Let's exit from parking mandates
Note: The following commentary was written for my local paper, The Ithaca Journal, in support of proposed changes to off-street parking requirements in the City of Ithaca, New York. I support fewer off-street parking mandates in cities and towns generally.
I love free parking.
In fact, I love free anything. I’m willing to go to an event that I wouldn’t ordinarily attend if there is free ice cream.
Yet imagine if restaurants nationwide were required to provide dessert for no extra charge*. The cost of the dessert would be incorporated into every meal, and people who avoid sugar would be paying for those with a sweet tooth. Many who otherwise would not eat dessert would do so because it’s free, and this would add to our health problems.
If they gave out free gas at the mini-mart, I would line up like everybody else in town.
But if gas were free — or if we paid a yearly fee for gasoline, so each fill-up was no extra charge — we can imagine all of the consequences. The people who drive least would subsidize those who drive most. Everybody would drive more, because there would be less incentive to drive less. Our greenhouse gas emissions would soar, as would health costs, congestion, and deaths and injuries from automobile accidents.
Our minimum parking requirements, applied to every type of development, have a similar affect. They create parking spots that are “free” to users, but the costs are rolled into housing or goods and services. They increase driving and, because parking is one of the least productive urban land uses, they cut economic activity and real estate values in the city. They add substantially — often a quarter or more — to the cost of housing, making affordable housing more difficult to build. Because parking lots and garages make for unpleasant places to linger, they discourage walking. Less walking and more driving is a double whammy for greenhouse gases.
Allowing restaurants to charge separately for dessert isn’t anti-sweets and doesn’t discourage eateries from selling them. Requiring people to pay for gas isn’t anti-motoring and hasn’t made fuel unavailable. Similarly, ending mandates for off-street parking is not anti-car and won’t mean that no new parking spaces are built.
Loads of evidence has emerged that eliminating minimum parking requirements helps cities economically, makes them more appealing, increases walking and decreases driving. By extension, it reduces pollution and boosts health.
The nation has an astounding billion or more parking spaces, experts say, and most are required by law. Parking lots and garages have come to define our nation visually.
The effects of eliminating minimum parking requirements would be slow, not radical. Existing parking would not change much until parcels are redeveloped. For new developments, parking decisions would be based on the market.
Over time, this would create a stronger and better Ithaca. Further, we would join many other communities that are helping to revitalize cities and lower carbon emissions. Let’s steer our city in that direction.
* This analogy was made by Donald Shoup in The High Cost of Free Parking.
For more in-depth coverage:
• Subscribe to Better! Cities & Towns to read all of the articles (print+online) on implementation of greener, stronger, cities and towns.
• Get the March 2013 issue. Topics: City returns to streetcar roots, market shift to urban lifestyles, sprawl lives, Housing boom for the creative class, Retail prospects, Main Street of the Bronx, Green space for transit-oriented project, Multigenerational housing, Architecture of place, New Orleanse freeway redevelopment
• Get New Urbanism: Best Practices Guide, packed with more than 800 informative photos, plans, tables, and other illustrations, this book is the best single guide to implementing better cities and towns.