Opportunity Cost

Opportunity Cost

Sometimes data and reason aren’t enough to change people’s minds. For all the level headed arguments against parking minimums, about how current policy restricts housing supply and drives up costs, and about the unfairness of hidden subsidies for drivers at the expense of everyone else, the knee-jerk, emotional response resisting change will always be a powerful force. Those wishing to affect positive change have not only to construct reasoned arguments for it, but to tug on heartstrings as well. That’s the kind of appeal that The Sightline Institute made recently in the article “Ugly by Law”. It’s the kind of appeal that Park(ing) Day makes every year.  By seeing a vision of what could be, people will also view the world as it exists with new eyes. Many have become numb to car dominated landscapes and lifestyles. Providing a clear vision of what could have been and what we are missing out on, will bring to life the better world that will be if the space dedicated to cars can be right-sized. Showing images and examples of transformation from an on the ground, human perspective will be an important part of helping others to see that what exists now is not an inevitability, but a choice. What does our (institutionalized) obsession with cars cost us?

While the above graphic features the view from my apartment in Bogotá, Colombia, I hope it will have some universal appeal.

High resolution version



    • Perhaps the saddest thing I’ve seen out my window is a father who takes his crying son outside to get him to calm down. He just stands there cradling him in the parking lot because there is nowhere else to go. The complete lack of quality outdoor space has really prevented any kind of community forming. I think this mini parking crater can be at least partially faulted for some of the trust issues the the residents have with each other. I don’t know if you can see the electric fence or the jagged glass that tops the walls, but these are not protecting against some outside invader, but rather against neighbors. I guess there is kind of a chicken and egg situation. Even if the walls remained though, there could be some space for socializing between people in the same building.

      • Yikes! Didn’t notice that before. It’s a sad irony that what was created to prevent safety creates isolation and perpetuates the negative it was trying to prevent.

        Always interesting to see others observations of the same sort of thing!

  1. Our Planning Commission desires to radically change our off street parking requirements. I am looking for suggestions about how to do this. We use the standard ratios for all types of uses. Do we waive the wand and go from requirements like 1space /200 sf to nothing? Or is there some other way to address this issue.

    Thank you for any insights that can be provided.

    • Hi Mark,
      It’s important to note that even if your parking minimums change overnight, your city won’t. Even if you repeal all minimums citywide, it will be many years before most buildings are built under the new rules, and many developments will still choose to include parking. The change on the ground will be slow even if the policy change is not. I personally would encourage full repeal of all parking minimums.

      That said, there are a number of incremental changes that can have a meaningful impact if full repeal is not politically feasible. Since parking minimums are meant to alleviate overcrowding of street parking, it could make sense to eliminate those minimums where other management strategies such as parking meters or permit parking are already in place. Expanding metered zones could provide revenue to improve alternatives like transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure. The revenue could also be used to provide public parking garages that serve a district rather than a single building.

      Another strategy could be to allow buildings with different uses that experience peak traffic at different times to share the same parking. Whenever there is a full parking lot close to an empty one, that is a missed opportunity for enhanced efficiency. One big problem with parking minimums is that they usually require all of the parking to be located on the same site as the building they serve. Allowing some flexibility to provide that parking off-site–and possibly in a shared lot–could be especially beneficial to smaller buildings on small lots where it is difficult to accommodate parking.

      I hope some of that is helpful to you. I’m sure you are already aware of Prof. Donald Shoup’s book The High Cost of Free Parking, but I wanted to point out that it contains numerous case studies from cities and towns that have reformed their parking in different ways.

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