You might not have given a second thought to underground parking. But the more you think about it, the more you might notice just how absent underground parking is. After all, most malls have sprawling parking lots or an above ground parking garage. Many of us live in suburbs, where street parking or driveway parking is the norm. Even large cities aren’t often too concerned with underground parking. 

It might also surprise you to learn that other countries are much more reliant on underground parking than the US. From Barcelona to Dubai to Hong Kong, drivers don’t look to the horizon for a parking garage - they look for ramps into the underground parking lots. 

It’s no surprise, then, that when drivers from other countries get here, they’re scratching their heads wondering why underground parking is so hard to find in the birthplace of car culture.

In this article, we’re going to talk about why the US isn’t so crazy about underground parking. You may not have considered it before, but the reasons are fascinating!

To start, constructing underground parking is not easy

Without a doubt, underground parking has its advantages. It keeps surface-level real estate open for housing and commercial development. And, parking your car underground can protect it from weather and keep it nice and toasty during the winter. So, what’s stopping us from parking underground?

Well, if you were to take a look underground of an American city, you would see a complex web of gas lines, sewer systems, and maybe even a subway line or two. Making sure not to disrupt any of that system is time-consuming and costly.

There’s also the water table to worry about. According to American GeoSciences Institute, the water table can rise and fall depending on the location and season. If you miscalculate that, you’re in for a huge problem.

So, underground spaces are tricky to traverse. Which makes putting anything underground very expensive. Just how expensive is it? Well, according to some estimates, an above-ground parking structure can cost about $25,000 per parking space to build. When you put it underground, that construction cost goes up to $35,000 per parking space. And the difference is reflected in the short and long term parking rates for Drivers.

It makes sense, then, that developers interested in their properties being as profitable as possible know that underground parking is just not a good investment.

We’re also decreasing our car ownership in general

Added to the fact that constructing parking underground is costly, there’s also a decreasing demand for parking in general. Americans are ride sharing, biking, relying more on public transportation, and generally giving up our cars. Plus, many of us are leaving the traditional workplace setting for remote jobs and the freelance market. Why commute and pay for an expensive parking garage when you can work from home? 

In fact, buildings with underground parking are looking for creative solutions to deal with the decrease in parking demand. Instead of leaving their underground parking empty, they’re capitalizing on that space with help from the e-commerce sector. One example of this can be found in LA, where companies like CloudKitchens are converting underground parking garages into rentable kitchen spaces for delivery restaurants and catering services. The more you look, the more you can find these innovative approaches to empty underground parking garages. If e-commerce is exciting to you, you’re going to love our recent article, What Is The Sharing Economy?

Underground parking is just not as convenient for most folks, anyway

Even for those who continue to drive, underground parking simply isn’t the best option, especially when it comes to long term parking and parking outside of major cities. If you do a quick search of “cheap monthly parking near me”, chances are, you’re not going to find an underground parking garage. They’re just too expensive, too few and far between. 

Instead, many Americans choose to park on the street, in above-ground parking garages, or cheaper still, in rentable home garages or driveways.

With parking space-sharing services like Spacer, Americans can make the most out of one of the most highly available parking space options: at-home garages and driveways. In many areas, it makes so much more sense to book a long term parking space in the suburbs and then take public transportation into the city. Consider San Francisco, for instance. Many people opt to park in places like Oakland or Berkeley and then take BART into the city. That way, they can benefit from the availability of privately owned parking spaces outside of the city instead of trying to vy for a parking space in SF.

Why else are we so anti-underground? The interesting theories

So, far, we’ve talked about practicality. Underground parking is more expensive. It’s hard to construct. It goes against future trends when it comes to car ownership. But there might just be more to the story, here! What about the cultural theories that might explain why underground parking isn’t so sought-out? Can we blame movies and our long-standing car obsession for our lack of underground parking? Let’s take a look.

Let’s face it: above ground parking is kind of our thing

One of the reasons why other countries have opted for underground parking is partly because they want their cities to be more aesthetically pleasing. Parking garages, on-street parking, parking lots, they say, are the eyesores that they seek to eliminate.

But, this is America! We love our cars. We always have. Car culture here was born out of drive-in theaters and drive-up fast food places. We may not have waiters roller-skating milkshakes and fries out to cars anymore, but we sure have held onto our drive-thrus. And if you place a finger on any part of the US map, you’re likely to find a classic car show or other celebration of our unique car history.

This may be a significant reason why we’ve never felt the need to store our beloved cars underground. That’s not to say that we have no underground parking, whatsoever. In places with snow and harsh weather conditions, underground parking does make sense. But most of us are just fine with parking our automobiles in plain sight.

Are we afraid of underground parking?

Pop culture may have given underground parking a bad rap. Say you’re watching a thriller or an action movie. You probably know that as soon as that character walks into the underground parking garage, something bad is about to happen. You might even shout at the television screen for them to get out of there! 

In reality, underground parking garages are not the prime location for violent crimes or criminal activity. Because most underground parking lots are set up with video cameras and can be more closely monitored than parking lots with multiple entry points, these areas may actually be safer than we give them credit for. 

But, that doesn’t stop filmmakers from tapping into our ingrained fear of underground parking. Just take a look at this list of pop culture references to sinister underground parking lots in film. It’s no wonder we avoid them!

And there you have it, Americans just don’t do underground parking

Although you might see underground parking in some parts of the country, the majority of us rely on other types of parking. Whether it’s an above-ground parking garage, attached home garage, driveway, or street parking, we’re much more likely to stay above ground when it comes to short and long term parking. As it turns out, the reasons for this are many, including expense, convenience, and maybe even our own perceptions of car culture and safety. 

Regardless of how the rest of the world might view our lack of underground parking, we seem to be doing just fine without it!