- Matt Yglesias writes about the negative consequences of mandatory parking requirements. Matt’s headline editor takes the same Shakespearian tack as Aaron Weiner in the Washington City Paper; Matt also builds off of a paper documenting the impacts of removing parking requirements I’ve written about previously.
- Boston is looking to reduce their on-site parking requirements, and cites the experience of other cities doing the same as well as the trend of less and less driving. The proposed reduction is significant, but also only drops to 0.75 spaces per unit; still a burdensome requirement.
- Tyler Cowen links to the above Boston article, but also notes an earlier column of his in the New York Times: “Free Parking Comes at a Price.“
- In the midst of New York’s mayoral race, Stephen Smith notes that Anthony Weiner “casually” opposes parking requirements. When told that this is a big deal, Weiner brushes it off as the “conventional wisdom now.”
- At the same time, in Brooklyn, city officials are looking to an automated underground parking garage to help finance a new park above it.
Each article highlights the challenges parking presents in an urban environment, and the additional challenges of inflexible rules requiring it. Matt Yglesias makes the case for the straight-up removal of all parking requirements as the simplest option, rather than the selective reductions in certain districts or reductions in the numerical requirement itself. He writes (quoting extensively):
First on a concrete level, this is a form of compromise that really fails in its goal of de-mobilizing opposition. If you are a street parker and your priority in parking policy is to defend your access to cheap street parking, then any reduction in parking mandates should spark opposition. Watering the reform down doesn’t lead to any genuine reconciliation of interests. What you need to do is recognize that street parkers have a real reason for wanting to keep mandates in place and find a way to buy them off. I think what I propose at the end of the column would do that. But once you’ve managed to configure reform as a win-win, then you should go whole hog.
The second is that gradualism, by focusing reform on the places that are most indisputably well-served by transit and pedestrianism, actually denudes parking reform of its main promise—transforming neighborhoods. If you imagine a neighborhood that doesn’t have great bus frequency or amazing neighborhood-serving retail and add some housing with less than one parking space per adult, then you’re going to get the additional customers that would be the basis for more frequent buses or new stores. Why would anyone in a neighborhood like that want a unit with no parking space? Why would a couple want a unit with just one space? Probably most people wouldn’t. But some non-zero quantity of people would do it for the main reason people everywhere put up with sub-optimal housing situations—to save money. But those initial people with fewer cars than adults become the customers for the services—whether that’s carshare or the bus or a walking distance store—that make the neighborhood more attractive down the road.
The way things work right now is that parking minimums risk destroying existing walkable neighborhoods through the reverse dynamic where subsidized car ownership leads to excessive car ownership leads to further auto-oriented development. Selective liberalization of parking rules can break that vicious cycle, which is nice, but only citywide liberalization drives the virtuous process forward.
The partial reductions in requirements are certainly due to political opposition to the idea. Even in places like Portland that had no requirements in some areas of the city have since re-instated limited requirements, ostensibly due to political pressure. However, while removing the offending language is unlikely to win any supporters, keeping it in might rile up even more opposition due to the inherent asymmetry to the procedures of changing regulations such as zoning codes.
On the merits of policy, removing the requirements would be a simple solution. Given that there is no ‘right’ answer to the number of spaces that should be required given the diversity of market segments a developer might build for, and given that in many cases, the ‘right’ number of spaces for a site and market segment could be zero, selecting any one number as the requirement (and getting it ‘right’) is an impossible task – unless that number is zero.