It’s hard to build a community around parking lots. — Ed McMahon
As the owner of a small downtown business, the number-one complaint I hear is about parking — how there is not enough of it, or how it’s too expensive, or how an available space was too far away from the store.
Here’s a link to an interesting article in Slate Magazine that argues for cities’ doing away with minimum parking requirements bylaws, which typically require a certain number of parking spaces be created with each new building constructed (or that must be maintained — either by the city, or privately, or both — for each existing business). According to Donald C. Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, municipal minimum parking requirements “distort transportation choices toward cars, and . . . increase traffic congestion, air pollution, and energy consumption. They reduce land values and tax revenues. They damage the economy and degrade the environment. They debase architecture and urban design. They burden enterprise and prevent the reuse of older buildings. And they increase the prices for everything except parking.”
Shoup argues that more parking spaces equal more cars, and thus more demand for parking, creating a never-ending spiral of frustration. In our downtown, for example, the city trumpets the fact that there are approximately 1000 parking spaces within three city blocks. Standard parking space dimensions are roughly 9 feet by 18 feet, or 162 square feet. Multiplying that by 1000 spaces yields 162,000 square feet — the area paved over for parking is equivalent to roughly the ground-floor footprint of what could be 160 additional charming little shops! (And to make matters worse, that 162,000 square feet does not include the laneway or driving aisle area of parking lots, necessary to access the spaces themselves.)
Now, I’m not really suggesting that each and every parking space be done away with, but perhaps the time has come to take a hard look at the hidden costs of cheap and plentiful parking. The walkability of cities and neighbourhoods — residents’ easy access to work, schools, and shopping without having to resort to the use of private cars — is an identified characteristic of places that are pleasant to live in. It would be wonderfully ironic if we could improve the quality of life in our cities merely by reducing the area that we devote to surface parking, and thereby protect our health, our social interactions, and our historic buildings, all at once.