Just to be clear, I'm not some anti-car nut. I drive a car. However, I think the tremendous amount of infrastructure and space required by cars tends to be taken for granted.
Joel Garreau enumerates the requirements of cars well in Edge City. He writes, "to park an automobile takes four hundred square feet. That's the actual parking spot, per car, plus its share of the required driveways." (p. 118). Meanwhile, people need far less space to move around once they're out of their cars. As a result:
The developer needs one and a half times as much space for the cars as he does for the humans. Given that, the cheapest option a developer has is this. Build a one-story building. Let it cover 40 percent of the ground. That leaves 60 percent of the land to be covered with a simple parking lot. No grass or trees or sidewalks. But the right ratios at the least expense. Which explains why an awful lot of cheap development looks the way it does" (p. 120).Oakland has its share of cheap development:
This perhaps explains why so many of these on-site lots are at fast food restaurants, liquor stores, and 7/11's. Builders of these establishments want to do what's fastest and easiest.
The need for parking isn't going away anytime soon, but we could do with less on-site parking. A more pedestrian-friendly option is street parking and parking structures for the general public, rather than just the customers of one business. Although ugly, a parking structure minimizes the space devoted to parking and forces people to walk a short distance to their destination. As a result, people will often stop at more than one store during an outing. The owner of one small business in the Uptown district told me business went way down when the city closed all the surface parking lots in his area. People going to and from work no longer parked there and hence never had an excuse to pop into his store. (For the record, I'm glad those lots are gone. I still find the unintended consequences of these things amusing.)
In addition to being ugly, on-site parking lots are highly inefficient. Because they are usually for customers only, they sit half-empty much of the time. The pinnacle of this phenomenon is the McDonald's on Haight Street in San Francisco. Upper Haight is a notoriously difficult neighborhood to park in, yet the McDonald's lot is usually more than half empty. No wonder they have to practically threaten to impale non-customers who are tempted to try parking here.
Oakland has similar problems. Take the Kragen's on Park Blvd., which sits next to the (now-closed) Parkway theater. I wonder if it would have made a difference to the Parkway's survival if customers could have parked in the Kragen's lot.
Then there are the on-site lots that are just totally unnecessary:
In many parts of Oakland, street parking is sufficient to meet demand. The dead space created by this Burger King parking lot breaks up what would otherwise be a nice street to walk down. It's an opportunity for some great infill development.
Of course, there are some types of businesses that require on-site parking. Home Depot customers don't want to lug pieces of lumber down the block to their car. Still, I think they went a little crazy with the size of the lot at the Home Depot in East Oakland:
Maybe they were overly optimistic about business projections or something, but this place is almost always a sea of empty asphalt. (It doesn't help that it's impossible to find this place without getting lost and circling around a few times.)
In contrast, many feared that the parking lot on Lakeshore would be inadequate once the Trader Joe's opened. And it's true, the lot is almost always near capacity. (During the daytime, at least.) Parking there is a tense operation at times, although I can almost always find a space. But because of this economical, consolidated parking arrangement, the rest of Lakeshore doesn't need on-site lots. The street is bustling and pedestrian-friendly. And, perhaps not coincidentally, 7/11 and McDonald's-free.