Parking requirements encourage driving, lead to unnecessary pavement

Credit: The EconomistEnvision Richmond’s Fan District, Monument Avenue, Church Hill, Jackson Ward, etc., without cars parked everywhere. What if instead of vehicle storage, we redesign those spaces to better serve humans and nature?

Imagine how much more attractive our best Richmond neighborhoods could look without cars lining the streets, blocking the tree-ling streetscapes and beautiful homes?

The Economist parked itself on a topic it described as “Parkageddon,” suggesting a solution to avoid creating traffic jams, curb pollution, and discourage developers from creating more unnecessary urban sprawl. In short, don’t let people park their cars for free.

Sounds simple, right? Think about it. For almost everywhere you go, you drive. For almost every one of those places, there is free parking. Work, school, grocery stores, movie theaters, the gym, church, parks — all offer free parking. If the parking wasn’t free, you probably wouldn’t go there anymore. Rather, you’d find a way to park free (like a public street) or go somewhere else with free parking.

Why do we expect free parking? From The Economist:

Water companies are not obliged to supply all the water that people would use if it were free, nor are power companies expected to provide all the free electricity that customers might want. But many cities try to provide enough spaces to meet the demand for free parking, even at peak times. Some base their parking minimums on the “Parking Generation Handbook”, a tome produced by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. This reports how many cars are found in the free car parks of synagogues, waterslide parks and so on when they are busiest.

Most localities have parking minimums. The article goes into great detail about parking requirements in large cities worldwide and how they have helped to shape the livability of those cities. Hint, the United States does not do this well, we are addicted to driving our own cars everywhere and then expect to leave those cars everywhere…for free.

The harm caused begins with the obvious fact that parking takes up a lot of room.

Exactly. If we relied more on public transit, carpooling, walking, biking, etc., we’d have less need for parking lots all over the place. When was the last time you fell in love with a parking deck or car lot? Never, because they are not attractive.


See this map of downtown Richmond (credit: Ride Finders). There are 93 lots listed on this map, all with a price. Real estate in downtown Richmond is valued, and therefore has a price. Of course, we likely have too many parking lots with too many spaces, but at least there is a price.

The more spread out and car-oriented a city, as a result of enormous car parks, the less appealing walking and cycling become. Besides, if you know you can park free wherever you go, why not drive? The ever-growing supply of free parking in America is one reason why investments in public transport have coaxed so few people out of cars, says David King of Arizona State University. In 1990, 73% of Americans got to work by driving alone, according to the census. In 2014, after a ballyhooed urban revival and many expensive tram and rapid-bus projects, 76% drove.

Away from downtown, almost any other parking lot is free. Sure, VCU, some museums and some private employers charge, but no retail and most employers let you park for free. The free parking encourages motorists to drive more, rather than explore other more economically sound options. As the article states, “oceans of free parking might delay a transport revolution.”

Yes, I realize that every time someone drives to a restaurant in The Fan or Carytown they expect to park right in front, no hassles. That is not realistic. Parking has a price.

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