Too Much Parking

As cities are being recapitalized, albeit by private sources which brings its own problems, land is at a premium. A recent study estimates how many parking spaces five cities, New York, Seattle, Des Moines, Jackson (WY), and Philadelphia, have. It’s a lot (boldface mine):

It’s not an exaggeration to say American cities have been built for cars more than people. “After decades of requiring parking for new construction,” Scharnhorst writes, “car storage has become the primary land use in many city areas.”

In Des Moines, for example, there are 18 times as many parking spaces per acre as households — 1.6 million parking spaces and about 81,000 homes. In Philadelphia, there are 3.7 times more parking spaces than households. Of the five cities, only New York has more households than parking spaces, and New York still has 1.85 million parking spaces…

All this parking spreads destinations farther apart, making walking, biking, and transit less viable and further entrenching car dependence.

Parking is also extremely expensive to construct and maintain. If you built all the parking in these five cities today, Scharnhorst estimates it would cost $81 billion.

It’s a damning picture of America’s huge misallocation of resources to car storage.

The lending industry has been a big part of the problem, insisting on outdated parking formulas as a condition for financing new construction. The fact that this report was commissioned by mortgage bankers indicates that the industry may be ready to change its standards.

What the report doesn’t directly address unfortunately is how much land area is dedicated to parking. If we estimate that each parking space takes up 180 sq. feet*, we get the following percentages:

New York City: 4.2%
Des Moines: 11.7%
Seattle: 12.3%
Philadelphia: 10.5%
Jackson: 21.5%

Seattle is probably closer to 10%, as about one-third of its parking is structured, taking up less space. I’m guessing, based on these numbers, that D.C. is in the Philadelphia range.

When you realize how much of these cities is dedicated to car storage–and therefore not available for people storage, aka housing, it’s staggering to realize just how poorly we have planned our cities. As the article notes, mortgage lenders might be getting nervous about this. They might not care about quality of life issues or the environment, but there is a lot of wasted space that could be used for houses and businesses.

*Obviously, underground parking doesn’t take up surface area, and multi-level garages only occupy the street level. On the other hand, parking lots will take up more space as you have to have travel lanes within the parking lot. It’s also worth noting that, outside of Seattle, very few overall parking spaces are ‘structured’: most are on-street or surface lots.

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