apartment_parkingby James A. Bacon

As parking guru Donald Shoup has long argued, there is a very high cost to “free” parking. Typically, those costs are hidden, so people are unaware that they exist. While Shoup’s theory is gaining traction among urban planners, particularly the smart growth set, it hasn’t caught on with the general public, possibly because there isn’t much data showing how the cost of parking mandates trickle down to the average Joe.

Now come Jesse London and Clark Williams-Derry with the Sightline Institute with a study of 23 recently completed Seattle-area multifamily housing developments. In “Who Pays for Parking? How the oversupply of parking undermines housing affordability,” the authors found that 37% of parking spots remained empty overnight. That was consistent with another finding that apartment complexes had 20% more occupied apartments than occupied parking spaces, meaning many tenants had no cars. Further, not one project recovered enough in fees to cover the cost of building and maintaining the parking facilities.

Here’s the coup de grace:

Landlords’ losses on parking — calculated as the difference between total parking costs and total parking fees collected from tenants — add up to roughly 15 percent of monthly rents in our sample, or $246 per month for each occupied apartment. Because landlords typically recoup these losses through apartment rents, all tenants — even those who don’t own cars — pay a substantial hidden fee for parking as part of their monthly rents.

Here’s a wild and crazy idea. How about a free market in parking? Why not let apartment owners build as many parking spaces as they think there will be a demand for? Why not let them substitute bicycle parking spaces for automobile parking? Even crazier, how about letting apartment owners de-bundle parking spaces from apartment rents and charge only those tenants who want a space? Hold onto your hats for this one, folks, how about letting landlords build no parking spaces at all if the neighborhood is walkable, there is convenient access to mass transit and they are targeting households that own no cars?  

I know it sounds radical, but why not let consumers, not local government officials acting on the basis of often outdated and arbitrary formulas, make their own trade-offs between the cost of rent and the convenience of parking?

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45 responses to “The High Cost of Free Parking”

  1. NewVirginia Avatar

    Behind you 100%. How can planners, urbanites, and free market economists build a functional coalition on this issue? What will it take to change local zoning laws?

    I wonder if there is a municipality in Virginia that would be a good test case for a movement to eliminate parking requirements. Progressive jurisdictions like Arlington and Charlottesville are almost there, but almost exclusively for urbanist reasons. A real test of this coalition would be a campaign in a city in a more libertarian part of the state – like the Shenandoah Valley.

  2. despite the talk of “libertarian”… I would posit that free parking and free roads are in the minds of many a “right”. aka.. “we pay our taxes and we are owed parking and roads”.

    it’s going to be a culture change.

    but I’m a skeptic of “no parking” residential and I’m willing to be the offset is people parking nearby on spots that are used by others.

    this goes on all the time in urbanized areas where people expect to be able to park in front of their homes but someone else who has no parking available takes their spot.

    we have a transit stop at our WalMart. The bus shows up about every 1/2 hour. As per my practice (which I realize is weird), I look over the clients to see how many packages they have and if any have a cart full of groceries like many who park cars in the lot have and load into their trunks – and you know what? I’ve yet to see a single transit rider waiting with a cart full of groceries. They only have what they can carry…

    Next – I peruse apartments and townhouse developments to see how many of them are truly within walking distance to a grocery store – and you know what?

    it ain’t happening for most of them… a full service grocery store is not a walk away… and there are no true walking/biking infrastructure anyhow.

    I realize we’re trying to move towards a more transit/walk/bike-friendly world but grocery stores are no longer neighborhood markets.. but instead rather large footprints intended to serve a region or large area and expect most to be in a car to get their groceries.

    I think there are “pockets” where such is possible.

    Down my way, we have one or two larger subdivisions with a variety of housing options from single-family to “patio” and right smack in front of the subdivision – accessible by sidewalks is a Food Lion, a Subway and a Pizza Place but alas.. I have never ever seen a bike loaded with groceries much less someone with their own cart headed from the Food Lion back to their home.

    So the really obvious question here is – if you have an apartment or residential development – and there is no parking.. how do you do groceries?

    I’m not talking about a few things for a single person.

    I’m talking about groceries for a family…

    how does that work?

    I’m still skeptical here…

    How many who read this – are within walking distance of a full-service grocery store and there is the infrastructure to walk/bike AND you get several days worth of groceries via walking/bike/or transit?

    I know almost no one who does that but perhaps you guys that live in more urbanized areas do know some folks or do it yourself.

  3. Larry G:

    About 8 in 10 of my trips to Kroger are on a bicycle and all of my trips to my nearby “neighborhood” grocery, a fairly large store called Reeds, are on foot. In addition on my Kroger stops, I also fairly regularly go to CVS and the liquor store. Yes, there is only my wife and I but we have grandkids who come and stay overnight virtually every week.

    Unfortunately, in Jim Bacon’s column he makes it sound like many can, and would, live without a car is parking wasn’t subsidized by $247 per space and unfortunately MOST of the books on driving behavior celebrate the “car-free” lifestyle. That, as you correctly but subtly point out, is outside the realm of possibility — or imaginability — for virtually every American voting driver.

