Cheap, Excessive Parking Undermines Transit & Worsens Traffic

trafficLos Angeles just overwhelmingly passed a transportation sales tax with over 70% support, yet policies that encourage automobile usage may undermine the transit and congestion relief goals of the measure. Chief among these driving incentives is the over-supply of parking.

Juan Matute of UCLA and Andrew M. Fraser and Mikhail Chester of Arizona State University make the case in the Los Angeles Times that the region should stop providing plentiful, cheap parking:

Decades of car-centric development in Los Angeles have resulted in more than three and a half parking spaces for every car in the county — nearly 19 million in total. These spaces — in residential garages and driveways, commercial parking structures and surface lots, and along streets — account for 200 square miles of real estate,  much of it concentrated in dense, transit-friendly areas.

It is not a coincidence that where there’s the greatest concentration of parking spaces  —the downtown core, Hollywood and the Wilshire corridor — traffic can be particularly bad. The abundance of cheap or free parking spaces encourages Angelenos to choose cars over other transportation options and creates localized congestion, which makes driving more painful for everyone.

Only by making parking more scarce will we give drivers a reason to switch to buses or subways — and achieve Measure M’s promise of reducing traffic.

There’s no question that policies that require abundant parking are counter-productive when it comes to discouraging driving and reducing infill opportunities, and this op-ed sums up the situation nicely.  My only quibble is that it frames parking reform in the negative.  The average Angeleno reading this will probably think: they’re going to make it harder and more expensive for me to park my car in order to force me onto a slow-moving bus.

But there are many positive benefits for Angelenos from reforming parking policies.  First, it will (as the authors argue) decrease congestion for those times you need to drive.  Second, it will allow more walkable, thriving neighborhoods to develop in all the space that otherwise would go to house cars in a parking spot.  Three, it will save residents money on their homes and rents from not having to subsidize excessive parking. Fourth, it will encourage the development of much better, faster, and more reliable transit service as an alternative to being stuck in traffic.

The authors hint at these benefits in the end:

Angelenos like to think they have a right to cheap and easy mobility in the form of car ownership. We suggest that cheap and easy accessibility — to work, stores and fun — is the right we should strive to promote.

They also counter the usual argument that reduced parking spots will lead to parking nightmares in surrounding neighborhoods (residential parking permits can handle that issue).

Given the intense opposition to parking reform, advocates should focus on the positives for residents, rather than making the policy sound punitive to those who have few viable options other than driving. Because ultimately, the weight of the evidence is on the side of parking reform.  And as this piece makes clear, advocates need to make the case that it’s the right thing to do.


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