This is part four of a five part series chronicling parking requirements across the United States. Assembly spaces, including places of worship, exemplify the effect that parking minimums have on our lives. On the one hand, they follow a certain logic: many people will be packed into a small space so many cars need to be accommodated. On the other hand, it puts into clear perspective just how insane it is to assume that everyone should arrive by car. That these parking lots are only substantially occupied for a few hours, one day per week makes parking minimums for places of worship all the more obscene.
Many cities have a backup requirement in case there is no fixed seating provided (usually stated in terms of square footage in the main assembly space). What is interesting about this is that cities do not come even close to agreeing on how many square feet equals one seat. The alternatives to fixed seating vary so widely that some cities may inadvertently discourage the use of pews with their parking requirements. For example, Las Vegas requires one spot for each four fixed seats but only one spot per 100 sf of assembly space where there is no fixed seating. Louisville requires one per 3 seats but only one per 50 square feet when there are no fixed seats. On the other end of the spectrum, Houston requires one spot for every five seats or one per every 40 square feet, and Washington D.C. requires one spot per ten seats but one spot per 70 square feet in the absence of fixed seating. Confused yet?
Expressed in more comparable terms it looks like this:
Las Vegas: 1 seat = 25 square feet
Louisville: 1 seat = 16.67 square feet
Houston: 1 seat = 8 square feet
Washington D.C.: 1 seat = 7 square feet
Now, this might not be much of a problem for churches that can just decide to have moveable seating in places like Las Vegas and fixed seating in Washington D.C. in order to adapt to whichever ratio they might be subject to. But what about mosques that don’t have any seats because Muslim worship services are not conducive to sitting? Could the requirements in Houston and Washington be seen as discriminatory because they require more parking for a mosque than would probably be required in a similarly sized Christian church that can choose to install fixed seating? I’m not aware that the issue has ever arisen, but it’s not too hard to argue that cities that equate a relatively small area to one seat impose a higher burden on faiths that require open space for worship services.
Which brings me to perhaps the most laughable (or perhaps despicable) requirements that I encountered while researching this graph. In Baltimore “for a religious institution whose worshipers are required to walk to worship because of religious tenet” one space is required for every 8 seats. No one belonging to these congregations can arrive to services in a car (at least not without arousing the ire of their peers), but the best Baltimore can do is half off the normal requirement. All I can think is what a waste that must be. But isn’t that just the perfect summation of parking requirements? You must build parking, whether you want it or not.
vector version: places of worship