    What is not outside the possibility is the car-freER lifestyle and that is almost never discussed. We can leave our American exoskeletons at home for many trips BUT only if we conceive that we can. My bike, or at least the one I use the most, is an eBike and it has large pannier bags on it so, unless I want to, I arrive at Kroger without a drop of sweat and return home with two full grocery bags (and if need be a backpack) while having added about 40 minutes of light, very light, exercise to further my health.

    According to national research, 27 percent of American trips are less than 2 miles. While I recognize that we are NOT the “homo economous” of the planning world, IF one factor was “I have to pay for parking at Kroger,” then more and more people would figure out that the loaf of bread goes from $2.50 to $3 every single time we don’t stop and recognize that we create externalities every time we drive, regardless for the reason and regardless of the distance.

    In our democracy, we can’t (thank god) demand that people do something but we can nudge them towards doing what’s better for society by disincentivizing “bad” behavior and incentivizing good. Unfortunately, the way our parking policies are set — especially as they relate to taxes — does the exact opposite. Since parking is generally a “cost of doing business,” most on-the-job parking is free to the commuter and actually paid by taxpayers but bikers and pedestrian commuters get zero help from Uncle Sam. Since most local parking regs demand two off-street spaces for each apartment, apartment dwellers with one or less cars are subsidizing the folks who own two. And all folks who never drive are subsidizing everyone else’s driving to the tune of 54 cents per mile, according to research from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

    You get the behavior you subsidize. Smarter parking regulations lessons the subsidy and will, though it will take a while, lesson the behavior.

    1. Salz , I have enormous respect for those who walk the walk if you get my drift but you have to admit .. or perhaps I can elicit from you – how many do what you do and how many do the car gig?

      Do you do your thing in all kinds of weather and dark of night or do you bail and use the car at times?


      so you DO …NEED a CAR – correct?

      and you DO …NEED… parking for it .. correct?

      I’m skeptical that even people who WILL bike and walk will STILL ..NEED a car overall – and thus still need a place to park it.

      so unless and until you really don’t have a car at all.. then you’d not need parking.. but until then.. seems like it’s physically impossible to have a car and not a place to put it.

      of course then we get into single family homes in subdivisions with their own parking verses apartments, etc where we seem to advocate less or no parking.

      I doubt seriously you’re EVER going to see a subdivision which does not have parking for a car… never ever… right?

      would any of us EVER advocate for zoning policies that would approve a subdivision but only allow satellite parking like we see at some colleges?

      I continue to be skeptic. I’d LIKE to see MORE AND MORE biking and ped.. but I can’t see a downstream vision for it.

    2. Salz – I’m about 4 miles from a Food Lion but I’be be taking my life in my own hands if I attempted to bike or walk it.

      there is no bike or ped infrastructure.

      Maybe some day – Pea Pod or Amazon or whoever will allow me to order groceries on the web and have them delivered the same way UPS or FedEx does.

      My doctor is 10 miles away and I’d die in the first 3 miles trying to bike to him.

      the post office is 3 miles away and every time I see a biker on that road, I think we’re going to have a tragedy because there are no bike lanes and there is no ditch and the road itself was built in the 1920’s to 1920 design standards with curves and hills and 1920 size lane widths.

      Now I live in an exurban community and thus am subject to some level of criticism on this but I do from time to time make my way to NoVa and I see just as deadly situations – just different. instead of rural/narrow .. it’ 6 lane urban arterials where you’re fine until you get to the intersection.. then you’re in trouble.

      I’ve been to Charlottesville countless times and I’d live there all things equal and biking/ped is more reasonable but you do stay off the main arteries for the most part..

      I’ve biked – with paniers… and it’s not for amateurs… the weight affects your ability to control that bike …. it’s fine on a bike trail.. it’s dicey on traffic flows with cars…

      I’m totally conflicted by this. I very much want a world where anyone who wants to can choose to bike or walk. We’d certainly be a much healthier country if we did but the obstacles and challenges are enormous and even in a best case scenario.. it appears to be a decades long job.

  4. “… the authors found that 37% of parking spots remained empty overnight. That was consistent with another finding that apartment complexes had 20% more occupied apartments than occupied parking spaces, meaning many tenants had no cars.”

    Hold on to your hats – easy solution. Don’t build stupid apartments. Let people have space, own the space, enjoy the space. There, problem solved.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Accurate makes a good point. Virtually every idea of new urbanism relies on a high level of population density. These apartments provide that. However, new urbanists are NEVER happy. Therefore, even though people choose to live in densely populated apartment complexes they still must give up parking spaces.

      The single biggest impediment to walkability is not parking spaces. It is state and local governments that don’t give a rat’s ass about walkability. I live 1.3 mi from Safeway, restaurants, stores , etc. There are no sidewalks or ever shoulders on the roads. I don’t carry nearly enough life insurance for that stroll.

      Walkability is a funny thing. I have a second house out in the country in Maryland. Due to environmental concerns, the zoning is one house per 20 acres if there is any Chesapeake Bay waterfront. Very rarely is the development even up to that density level. However, the county and state have apparently decided to make walkability and bikeability a priority. So, there are bike lanes on both sides of the major roads and a dedicated running / biking path that goes on for miles. I routinely bike 8.5 miles to a restaurant / bar / ice cream shack and then bike 8.5 miles back.

