Costs of parking include big 'environmental footprint'

January 17, 2012

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, according to the old adage. And there’s no such thing as free parking, either.

Not when you factor in the economic costs, energy consumption and environmental impacts of building and maintaining extensive parking infrastructure on the scale that exists in the United States. Crowded parking lot Download Full Image

Mikhail Chester offers an accounting of such costs in his research on large infrastructure systems, particularly transportation systems.

He’s trying to provide data that can serve as a reliable guide for public policymakers to devise sustainable solutions to transportation-planning challenges.

Chester is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

He estimates that there are as many as 844 million parking lot and parking structure spaces in the United States, or roughly three spaces for every automobile. That amounts to paved surfaces for parking covering nearly one percent of the land in the country – an area about the size of West Virginia.

If the area used for curbside parking is added to the count – spaces that go unused most of the time – then there may be as many as 2 billion parking spaces.

Chester examines the cumulative costs and environmental footprint of the country’s parking infrastructure in an article he co-authored with engineering colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley – Arpad Horvath and Samer Madanat – published in the University of California Transportation Center’s ACCESS magazine.

The article is discussed at length in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Some of the data it presents is the basis for a recent article in the New York Times.

The authors look at the costs of parking facilities over their life cycles, considering the resources and energy expended in building and maintaining the infrastructure, as well as the cause-and-effect relationships between parking systems, air pollution, urban congestion, health risks and energy use.

Their studies show that with the amount of certain pollutants resulting from construction and maintenance of parking facilities, the environmental impact is more extensive than that resulting from driving automobiles.

In other recent research, Chester and research partners at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh studied the impacts of automobile emissions in more than 80 metropolitan areas throughout the country. Their results are published in the Journal of the Transportation Research Board.

They estimate the economic costs for treating health impacts of driving and congestion at more than $140 million a day. These costs average to 64 cents per person per day, or 3 cents for every mile traveled.

While the costs of air emissions “are small relative to the overall cost of driving, the total external costs imposed on society [due to environmental impacts] are substantial,” the researchers write.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Changemaker launches new partnership series

January 17, 2012

Changemaker Central has launched a new monthly series, Changemaker Partner of the Month, to highlight the work of community partners and connect the ASU community more closely to some of the area’s nonprofits. Meanwhile, the nonprofit organizations will have increased access to ASU’s diverse and innovative community over the course of each month.

There will be multiple opportunities for ASU students, staff, faculty, clubs and programs, and the nonprofit organizations to interact, including: Download Full Image

• meeting with the organization’s staff during office hours in Changemaker Central,

• volunteering with the organization, and

• an applied problem-solving partnership through challenge questions on 10,000 Solutions, which could include a chance to meet with executives of the organization to participate in an ideas exchange.

To highlight National Mentoring Month in January, the first Changemaker Partner of the Month is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona. This month’s activities and thought leadership will focus on the topic of mentoring and how it can be used as a tool to encourage students to go on to college.

Upcoming opportunities for the ASU community to participate in this new initiative include:

• posting a response to the 10,000 Solutions Challenge question,

• connecting with a Big Brothers Big Sisters representative during office hours in Changemaker Central in Tempe or on the Downtown Phoenix campus, and

• signing up for more information about being a mentor at mixer events that take place at the Tempe, Downtown Phoenix and Polytechnic campus. Visit for more details.

In a 10,000 Solutions challenge question, Pete Griffin, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, asks: “How can mentoring be used as a tool to encourage students to pursue higher education?” (Click to see the video.) 10,000 Solutions users are encouraged to build on Griffin’s solution and use the tag “BBBS” in their responses. Individuals with the top solutions will have the opportunity to meet Griffin and pitch their idea in-person.

A kickoff gathering took place last week at Changemaker Central in Tempe. Representatives from Big Brothers Big Sisters spoke with ASU faculty, staff and students, and offered giveaways to encourage them to become mentors.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters is very excited about the opportunity to work with Changemaker to help engage ASU students as mentors to kids in our community and expose these youth to the importance of higher education,” said Debbie Haen, community relations specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters, after the event.

The “Changemaker Partner of the Month” series is an ongoing effort and will feature other partners, such as Girl Scouts – Arizona Cactus-Pine Council and Valley of the Sun United Way. The series is part of Changemaker Central’s larger mission to inspire, catalyze and sustain student-driven social change. Changemaker Central serves as a hub for students interested in entrepreneurship, civic engagement, service learning and community service.

Daniil Gunitskiy
Office of University Initiatives
in partnership with Valley of the Sun United Way

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library