Beyond the Build


Rethinking Urban Parking

The first time I wrote a post about archaic parking regulations was ten years ago, and I revisited the topic in 2016. Time has passed, and things have gotten a little better, but we still have a long way to go.

I recently read a post from a friend and business associate titled Parking Laws Are Bad For Downtown, and thought some really smart points were made to share. To greatly over-simplify the article, parking codes are holding us back. Too many urban projects never make it past the concept stage because there is no way to fit adequate parking on the site. Not to mention the lost revenue from what could be built on the land parking spaces now occupy. (Did you know American cities average 8 parking spaces per car?) Maybe by accommodating commuters, we are creating anemic urban areas. After all, designing policies around cars is an indirect way of designing cities around people who don’t live there.

It seems that the problem of parking has been tackled with no real understanding of urban design, focusing entirely on the function of parking, not the form of cities. Moreover, the costs of parking are so great that requiring it hurts consumers more than the perceived savings of “free parking.”  In many cities, it’s a huge win if parking decks use more efficient management to regulate the existing spaces rather than adding new ones.

Perhaps we don’t need quantitative parking requirements, or if required, they simply assign where parking should be, not how much.

I would argue that it’s time to take a laissez faire approach to cars. They’re getting more expensive to own, meaning people will either start carpooling more or move to dense, amenity-rich cities to avoid the cost of ownership. Micro-transit startups will appear that offer a more pleasant commute. The advent of self-driving vehicles will allow our “conveyance pods” to park themselves on the edges of urban areas, where they will wait until called upon like a personal taxi. In fact, I foresee huge fleets of on-demand self-driving pods that are rented for a fraction of the daily cost of owning a vehicle. Sounds like a win for everyone, urban landscape included.

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Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.