      So, wealthy Fairfax County with its relatively high population density can’t be bothered to build sidewalks while this much poorer rural county in Maryland has extensive walking and biking facilities. Of course, the county in Maryland has a county income tax which no county in Virginia has.

      Once again, this column is an attempt to navigate the invisible isthmus between new urbanism and the free market. I am increasingly convinced that you can have free market development or new urbanism but not both. If stores thought that lower prices and no parking would bring in customers that’s what they would build. Other than ultra high density areas that’s not what they build. I don’t hear the store owners lobbying government for the “right” to build stores without parking that would have their patrons overwhelm the on-street parking needed by local residents. I also see more and more places in supposedly “progressive” places like Arlington which require special stickers (available only to residents) in order to park on the streets. I guess too many businesses exist without sufficient parking for the new urbanist utopia of Arlington.

  5. yeah.. I’m not seeing a world where we prohibit parking for apartments and such and allow it for subdivisions… bad karma…

  6. When new multifamily housing/commercial/retail constructions occur without adequate parking, people with cars still need parking and will park in spaces intended for others. The “others” often cannot park and object strongly.

    That’s why most zoning ordinances require each use to park itself. Developers of multi-family, commercial and retail projects study parking data very carefully. They tend to propose parking spaces that are realistic. Of course, these projects should be subject to outside review and comment. Pretending new people won’t drive doesn’t work. It just makes life for the existing residents and workers more miserable.

  7. I think the way that TMT does on this. when you do not provide for parking.. people just seek other places to park – places where others park and disputes arise.

    You can see this in a lot of places where there are college campuses in the midst of residential even though the college has satellite parking…

    unless rules are passed – and enforced.. trouble usually ensues.

    the other problem is when you have on-street parking.. it makes it virtually impossible to have safe bike lanes… which kind of damages the concept of people not having cars and biking/walking.

    1. I was a college commuter. I parked in a neighborhood a few blocks from the campus. A few years ago, I drove my family to see where I went to college. For old times sake, I drove down the street where I parked. There was now a parking district that limited parking to those with stickers. I wondered where I would have parked had the regulations been in effect when I went to college. The school’s parking lots were always full.

  8. Down this way we have Mary Washington University and the situation is just barely under control because there are day students… in addition to the full time. The full time usually park in the satellite lots.. the day students park in the neighborhoods.

    The University also has evening events for the community and we attend those and there is very limited parking on campus – by permit for some, not all alumni. Everyone else finds a parking spot in the adjacent neighborhoods which have signs limiting parking.


    it “works” in part because the college is not huge relative to the neighborhood …

    we have a similar problem with VRE parking for the commuter rail that leaves from the Fredericksburg train station. there is never enough parking and people leave on early trains to get parking.. Others, invariably, every day, end up getting ticketed…

    and the funny thing is that two blocks away is structured fee parking garage for $70 a month that is often fairly empty. That garage, ironically, was bought from the money the city gets from the 2.1% gas tax that VRE jurisdictions can charge.

    parking fees are like toll roads to many people. they just think they are wrong.

    but if you are going to permit apartments and other development to not have parking, then you should have nearby parking – for a price and strict rules for curbside parking.

    in other words, let them build the development but require generalized parking for a fee and make it unpleasant to park in nearby neighborhoods.

  9. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    I am a skeptic regarding these various “anti-parking” studies.

    It’s not real hard to go around counting empty parking spaces and then to make grand pronouncements about how much harm these sometimes empty spaces do ranging from global warming to skyrocketing cost of housing and everything in between, all based on somebody’s “Perfect World Analysis” which is totally useless since none of us live in a perfect world.

    This reminds me of the conservative “anti-mass transit fellow” who pulls isolated mass transit versus auto costs per mile numbers out of the air which if they were standing alone might be technically true, but which have no basis in fact when someone tries to apply them to many situations encountered in the real world where only mass transit gets the job done. Or when it gets the job done when added into the mix with other options.

    So this sort of bogus analysis then often cuts both ways. And, either way, it amounts to little more than isolated facts assembled by a true believer to built cheap shots in pursuit of that true believer’s agenda. Here that agenda may be to force other people out of their cars by taking away their parking. Here too that agenda may be to force other people onto mass transit in places mass transit does not work on a cost benefit analysis. Here too it may be applied so as to strip parking out of mass transit stops, and thus built a mass transit without the collateral infrastructure to work financially, or that institutes long term chronic problems, or that only provides half the benefits that would accrue if it were integrated into a multimodal system.

    Such scenarios then do more harm than good. They take options away from people that would work to dilute traffic, and so instead they create bottlenecks, congestion, and dysfunctional single use systems built on someone’s altar of ideological purity. Thus everybody in the region suffers, and the lifeblood is taken out of whole communities.

    I have not gotten into this particular study so cannot say if its happening here but I can say that on first impressions its waving red flags.

    Perhaps a comment made on an earlier post applies here:
    “We think and act linear. Oh, really? Our modern machines and science feed this illusion. (They try to rule us by numbers) But we don’t operate and live our lives that way. Never have and likely never will. We are highly illogical beings that think we’re the reverse. We function and act daily illogically. So, how we build where we live our daily lives, and what we use every day, all of the many things that build our wealth, our comfort and our happiness, and yes our efficiency too, need be informed by that fact of our lives.”


