Why do minimum parking requirements still exist?
Tom Vanderbilt has a great piece in Slate on the high cost of free parking:
Minimum parking requirements are based on a form of “circular logic,” in which planners estimate parking need by looking at the highest levels of parking demand at suburban locations with free parking and no transit options. As a result, the space devoted to cars often exceeds the space devoted to humans (one study found mall parking lots were 20 percent bigger than the buildings they serviced), and the country is awash in a surplus of parking supply. In Tippecanoe County, Ind., for example, a group of Purdue University researchers noted, “[I]f all of the vehicles in the county were removed from garages, driveways, and all of the roads and residential streets and they were parked in parking lots at the same time, there would still be 83,000 unused spaces throughout the county.” And as Shoup argues, there is nothing free about this parking—everyone, even those who don’t drive, pays for it in one form or another, whether the invisible parking surcharge is built into retail prices or the various costs associated with parking-lot storm-water runoff.
For me the biggest and most invidious cost of parking lots is also the most difficult to measure: the way that they kill any attempt at decent architecture, both on the level of individual buildings and on the level of city development more broadly. Your favorite buildings, your favorite cities, and your favorite vacation destinations all have one thing in common: a distinct absence of massive parking lots. So why are these things mandated by zoning regulations across the U.S.? It makes precious little sense, and it’s high time that minimum parking requirements died a long-overdue death.
What makes the whole thing even weirder is that there is no obvious powerful lobby to agitate for the perpetuation of these requirements. Developers would love to be able to determine for themselves how much parking was optimal, and it’s not like Big Parking Lot has a massive presence in Washington; even the automakers don’t really have much of a dog in this fight. So why are these regulations so very persistent?