Housing for People, Not Cars

No laws require housing for people, but most zoning codes require a generous number of parking spaces to be included in developments, which is an inefficient and unfair subsidy for cars. It forces car-free households to pay for parking spaces that they don’t need or want, and is a major constraint on affordable infill development. 

Including driveways and access lanes, a typical urban parking space requires 250-350 square feet of land and costs and costs between $10,000, for a surface space up to $60,000 for a structured or underground space. In order to meet minimum parking requirements, townhouses and apartments must devote more land to parking than to buildings. Meeting these requirements adds little to the cost of a million-dollar home, but typically increases the cost of a small, low-priced apartment by 10-30%, and since the occupants of such apartments are often car-free, it is an unfair burden.

Considering land, construction and operating costs, each parking space has a $1,000-3,000 annualized value, and because zoning codes result in two to six off-street parking spaces per motor vehicle (one at home, one at the worksite, and a share of parking at various commercial destinations), for each dollar a motorist spends on their vehicle somebody must spend more than a dollar to provide parking for it, representing a huge subsidy of automobile travel. This is also inefficient because most parking lots are seldom full, representing a wasted resource.

This is not to suggest that everybody should forego automobile travel and all parking spaces should be eliminated, but there are better ways to satisfy parking needs through more efficient management. Many communities significantly reduce or eliminate their minimum parking requirements, particularly for lower-priced housing in walkable urban neighborhoods, allowing developers to decide how much parking to provide based on market demand. They apply various management strategies to ensure that parking facilities are used as efficiently as possible. This is one of the most important policy reforms for increasing affordability and encouraging more efficient transportation.

For More Information

Mikhail Chester, et al. (2015), “Parking Infrastructure: A Constraint on or Opportunity for Urban Redevelopment? A Study of Los Angeles County Parking Supply and Growth, Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 81, No. 4, pp. 268-286; website: www.transportationlca.org/losangelesparking.

Joshua Engel-Yan and Dylan Passmore (2010), “Assessing Alternative Approaches to Setting Parking Requirements,” ITE Journal, Vo. 80, No. 12, December, 30-25.

King County Right Size Parking Project.

Todd Litman (2014), Parking Requirement Impacts on Housing Affordability, Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Todd Litman (2016), Parking Management: Strategies, Evaluation and Planning, Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Donald Shoup (2005), The High Cost of Free Parking, Planners Press.

Richard Willson (2015), Parking Management for Smart Growth, Island Press.

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