  10. but to be fair. it’s also true in some places like NYC where your apartment does NOT come with a parking place and if you want one – it’s going to cost you a bunch.

    A… the emphasis here is on “A” – solution is to ALLOW no-parking development IF there is separate parking available. For instance a common parking lot or structure that charges t park – AND strict no-parking rules for areas already used by others.

    In this modern world – EVEN IF you had ALL the amenities you would need within a short walk or bike away … almost no one is going to find the nearest doctor or grocery, or church or whatever to be the one they prefer.

    People are mobile. they’re never going to revert back to a lifestyle where they are going to be content with only the services that are ped/bike “close” to where they live.

    it’s just unrealistic to think: 1. that people will be content with the services closest to where they live and 2. will never change jobs or take a job somewhere else .

    Both of those things used to be much more true when we had people who would live and work in near proximity and were relatively content to shop locally, use a local doctor, go to a local church.

    that lifestyle is an artifact … it’s no longer the norm.

    some of the new urbanism/you don’t need a car orthodoxy seems to be yearning to go back to a time when people were not mobile.

    does New Urbanism “fit” the modern world?

  11. See, that’s why you should appreciate people who live in an RV. They utilize those otherwise empty over night parking slots at Walmart. They walk to the store to buy stuff, paying local taxes. And they are gone before the sun comes up.

    Contrast that with a person like me who has willingly decided that if it doesn’t fit in a backpack then I don’t need it. A guy who would rather stake a dollar playing Mega bus or Space A roulette than spending one more minute tolerating what passes for life’s work. Just another bum who is adopting the entitlement lifestyle with a vengeance while using technology to scan for the next free lunch. Guess what? I’m not alone.

    While you all are debating who should be entitled to a parking spot, you are missing the picture entirely. If you can’t afford the car, who cares about the parking spot? That’s the paradigm change you need to be looking at.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Bravo Darrell. The Sage of Norfolk lightens up my day yet again.

      A related point. Parking is a lost leader. Parking never pays for itself. So why do real estate owners build parking? And why wouldn’t any sane landowner replace unnecessary parking into something else that turned a profit instead of throwing away his money or opportunity to make it?

      And on the flip side of the issue. Might folks who obsess about other people’s parking (that is parking that they did not build or pay for themselves, and that they do not own, and do not maintain, or have any legitimate interests in, contrary to their bogus assertions), might such busy body folks have better and more productive things to do with their own time? What compels them to spend their own time sticking their noses into other peoples business (despite all their noble claims to the contrary)?

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        Imagine the logic –

        An oversupply of parking spaces drives up the costs of parking.
        Cut the oversupply of parking and you drive down the cost of parking.
        Reduce the supply to zero and you reduce the parking problem to zero.

    2. good point Darrell! but let me point out their policies on letting people use their parking lots during the weekday for carpool parking.

      NOT! Some of them have nasty signs saying not only is it not allowed but if they do it they will tow you.

      I never understand that logic to be honest because just like the RV parkers – the carpoolers more than likely would pick up groceries there on the way home.

      In terms of the affordability of cars – new cars on the low end are widely available and if you drop down into used cars.. pretty affordable. even minimum wage workers have cars.

  12. re: loss leader and supply/demand

    not to be contrary …

    but I don’t think WalMart (for instance) thinks of the money it’s pays to provide it’s parking lot is a “loss leader”. Without that parking lot, they’d probably not have a business at all.

    I’m familiar with the costs of a computer lot which are pretty extreme.

    on the order of $10,000 per spot….


    now how would VDOT possibly justify spending 10 million dollars for a parking lot out of gas tax money?

    Now if you can come up with the answer to that question – a second challenge:

    why does VDOT provide these spaces free instead of charging for them?

  13. DJRippert Avatar

    The battle over bike lanes has come to Alexandria, VA and prompted this Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal:


  14. DJRippert Avatar

    Also – I am very interested in the New Urbanist position on residential parking zones. You know – those residential areas on public streets (paid for by all taxpayers) where you can’t park unless you have a local residential sticker.

    Arlington is full of both new urbanists and local residents who insist on laws that restrict parking on public streets to those people who live on those streets.

    It certainly seems like the myth of excessive parking is just that – a myth. Otherwise, why do some neighborhoods need to reserve on-street parking only for residents of that neighborhood?

    1. most “causes” have middle, left and right adherents and dimensions so on a given issue – sometimes it’s wrong to try to generalize.. something of which I am myself guilty of at times.

      but somewhere between New Urbanism and Sprawl there are folks who consider the car to be an evil that has caused enormous damage to our human “ecosystem”.

      And so those people are in favor of laws that essentially penalize the use of the car…. on all manner of uses.. including parking.

      I’m not n favor of that.

      but I’m also not in favor of policies that favor the automobile to the point where it’s next to impossible for people to walk or bike either.

      and I’m opposed to do-gooder type policies that think if you take away parking, people won’t own an auto when our world right now basically
      presumes personal mobility… as a given.

      we take much of it for granted until someone mentioned something like impervious surfaces and stormwater or bikers getting “doored”, etc.

      The one thing I really notice when looking at pictures or videos of other countries cities – is the heavy presence of bikes and scooters on the urban roads infrastructure and here the roads are designed almost exclusively for cars going at speed and largely incompatible with other modes of mobility.

