February 3rd, 2016

With the advent of cars decades ago as the dominant means of transportation, city planners and developers reshaped our public and private spaces to accommodate the storage of these personal vehicles.

By making it easy to find free or subsidized low cost parking, many cities simply encouraged more people to own and drive cars which simply resulted in more congestion and environmental problems.

Since cars take up so much space, people have always tried to find ways to store them vertically to reduce their ground-level footprint. This series of photos, “Vertical Parking“, shows how cities have attempted to accommodate the car through the decades.

The photo below is in New York City in ~1920.

An elevator parking lot, where the cars are hoisted up on individual platforms to save space, early 1920s. (Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


This one below is in Chicago in ~1941.

A vertical parking lot structure in Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, c. 1941. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)


If we spent as much effort and resources trying to house people, instead of cars, think about how different cities would be?

In contrast, a few cities like Amsterdam face an entirely different dilemma – how to accommodate the shortage of bike parking spots?

BikeParking-CentraalStation_0Photo credit: Poom!/flickr

In the article, “Amsterdam mulls underwater bike garage as available parking for cyclists dwindles,” Amsterdam is even exploring ways to go vertical but in a different direction than up.

Most cities have more available parking than people think. For example, it’s estimated in San Francisco alone, where people complain about lack of car parking all the time, that San Francisco has enough street parking space to fill the entire California coastline.

The problem is multi-faceted, but there many steps cities can do to improve parking and create better spaces for people. However, we think the biggest bang for taxpayer buck is for cities to be less obsessed about accommodating the car, but more focused on making other transportation options more accessible and safer to a wider number of people.

Not everyone is going to bike, walk, or take transit. But by making those transportation choices safer and easier for more people, it means less people driving and looking for parking. And hopefully, as more cities are successful in shifting people’s choices on how they get around, it will create a new set of good problems – like how to accommodate more bikes, more pedestrians, and more public transit riders.

The urbanist writer Lewis Mumford once wrote, “The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is the right to destroy the city.” Instead of focusing on creating more space for cars, which has destroyed the character of many neighborhoods and cities, let’s focus on building beautiful, enlightened cities for people.

4 Responses to “Vertical Parking Through The Years”

  1. Jim Gauer

    One more thing to love about PUBLIC in addition to great bikes: an enlightened and historically grounded understanding of urbanism.

    • Lew Roach

      The article, “Vertical Parking Through the Years”, should be read by everyone who is genuinely concerned about the health and future of our country and the planet.
      Thank you.
      Lewis Roach