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Too Much Parking Leaves Cities Chasing Their Tails

We mentioned Tom Vanderbilt’s Slate article on the role of parking in smart growth in “Around the Block” today, but I’d like to drive the point home. This is a classic case of an over-looked, out of date policy that puts a dent in our priorities for sustainability, economic development and public health – and has a simple fix.

The policy is minimum parking requirements, or  “municipal provisions that require developers building a new project – whether commercial or residential – to also construct a minimum number of new parking spaces, often without regard to the presence of nearby transit options or even actual need.” So developers are forced to make parking a lopsided priority. The “circular logic” of the parking minimums leads to “the space devoted to cars often exceeding the space devoted to humans.”

Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, details the damage:

“[Parking minimums] distort transportation choices toward cars, and thus increase traffic congestion, air pollution, and energy consumption. They reduce land values and tax revenues. They damage the economy and degrade the environment. They debase architecture and urban design. They burden enterprise and prevent the reuse of older buildings. And they increase the prices for everything except parking.”

Though parking minimums once made sense as a way to curb traffic, they now encourage unsustainable – and some cases just plain bad – behavior.

As is turns out, the municipal parking priority often applies specifically to bars, with an unintended consequence that shouldn’t be that hazy to predict: more drunk driving. As Matt Yglesias puts it, “there’s clearly something absurd about the idea of regulating bar-related land use so as to encourage and facilitate extra driving.”

When it comes to urban planning, encouraging and facilitating driving in this way leads to more sprawl, less space for commercial or rental units, and more spending on housing and energy.

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