      Of course in those countries – the smaller mode riders get the opossum road kill treatment sometimes also…

  15. certainly anyone who pays property taxes could claim they help pay for on-street parking and thus are entitled to their share.

    but bikers also pay taxes, right?

    for this reason and the ongoing “wars” I find the occasional sign that says “share the road” to be enormously amusing…

    VDOT is obviously conflicted over this. Many towns and cities and most counties have no problem giving preference to cars. Some, like Arlington are more “susceptible” to the stridency of the bikers.

    I DO THINK since a not insignificant amount of transportation funding now comes from the general sales tax – that it gives bikers a strong legitimate right to be more accommodated than they are now.

    fully 20% of state funding for transportation comes from the sales tax.

    Are bikers entitled to 20% of total transpo money?

  16. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    DJ says:
    “Also – I am very interested in the New Urbanist position on residential parking zones. You know – those residential areas on public streets (paid for by all taxpayers) where you can’t park unless you have a local residential sticker. Arlington is full of both new urbanists and local residents who insist on laws that restrict parking on public streets to those people who live on those streets. It certainly seems like the myth of excessive parking is just that – a myth. Otherwise, why do some neighborhoods need to reserve on-street parking only for residents of that neighborhood?”

    In reply, I agree that urban parking space excess is an urban legend. In DC urban parking is becoming ever more scarce. The causes are many. Several obvious ones have to do with changing demographics. There are more younger people going urban yet the housing stock is not keeping up with the influx. Hence with more people per home, there are more cars per homes.
    This includes car users who also use mass transit. In addition, there are more older fixed income people who supplement their income with boarders. This too increases parking needs. And as downtown parking rates skyrocket because of the growing lack of downtown parking, more and more people park further out in city to take Metro into commercial areas. This happens on street side parking as the city refuses to build structured parking for metro users. This in turn has brought zone parking permits into play. Rates are rising for these permits, and those rates are being adjusted to discriminate. Hence out of state student residents are forced to pay $350 per year to park in front of the house where they lawfully live.

    The anti-parking smart growth people will make all of this much worse if they get their way. Although they often hid it for political reasons, their bottom line strategy is simple:

    1/ Outlaw curbside parking in urban commercial areas, and commandeer the parking lane for bike travel.

    2/ Institute paid curbside metered parking in residential areas. Then adjust the parking rates in front of peoples homes to gain control of other peoples right to use their automobile to and from their homes, and the right of tradesmen (plumbers, cleaning ladies, visiting nurses etc) to earn a living and care for the elderly. Use the metered income to promote bicycles lanes.

    3/ Encourage or force apartment and condo owners to forgo parking for their rented apartments or purchased condos.

    Most all this high toned talk about parking is all about restricting other peoples use of their automobile and gaining control of their mobility. It will drive the costs of urban living sky high while it destroys urban convenience, and hits the low and fixed income folks, and the elderly the hardest.

  17. like a lot of things there is middle ground..but compromise has become a dirty word

  18. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    What we see here is how these efforts to eliminate parking spaces (both free and otherwise) work to close in and restrict peoples lives. Gar too often such policies hurt people directly, hurt them badly in their everyday living.

    Here’s a few of endless examples.

    1/ The mother with two children – a 18 month old, and three year old – who, without a baby sitter, needs to get groceries but has no place to park either at the store or at home.
    2/The elderly person who living at home needs daily medical care, including transfusions, but her nurse has nowhere to park.
    3/ The cleaning lady who loses much of her hard earned income paying parking fines because it takes more than the two hour parking limit to clean her customers house.
    4/ The student who works at night to pay his way through college who must pay $350 a year to park in front of his own home because he’s from out of state.

    The list of harms and hurts that these anti-parking policies do to individual citizens every day of their lives is virtually endless. Yet they comprises only half of the harm these parking space elimination policies do. Why?

    Such anti-parking policies suck the health and wealth out the city generally. Parking is a utility. It’s is like water. It’s like electricity. It’s like sewer. Bring in water, electricity and sewer, and cities then grow and thrive. More and more people can live there, work there, play there, build families there.

    This synergy among people is critical to wealth and health creating cities, civilization itself. Take away the water, the electricity, the sewer, and cities decline, dry up and fail. And with us now its the same with parking. Our cities depend on parking because our cities today have been built this way.

    Now if we take them apart by ax and cleaver – stripping out parking abruptly – we will do great harm that will wipe away any good. In most all our cities today, prosperity depends on adequate affordable parking. For some detail on that assertion see: https://www.baconsrebellion.com/2013/10/the-quest-for-smarter-parking.html#comments

    1. Reed, do you concede that there is a difference between eliminating mandated parking minimums (as I advocate) and mandating parking maximums (as some D.C. smart growthers would advocate)? I would allow the supply of parking to reach a market equilibrium, while the D.C. smart growthers would compel the abandonment of parking spaces.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        If you don’t mandate the minimum then the government needs to agree not to make street parking for residents only. What’s a store owner to do? You eliminate minimum parking and they develop the store with fewer parking slots. They figure that overflow (on the rare times it happens) can park on nearby streets. Then, Arlington County turns into a quivering mound of jello in the face of citizen pressure and bans street parking for anybody but residents of the neighborhood.

