and a delicious cup of coffee were the just rewards for my photographic-hiking efforts. What a delightful place!  One of the finest of Cedar Rapids's bevy of locally-owned coffee shops is on yet another soulless stroad. It felt and acted like a third place. I thought it should be downtown somewhere, but it seems to be doing quite all right despite my opinion of its environs.

On the way back, Lindale Mall was practically bursting by 11:00, with parking lot at least 90 percent full.

Nearby Town and Country Mall, however, a classic remnant of first-wave sprawl now bypassed and dowdy, was maybe 25 percent full.

As we approach the summing up, it's time for me to confess I don't know whether these parking lots have resulted from government mandates or the individual decisions of developers. (If the latter, we might well consider parking maxima in future developments.) Either way, parking capacity that meets or exceeds the biggest crowd you're ever going to see all year wastes space, which means:

  • places are less financially-productive;
  • walking is difficult (if you're a nut like me) to impossible (if you're a normal person); and, most critically...
  • places are dead boring.

What would I do about Collins and Blairs Ferry Roads, if I were Lord of the City? Almost nothing. They are what they are, which is what they were created to be. Establishing urbanism at the Blairs Ferry Super Target would be energy- and cost-intensive. (See Scott Doyon, "Walkability: Good Money after Bad" from the Place Makers blog.) Better to work elsewhere in the city, where if successful, genuine urbanism could prosper, and draw off some of the traffic congestion to boot.

Collins and Blairs Ferry Roads, not to mention the pavement ghetto around Westdale Mall on the southwest side, should remain as object lessons. If you screw up urbanism, you get this. 


"Black Thursday: Does It Matter?" 28 November 2014
"The Parking Dilemma," 31 July 2013

SEE ALSO: "Is 'Surge Pricing' Coming To Parking In D.C.?," The Kojo Nnamdi Show, WAMU 88.5, 25 November 2015, [interview with panel including Donald Shoup of UCLA... the AAA guy on the panel is so awful I'm ashamed to be a member]

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