This Month at My Real Job: Parking
This month’s Cato Unbound could hardly be more prosaic. It’s about parking. Ho-hum!
Yet parking and parking policy shape a great deal about how we live and work. Hardly an aspect of our lives is left untouched by the collective decisions we make about our cars and where to put them. As a result, parking policy is enormously instructive. Lead essayist Donald Shoup explains:
Minimum parking requirements have severed the link between the cost of providing a parking space and the price that drivers pay for it. Cities respond to increasing vehicle travel by increasing their parking requirements, and when citizens then object to traffic congestion, cities respond by restricting development density and requiring even more parking. The increased travel distances between sites surrounded by parking lots increase the need for cars for most trips, and the increased car ownership further inflames the opposition to charging anything for parking.
Neither planners nor politicians seem to realize, however, that the parking requirements (and the free parking they produce) accelerate sprawl. Cars have replaced people as zoning’s real concern, and free parking has become the arbiter of urban form, with serious consequences far beyond parking itself.
Parking requirements create winners and losers: people win in their role as drivers, and they lose in their many other roles. People who don’t own cars don’t organize to change the system, however. Instead, most of them change their behavior to join the winners. More people buy cars, cities further increase their parking requirements, and the system becomes even more difficult to reform. Because cities sprawl faster and farther, cars become necessary for almost every errand. Even those who prefer a less automobile-dependent lifestyle find themselves in the motoring majority, driving everywhere, cursing congestion, staring at taillights, inhaling exhaust, and expecting to park free when they get wherever they are going.
Can liberal environmentalists, conservative localists, and libertarian free-marketers agree? I think maybe they can!