        People start showing up at the store and there is nowhere to park. Not in the minimized store lot, not on the “forbidden” street – nowhere.

        Guess what? What that happens even once you can kiss most customers goodbye forever.

      2. Jim,

        I agree local government needs to look at what is appropriate for parking requirements from time to time and should make different policies for different uses. But each use must park itself. When it doesn’t, others suffer. Reed makes a good list of examples of bad situations.

        The Snot-nosed Millennials, who are arrogantly car free, will age too. I did. I found that a lot of what I believed wasn’t always true. The automobile is and will continue to be a major part of our society and economy. I support transit and, indeed, use it. I have pushed for aggressive TDM at Tysons. But the studies show smart growth at Tysons will generate a crushing increase in auto traffic. It needs to be parked or the County cannot approve the density.

        Here’s a tough one. Fairfax County is considering amending its zoning law to allow more residential studio units (RSUs or SROs). They are intended for low-income housing. They will likely be limited to a single occupant in general, but some may have more. The County is likely to limit their locations to walking distance of all-day transit. Many residents will not have autos. But since the only limitation is income, it is quite possible that many occupants will have cars. The closeness to transit will not necessarily mean tenants will not drive. So what should Fairfax County do about parking?

        Let’s assume a 50-unit RSU building is constructed. How many parking spaces should it have? One draft of the ordinance would require one parking space per unit, but would permit a waiver. As these units will be income limited, turnover is very likely. A building may shift over time from transit-dependent to car-dependent. Thirty spaces may work in 2014, but fail in 2015. And if there are not enough spaces, cars will be parked in locations that preempt other drivers. Neighborhood conflict erupts. I’d make the builder construct at least 50 parking spaces.

    2. I agree with Reed also ( wow!)….

      I’m skeptical that there are mandated minimums to start with but any development that is built – predicated on no on-site parking automatically brings the “free rider” problem into the game.

      sure.. perhaps the first residents will be those snot-nozed millennials but soon the owner is going to be faced with slim picking of people who are willing to rent with no-onsite parking AND no easy way to park offsite.

      it’s just unrealistic to think – over the longer run – people won’t have need of a car at some point, even temporarily or just for plumbers, etc.

      If you are going to do something like that then the developer should have to provide “discretionary” parking – for a price so that those who truly won’t have a car won’t have to pay but those that do will.

      If there is a minimum rule, it almost surely is focused on the “free rider” issue where people will just roam and take whatever they can find.

      I always thought the cottages at Nags Head had neat features when they build them high enough for cars to park underneath. Seems like a reasonable thing and if you don’t want the parking, you got storage.

      another approach would be to require the developer to build a bus stop and provide some funding for transit and pass that cost onto tenants.

      what we don’t want is a bunch of parking scofflaws masquerading as virtuous car-free millennials.!!!

  19. If retailers are concerned about kissing customers goodbye forever, who is best equipped to decide how much parking they need? The retailer … or the local government applying arbitrary standards cut-and-pasted from some other political jurisdiction?

    1. Jim – can you provide some evidence that parking is mandated?

      1. Larry, This is a ridiculous exchange to have. There is no dispute about this whatsoever. Try this book for starters: https://www.baconsrebellion.com/2013/08/a-logical-approach-to-reforming-parking-policy.html

        Then move on to Donald Shoup’s, “The High Cost of Free Parking.”

  20. for instance in Virginia .. can you provide one or two Virginia localities actual requirements as a starting point and a critique of those you provide in terms of what they should do instead?

    we seem to be working on this more of as a concept that real Virginia stuff which is your bailiwick (that I count on).

    1. Here, Larry, peruse through these 5,26,000 results on Bing for “residential parking regulations.” http://www.bing.com/search?q=Residential+Parking+Regulations&FORM=QSRE1

      After you’ve taken a look, come back and tell me if you think parking requirements are widespread or not.

  21. did a little checking and the requirements in Spotsylvania are 4 spaces per 1000 sqft.


    the newest WalMart is about 200,000 square feet which I guess works out to about 800 spaces…

    I’ll head out there in a while to do a count but my suspects are that there isa lot more than 800 spaces…

    I’ll report back.

    1. Go in the store; buy some spray paint; start with a space; paint a number on each space; and tell us the total. 😉

      Sorry, Larry, but you walked into this one.

  22. too easy.. just count one row then add up the rows. They probably have 800 spots.. but I’ll get a more accurate count when the lot is not as busy.

    I’ve seen that lot pretty full… over 80%…

    dunno what “buffer” Walmart would be comfortable with.

    Keep in mind that the square feet of impervious surfaces these days translates in to huge storm ponds as is the ponds at this WalMart – several acres worth and two dry ponds downstream of the wet one.

    and let me also say – in our county is a business the size of Walmart ask for a waiver, they fall all over themselves to make sure it’s “enough”.

    I’m not sure what counties have these “draconian” rules but ours basically rolls over backwards for the bigger retailers.. smaller guys.. they do abuse.

  23. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Jim asks “Reed, do you concede that there is a difference between eliminating mandated parking minimums (as I advocate) and mandating parking maximums (as some D.C. smart growthers would advocate)? I would allow the supply of parking to reach a market equilibrium, while the D.C. smart growthers would compel the abandonment of parking spaces.”

