Idea of the day: deregulate parking

How changing humble parking policies can really benefit mobility, especially since the nation is "awash" in too many parking stalls.
Crosscut archive image.

Melrose and Harrison, Capitol Hill. (<a href='; target='_blank'>Flickr contributor Strath Shepard</a>)

How changing humble parking policies can really benefit mobility, especially since the nation is "awash" in too many parking stalls.

There's an intriguing story in about new thinking on the subject of parking. Author Tom Vanderbilt, as part of his "Nimble Cites" series, notes that several cities are deregulating parking. I bet, given Mayor Mike McGinn's propensities, that idea will be coming soon to a Seattle street near you.

Parking requirements first arose about 50 years ago, as planners began forcing developers to meet minimum parking requirements in apartment buildings and office buildings. The argument was that you had to force developers to spend money on these parking structures and stalls so that the cars didn't soak up existing spaces. One result: "the country is awash in a surplus of parking supply," particularly at shopping malls.

The case against these minimum requirements is put this way by planning professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking:

They 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.

Seattle is moving in this direction. The boom in new apartments along 12th Ave. on Capitol Hill was largely touched off by an experiment of very low parking requirements, since transit is good in that part of town. I suspect that if Seattle Center ever closes its deal with the School Board for Memorial Stadium, a lot of questions will be asked about the wisdom of building a new parking garage on that site. (Incidentally, where is that deal?)

The Slate story cites what some other cities are doing. Columbus, Ohio has cut the parking required at shopping malls by 20 percent. Washington D.C. has dropped parking requirements for retail developments in high-density areas. San Francisco is pricing on-street parking according to real-time demand, using sophisticated sensors and computers to track parking spot availability and matching drivers to those places.

Parking is so much a factor in automobility that we sometimes forget that's how cars spend 95 percent of their time. Change parking regulations and you could seriously and gradually affect car ownership, transit use, and many other factors. Likewise, if we were to ban on-street parking in some of the more congested arterials in town, we would probably do more to increase mobility than many multi-billion highway projects. Combine these steps with steep taxes on parking lots, so they don't make out like bandits. Mayor Mike, let's see your plan!


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