Parking minimums are universally bad

In the movement to reform zoning in the world’s most litigious cities, one of the most straightforward solutions is to limit the required increase in parking for every new structure. Most people have no idea that for every new building, dozens if not hundreds of parking spots need to be created.

While this weird, mandatory, tax on literally everything is invisible, it has huge consequences.

In DC, the parking minimums apply to everything from schools, to gun shops, residential property, even adult businesses have mandatory parking requirements.

Some people want them repealed-sometimes

While there is a community of people trying to repeal them, it may not be enough.

Critics are right to recognize that parking minimums raise the cost of new housing and reduce affordability, but current efforts to scale them back are only centered around “designated affordable” units.

In the proposed amendment, that means being below 80% of Washington’s Median Family Income (MFI).

The argument being that:

  • Parking can cost up to $50,000
  • The space for a parking spot is 252 square feet-whereas the smallest of efficiencies is about 130
  • Some people may not need or want a parking spot for a car

Measures to reduce these expensive mandates are good-but it leaves a pretty obvious question, why keep them for everything else?

Credit: Portlanders for Parking Reform

The everything else

While advocates are right to want to remove guaranteed parking with affordable housing developments, it fails to consider why they should be a thing anywhere.

There is a huge movement to make cities more livable, dense and walkable-loosely termed the “15 minute city”.

In this context, it doesn’t make sense to get rid of the car for affordable housing developments, but then keep them presuming they will be needed for daycares, groceries, and educational institutions.

If someone ditches a car, removing the mandates on their home alone means that there will be a surplus of parking proportional to the amount of people living in deed restricted affordable housing.

In short, the movement to reduce mandates for affordable housing alone might keep parking again out of sync with the small amount truly needed.

Oversupplied, underdemanded

Currently most development, thanks to minimum parking requirements, kicks off an equal and opposite amount of wasted space for every cool new thing we build.

It really seems unlikely that if parking really was so central to every one of these land uses, that the owners would fail to provide it.

That being said, the thinking behind these mandates of any kind reflect the past, when cars and driving literally everywhere all of the time was the norm.

And that isn’t the norm today, especially in urban and suburban cities that have strong transit infrastructure.

Minimum parking mandates might just be unnecessary

As we peel back almost a century of exclusively auto-dominated development, it might be the case that we had it right all along.

Most of the great cities in the US and abroad were build before cars, and before parking became unnecessarily adjunct to literally everything else.

It stands to reason that this first experiment in removing excessive parking might not only be a nothingburger, but the first of many such false crises over the hypothetical lack of parking.

If we can limit the linear growth of parking, and people take transit like they already do, it stands that we can stop traffic and cars from scaling in equal measure to population growth.

The question shouldn’t be for what classes of building we need parking, but if we need parking for the city at all.

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