    My reply: I’ll concede the difference. And it’s a substantial difference. Mandating maximums is a horrible policy, almost sure to do great harm, I believe. And I am appalled at the idea of forbidding parking in many commercial and multi-family uses without exceptional circumstances.

    At the same time I wish that eliminating mandated parking minimums, and giving free markets full reign, had a reasonable change to achieving good results. But I fear cutting developers loose and letting the free markets “try” to dictate the requisite number of parking spaces needed for each project.

    Why? Because I fear that we’d soon end up with far too few spaces. And that the problem would metastasize and spread to other projects long before it could be cured at an acceptable expense. Plus the unintended and unforeseen consequence could very easily spread far and wide too.

    Hence I fear that future generations would be stuck with the mess of such a policy just like we all are today now stuck with the messes left behind by the ill-founded land use and transportation decisions made over the past 40 years by the last several generations, including my own.

    The problems, I believe, are that human nature, the utility nature of parking, and the vagaries of the real estate and its control generally will thwart a truly free and efficient markets here. So that free markets here can’t be trusted. And that Murphy’s Law will reign, forcing bad results.

    The reasons are complex. Here I’ll grossly oversimplify.

    Raising and spending millions (most of it other peoples money) is highly risky business. As a close friend once said, “When things go good, developing real estate is the greatest job in the world. But when things good bad, its the worst job in the world, pure hell.” The ways to get burned at the game are endless, and so are the ways different people react to the experience and the pressure of the enormous risks undertaken. Some few folks are oddly and remarkably immune.

    But for the sane, risk avoidance and control are critical, if one is to avoid the pain and feel the bliss. The primary way to avoid the risk is shift the risk onto someone else, and/or control costs with the utmost care, skill, and discipline. That is hard (f0r some extremely hard) because the risks of loss are great, and so is the bliss of the upside.

    And here is where parking comes into play. Remember parking is the lost leader. It increases costs that magnify risks, yet does not generate revenue by itself. Rather it generates benefit only indirectly. Thus adding parking over the minimum is an extremely hard thing to do in many cases, unless one operates by proven formula such as Wal-Mart, for example.

    In counter-point, absent minimum parking requirements by code, it is far harder to rationalize adding parking with its burdensome cost and attendant risk than it is to rationalize cutting parking and its attendant cost, and thus gain the illusion of safety.

    Similarly too one is then temped to find ways to game the system. To get parking somehow for free, and/or to rationalize cutting your parking because the guy next door is cutting his too, or because the government doesn’t care, or yet because it hates parking. You get what I am saying here? We all can easily rationalize our way into most anything.

    I will complete this in the morning.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      The balance of my above comment requires more time but is coming.

    2. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      First a few clarifications to above.

      When I say ‘Raising and spending millions (most of it other peoples money) is highly risky business” I am talking about a developer spending other peoples money when he’s personally liable to pay it back in whole or part.

      Nothing concentrates a borrowers mind more on thrift and discipline risk reward analysis than when his lender has personal recourse against him. This makes spending on lost leader expensive urban parking that is not mandated by code very hard to do voluntarily. Its particularly hard with urban structured or underground parking that is far more expensive that paving open ground.

      (In any case, we need a lot more recourse lending when spending of public moneys today. If that were the case, the horrible waste of public money would come to an abrupt halt. Recourse (even limited) would put responsibility back into the system that is now largely out of control.)

      In any case I feel sure that without parking mandates we’d soon end up with too little parking in urban areas. And that at best the parking that we did get built would be far too patchwork and spotty. Most likely most urban developers to save money and perceived risk. Some others then would put in too much parking concentrated in one locale (their own) so as to gain the parking advantage over his competitors, throwing the entire transportation system out of balance. That balance is essential throughout the system. You cannot properly plan land uses without it.

      Hence mandates that assure parking minimums are essential, I believe. I think that developers should be allowed to exceed parking minimums. I’ll elaborate why using a Ballston Va example when more time allows.

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        correction to above 4th para:

        “Most likely most urban developers WOULD Skimp on Parking to save money and perceived risk. Some other Developers then would put in too much parking concentrated …”

  24. well it turns out that the ITE – institute of transportation engineers produce parking “generation” data similar to traffic generation data they generate and planners typically use the ITE as their benchmark for both parking and traffic generation.

    there are some legitimate issues about trip/parking generation. For instance, a typical SFD home is said to generate about 10 trips a day whereas smaller/shared residential like townhouses, apartments, condos are said to generate less.

    The transport engineers consider the two to be related. That is – if there is a shortage of parking – it causes traffic to circulate… looking for parking.

    so the planners are also concerned about traffic flow in areas where there is insufficient parking.

    I’m not disputing that there are different ways of thinking about this but for instance for a large retail – the range goes from like 3 to 4 cars per 1000 square feet – as opposed to zero parking. And they go through this for a wide range of uses from Churches to Vets to parks…

    I think if you want planners to change.. you’re going to have to get the ITE to change because planners probably are not going to substitute their own judgement for an engineering judgement.

    I did find this: California Smart-Growth Trip Generation Rates Study


    worth reading – but their approach is to look at the existing built environment as well as transit, walking, biking availability.

    in other words – you don’t take the parking away unless you have these other things… which I would then agree with… (and perhaps that was the advocacy to start with and I missed it).

