OP-ED: Parking Over People: The Case Against Parking Minimums

by | Dec 13, 2022 | MUSIC

I was recently at a neighborhood association meeting when another resident approached me.

“I liked your article in RVAMag. It made me think of things in a new way,” they said (approximately — my memory has never been the best for things like this). This provided a source of inspiration for me to write another, in the hope, however dim, that I might make a difference and change someone else’s mind.

During the aforementioned neighborhood association meeting, there was talk about a new development. This sparked a discussion on parking and the inevitable despair of getting to where you’re going. The developers, alarmingly, created more parking than they were required to; the issue is not the quantity of parking spaces but how they are allocated. Those extra spaces will do little if anything to help.

Parking minimums, together with zoning, are what stand in the way. They forbid shared parking, and so demand that most parking spaces remain empty. They forbid public paid parking, no matter how hard it is to find a space, and no matter how many parking spaces remain empty. They create a tragedy of the anti-commons, if you want to be clever. It’s quite the boon for towing companies, who can profit from keeping parking spaces empty.

However, unless you own a towing company, there’s no good to come from parking minimums and related parking restrictions.

Why is parking reform so important?

Recently, an employee approached me when I was measuring the sound volume of Hull Street (I sometimes amuse myself with taking measurements). My phone compared it to a vacuum cleaner, or a loud dishwasher; it then insisted that the next street over was about the volume of office conversations.

To get the Hull Street measurement, I had to open my car door into a busy traffic lane and step out onto it. Which brings me to the first reason why parking reform is important: because it can save people’s lives. Opening that door means you might, from time to time, hit a biker with it. Meanwhile, those 10 minute intervals you spend cruising for a parking space are 10 minute intervals in which you’re a distracted driver. That’s more accidents, and more injured or dead pedestrians, bikers, and drivers.

The second reason why parking reform is important is that parking takes up a lot of land.

For the purpose of illustrating this point, I picked a somewhat random space in Richmond city. Single-family detached homes, either by ordinance or happenstance, do not typically face the same parking minimums and restrictions. I went on Google maps and navigated to the block between Dock st and S. 25th street. I then measured a rectangle (highlighted yellow) and the parking within this square (in orange), which you can see below. Forgive my lack of precision in measuring; feel free to do the measurements yourself.

About 60,000 sq ft is dedicated to parking within this orange area. Within a square about 410,000 sq ft. This is over 15% of the space dedicated to parking. That could be someone’s home, someone’s job or someone’s business.

Some cities dedicate more land to parking cars than for housing people. Mysteriously, we value giving our cars a place to park more highly than we value giving a person a place to live.

What now?

I could go on for some time, and often do (even on dates, unfortunately). I haven’t even introduced the topics of time limits, overpriced meters, pedestrian-friendly paths, or traffic congestion. But the short answer is that parking minimums need to be abolished and only makes things worse. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your council members. It won’t solve everything, but it is a mandatory step before we can.

Unless, of course, you own a tow truck company.

Top Photo by Krzysztof Kotkowicz on Unsplash.

Brock Hall

Brock Hall

Brock is a local area stand-up comedian and freakonomics fan with an Economics degree from VCU. He is always overthinking, and is also a firm believer that the best conspiracy isn’t secret, it’s boring.

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