Green Parking Lots: Part II – How Alternate Paving Helps

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This, the second article in our three part series on green parking lots continues the discussion by looking at some of the green parking lot design techniques and materials and how they help make parking surfaces more environmentally friendly and improve the urban space most of us live in.

In case you missed the first article in our series it can be found at: Green Parking Lots: Part I – The Many Problems with Paving.

Before continuing with a discussion of the various design techniques and materials for building green parking lots it bears mentioning that the whole idea of parking lots itself and of the car culture that they are artifacts of is being called into question by many advocates of a new sustainable urbanity. Our current car centric urbanity is clearly unsustainable and ill suited for a future of increasingly expensive energy. The vast flat top parking lots and strip mall road facing lots that are in some way emblematic of the car cultures impact on the urban space may begin to shrink and even in many cases vanish as cities re-orient themselves away from the car and serving the car’s needs. Many, myself included argue that this will be inevitable driven by the inexorable decline in recoverable petroleum resources and with it the end of the age of easy energy.

However even without accepting this argument that the decline of our car centric culture is inevitable and imminent one can argue that in all too many instances parking areas are way over built and are built with each single space being too large. Reducing both the number of parking spaces and the average size of each single space is perhaps the single most important thing that can be done to make parking lots as green as they can be. These are techniques that apply to both multilevel parking facilities as well as open air parking facilities.

Another practice that can reduce the need for parking is to explore the possibility for shared parking arrangements could include usage of the same parking lot by different facilities that need it at different times. For example consider pairing an office space that experiences peak parking demand during the weekday with a church that experiences parking demands during the weekends and evenings.

Maybe Parking is a Case of Less Is More

In malls across the country parking areas are designed to have the capacity to accommodate maximum predicted traffic – such as occurs in the weeks leading up to the Christmas Holiday rush. In fact, look at just about any big mall anywhere, at any other time than the busiest days of the shopping year and you will see large sections of nearly empty lot, dotted with a lonely car or two. Is this over building really necessary and are there better ways to provide for overflow capacity than needlessly paving over vast areas of land with empty asphalt. A similar dynamic is at work at arena and event areas. Most of the time, the associated lots are mostly empty. For example a stadium or arena will often be somewhat empty during off season events or poorly attended regular season games; while on some occasions it will become packed to overflowing capacity.

For these types of situations if overflow parking is deemed necessary, for commercial or other reasons then at least it should be looked at differently and designed very differently from the much smaller core parking areas.

When it Comes to Parking Maybe Smaller Really Is Better

Another green parking lot technique is to minimize the dimensions of the parking spaces themselves in this manner squeezing more parking stalls into a given area. This can be accomplished by reducing both the length and width of the parking stall. Parking lot dimensions can be further reduced if a greater number of smaller compact spaces are provided. Not every vehicle is an SUV or oversized pickup truck and as the cost of gas continues its long term rise and concerns about greenhouse gas emissions grow more and more of the vehicles in the total mix of vehicles will be smaller compact cars.

It should be noted that parking stall size as well as the number of stalls required per unit of occupancy or square footage is often regulated by city codes and these codes themselves are need to evolve to better reflect the emerging green urban design that is our cities best hope at preserving their vitality and avoiding decay.

Preventing Stormwater Runoff Can Save Money

One of the principle ways open air parking lots can be made greener is by using permeable pavers instead of the impermeable surfaces, such as asphalt or concrete that is the current common practice. Consider replacing conventional asphalt or concrete in both new developments and redevelopment projects with alternate pavers. Using permeable paving surfaces helps to reduce storm water runoff by allowing rain to permeate the paving surface and to slowly become absorbed by the ground underneath where it is slowly filtered and released cleansed into the aquifers and water systems.

Preventing storm runoff is not only good for the environment, but can be good for the bottom line as well. An example is cited in the Land Development Today magazine, April, 2006 issue, for a 12 acre development project in Maryland with a 7 acre parking lot which initially was required to provide a 1.5 acre stormwater retention basin. Through the use of pervious concrete to absorb rainfall and manage stormwater, the need for the stormwater retention basin was completely eliminated saving the developer $400,000 relating to the cost of land and construction of the retention basin.

Cool Paving Fights the Urban Heat Island

Grass paving blocks, but also to some extent other permeable paving surfaces have the additional benefit of helping to mitigate the urban heat island effect. In summer asphalt especially can become as much as 50 to 90°F (27 to 50°C) hotter than the air. Choosing a cool paving material that is light colored and is permeable allowing for some air movement and evaporation through it can help fight this urban ill. Grass pavers are especially good for this because they further cool the ambient air through the process of evapotranspiration, in which the grass in this case releases water to the surrounding air that has been drawn up through its root system, dis¬sipating ambient heat. Even if grass pavers cannot be used for an entire lot using them in seldom used overflow parking areas can significantly reduce the parking lots overall contribution to the urban heat island.

Remember that demand for air conditioning increases by approximately 1.5-2% for each 1 degree (F) increase in summertime temperatures.

Alternate Pavers To the Rescue

Alternative pavers are permeable surfaces that can replace asphalt and concrete and can be used for driveways, parking lots, alleys and walkways. Alternate pavers can be broken down into three broad categories, which are: paving blocks, other surfaces and engineered porous pavement.

Grass or permeable pavers are interlocking concrete blocks or synthetic fibrous grids (usually a rigid plastic) with small open areas that allow grass to grow within the voids; sometimes these voids are filled with gravel instead. They provide a rigid surface able to support a vehicle weight while gravel or grass planted inside the holes allows for infiltration. Depending on the projected use and on soil types, a gravel or crushed rock layer can also be added underneath to prevent settling and allow for further infiltration.

Some examples of other non-block paving surfaces are: gravel, cobbles, paving stones, wood mulch, brick and natural stone. Brick and natural stone arranged in a loose configuration allow for some infiltration through the gaps and along with gravel and cobbles can be used as a driveway, alley way, or parking stall material. Wood and mulch can be used to provide walking trails.

The EPA defines Porous pavement as a permeable pavement surface – usually understood to be made of porous asphalt or pervious concrete. Most often porous pavement is engineered to have an underlying stone reservoir that can temporarily store surface runoff before it gradually infiltrates into the subsoil, thus allowing stormwater to infiltrate directly into the soil below and receive water quality treatment.

While porous asphalt and pervious concrete appear to be the same as traditional pavement, unlike traditional pavement, it contains little or no “fine” materials. Instead, it contains many micro voids that encourage infiltration. Porous asphalt pavement consists of an open-graded coarse aggregate, bonded together by asphalt cement, with sufficient interconnected voids to make it highly permeable to water. Pervious concrete typically consists of specially formulated mixtures of Portland cement, uniform, open-graded coarse aggregate, and water. Pervious concrete has enough void space to allow rapid percolation of liquids through the pavement.
Alternative pavers are not recommended for high-traffic volumes. Access for wheelchairs is limited with alternative pavers. In addition, snow removal is difficult since plows cannot be used, sand can cause the system to clog, and salt can be a potential pollutant. However even in regions that need regular plowing during the winter overflow areas on the far edges of parking lots can be constructed using alternate pavers and simply not be plowed. Snow piles can also be collected in these areas avoiding the need to remove it.

Next; How Landscaping Can Help

In the next and last post in this three part series we will examine the various landscaping techniques that can help make parking lots become much greener than they are. Look for: Green Parking Lots: Part III – How Landscaping Can Manage Runoff scheduled for publishing tomorrow.

© 2009, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.