    If a development is easy to take transit, bike or walk then there would be some hope that less parking would be needed…

    how you get these other things is surely a function of govt not the private sector but perhaps Reed has a differing view.

  25. Interesting discussion much of which is actually addressed in Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking.” He does take the ITE generation work to task and explains how it’s arrived at, for example, Larry. His work is, however, almost 400 pages due to its immense detail.

    Some other info I’ve looked at — each of which, of course, has its flaws: In urban areas, as many as 45 percent of cars (Brooklyn) are cruising for parking and Copenhagen embarked on a program decreasing urban parking annually which has, over the years, allowed them to close five streets to cars yet greatly boost commercial sales. Today, Copenhagen is a sidewalk culture in spite of the cold with restaurants furnishing blankets over the outside chairs.

    Washington state and the Metro Washington Council of Governments have established parking standards which limit a company’s spaces to a percentage of the number of employees.

    Several West Coast cities, most notably San Francisco, have instituted dynamic parking schemes and discovered that rather than decreasing sales, as many predicted, the dynamic charge (similar to the changing tolls on D.C. area toll roads) actually boosted sales. Primarily, sales clerks and waiters quit parking in the best spaces IF they have to pay and take transit, bike or park further away where parking is not as tight. Consequently, the best spaces in front of the stores turned over faster to people who came, shopped, remembered the meter was running out and left, freeing that space for another. Fewer lingered over a third cup of coffee, increasing restaurant turnover.

    Yes, many of the issues which ya’ll question present themselves but until we allow ourselves to think outside the asphalt lines, we will continue to waste money supporting an autocentric culture which has immense negative externalities. Parking is a good place to begin a smarter discussion.

    Larry, your fear of cycling safety is real whether or not the data supports that fear — and it doesn’t. My wife has the same fear, by the way. Your needs cannot, therefore, be solved with cycling but that is not the only way to decrease your need for parking and its correlated driving. Rational parking charges and not mandated minimums will simply help you discover ways that you can build “non-parking” into your life. As our grandmothers used to tell us, “there can be too much of a good thing” and our American default position of key in the ignition for virtually every transportation need and/or desire illustrates the old maxim almost perfectly.

    Finally, at one point, Shoup tried to determine how many parking spaces there are per car in America and eventually estimated seven because it’s impossible to actually count them.

  26. Shoup did indeed get into the ITE conundrum but what I’ve demurred from is the most common narrative that the planners have ‘arbitrarily’ “decided”, when in fact they are working off of ITE standards for BOTH trip AND parking generation and both are based on actual studies as indicated in the California Smart growth study I posted.

    If the ITE concern is that a lack of parking leading to added circulating traffic, I think it is a valid concern myself. Can the numbers for different types of land use such as smart growth be better honed? yes. Would you just ignore the ITE stuff in hopes that more restrictive parking would then push an area into less auto-intensive use? Maybe but I personally think that would be an even worse thing for planners to be doing.

    the facilities that make Smart Growth “work” have to be there also. that means plentiful transit, sidewalks, bike lanes, etc. and that takes more on the part of planners saying ” it shall be”.

    on my “fear”. I’m a pragmatic guy. I HAVE biked in places where there are no bike lanes and no shoulders AND just to the left of parked cars with doors opening and it has more to do with the immediacy of the threat than
    some philosophical view of parking.

    Nervous nellie types don’t generally paddle whitewater up to class 4 and 5 and people that do – do that – generally have their heads screwed on straight about the difference between perception and reality…..

    one can also clearly see the difference between reasonable accommodations for bikes and ped – and substandard or non-existent facilities.

    in terms of reducing the need for parking.. let me also tell you a thing or two about one guys approach.

    I stack errands.. I don’t usually take trips for one purpose. Worse than that, I will sort the errands so that I only take “right-in” and “right-out” turns until the final “turn-around” errand is done.

    Further – I have a 10 year old pickup with 40,000 miles on it.. and it’s never had a brake job either…

    I carpooled to work for 30 years.. in a Mazda Protege… When I paddle, we group up on vehicles.. (but we do need parking at the put-ins and take-outs).

    so I feel that I am at least somewhat “tuned” to the issue.. both philosophically and lifestyle.

    I think too many of us are too often auto-centric for no good reasons and that we clog up roads and parking for the flimsiest of reasons at times like trying to do a discretionary errand at rush hour or because you forgot to do it before rush hour.

    and I think we have to change but I’m opposed to it change being driven by zealotry on the part of proponents. I think the best paths forward come from
    agreement of common ground from diverse interests. I’m a half-loaf guy. Get the half-loaf and work for the other half – one half-loaf at a time. And you get the half-loaf sometimes by more and more education of those who don’t know but if you try to impose rules that affect people who don’t understand and who like the status quo – it can be counterproductive. change is no good if people end up resentful and will undo it first chance they get…

    so.. it’s in the dialogue… I learn from others, not that I don’t have my own strong views. As long as the discussion stays on the merits (which it almost always does here in BR).. then I can be convinced of something I’m skeptical on – AND sometimes vice-versa!

    When I see an ambulatory person get out of a car with a handicapped sticker right in front of Walmart and walk ten steps to the entrance – I know we have a problem… 😉

    Always enjoy the dialogue. thank you.

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