How to get more downtown parking without adding space

Many cities have hidden parking lots that could be linked to their city center with corridors like this. Kendrick, Idaho, photo by Becky McCray.

Do not all cities have this problem? You are about to learn a new way to get more parking for your main street without having to pave, scratch or get a permit. It doesn't work in all cities, but it could work very well in yours.

There is little parking on the main street in front of the shops. If you look behind the businesses, along the alleys and on the neighboring blocks, you will find lots and hidden spaces. Sometimes business owners and staff use them, sometimes they are not used very much at all.

If you don't know any, try going up the alleys. You may be surprised by the lots and spaces you discover.

The problem is that they are not easily accessible.

There is no easy path between these hidden spaces and the main street. And some alleys and lots (well, most) look a bit dubious or even dangerous. Even if businesses have backdoors, they may not accommodate people who just move on. And most people are probably hesitant to charge anyway through a company's backdoor.

Cafe Alley in Ardmore, Oklahoma, can only be accessed from the large driveway parking lot. Photo by Becky McCray.

Here's how to create safe and interesting ways for people to walk from the hidden parking lot in front of businesses.

  1. Find a physical space where people can walk
  2. Make them supposed to walk there
  3. Make it attractive and fun to walk in

You can use plantings, grasses, gravel, stones or sidewalks to make the surface more attractive and practical. Think about how you can add art while you're at it, be it paint, chalk, or maybe fabric arts.

Sheila Scarborough spotted this corridor in Lockhart, Texas. Plants and painted rocks make the way of the journey obvious and help move people from the aisle to the main street.

This narrow space in Beaver, Oklahoma is not ideal, but it is clean and easy to walk.

Photo by Becky McCray.

This large lot in Ardmore, Oklahoma, offers a direct path from a downhill parking lot to the main shopping area. The lot is large enough for several uses. Plantation areas could be restored. A few chairs around the small integrated table could serve as a resting point for people with reduced mobility. This route is so large that it could even host suppliers at tables or stands on one side. This would encourage more people to use the lower parking lot.

Photo by Becky McCray.

Beaver, Oklahoma also has this pocket park downtown. The brick path effectively connects the driveway parking lot to the front of the block. The benches, the plantations and the sculpture make it an attractive place to linger.

Photo by Becky McCray.

We have teamed up with SaveYour.Town to show you a video showcasing more practical ways to use vacant land to boost economic development and support trade in your city center. Learn more about it at: SaveYour.Town Empty Lot Economic Development.

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About Becky McCray

Becky launched Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share stories and ideas about rural business and community development with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.

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