TEXAS - Proponents of pedestrian friendly design often advocate for retail parking lots to be placed in the rear; behind retail buildings and away from roadways.
Moving parking lots to the rear concentrates people and places along the steet, creating an environment that is arguably more accessible, interesting, and safe for walkers and bicyclists.
While this seems advantageous, retail developers are often opposed to this layout for several reasons, including better visibility, increased safety, better access and more cost efficient layouts.
One of the most important factors for retailers is location, location, location. Not only the location of the site, but also the location within the site.
Drive-by traffic is still important for retailers, and the visibility of a neighborhood retail center is decreased when parking is moved to the back.
Less visibility for passing traffic causes a decrease in the number of "eyes on the street" watching that parking lot.
Putting the parking lot behind the store may increase the risk of harm to the customer who arrives by car by decreasing their visibility from street and pedestrian traffic. A greater risk to customers creates more liability for the owner and/or tenant of the site.
Parking in front generally means more site access. Entryways are as easy as a curb cut, and multiple routes can be laid out.
When structures are brought to the front, they act as a barrier, often limiting the number of entryways. Also, when parking is in the back, service access becomes limited.
Locating retail structures behind parking makes it easier to place pre-set designs within a store. Whereas fitting a structure to the curb often requires a custom design and therefore a custom layout of the store's interior.
Custom designs usually add additional expense. For example, curb fitted retail often requires two entrances, one for the parking lot and one for pedestrians. This would require additional equipment, cashiers, and security employees to service both entrances.
Source: J. Kirby Snideman, CDS Community Development Strategies