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Parking Not
The Law of the Lots

Laws that mandate unnecessarily large parking lots may be reducing local economic vitality. At The American Conservative, Jon Coppage discusses an experiment undertaken by Strong Towns, a blog dedicated to smart urban planning. U.S. states often have minimum-parking laws that require entities like malls to build a certain number of parking spots. Strong Towns wanted to test whether mall parking lots really needed all the spaces they are told to build, and so it collected pictures of their parking lots during the busiest time of a mall’s year: black Friday. Here’s what they discovered:

In many cases, the Strong Towns monitors found lots half-empty—or worse. Any failures at peak demand only serve to emphasize how woefully disconnected our zoning and town planning often is from the real demands of good policy, however. For even if every lot were ideally full on peak days, that would leave acres of empty, nearly unusable space for the other 362 (or so) days of the year […]

This comfort comes at a steep cost, however, as asphalt does not pay taxes…All that empty asphalt can be seen as an imposed desert, whereby the government is intentionally yet needlessly forgoing revenues that will have to be extracted from its citizens by other means.

As cars become less necessary for conducting the business of everyday life—telecommuting, online shopping reduce driving—we’re likely to see these gigantic parking lots that already exist become even more underused and new parking lots become even more inappropriate. Minimum-parking requirements that are holdovers from an more car-dependent age should be altered to reflect new realities, and the spaces that would be saved from more suitable requirements could be put to more economically productive uses. Read the whole thing; it’s an interesting look at a little-noticed problem.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    “Government” may have an interest in the entrances and exits not being so jammed as to create traffic hazards on the adjacent streets.

    But, excepting that, it would be hard to imagine any source for these ordinances other than the demand of other business and residential neighbors. My guess is that the over-building is nothing but government mandating what other business people demanded.

    A comment writer over at the referenced article wryly observes that we ALSO waste space on parking lots for football stadiums.

    • Dan

      Parking spots are NEVER wasted at football stadiums. They just provide more room for BBQ. =)

      On a serious note, do you think “government” has more of an interest in entrances/exits being jammed or the potential for more tax dollars? My bet would be on the latter. I doubt they ever used any kind of analysis when mandating all this parking in the first place. We all know this is the work of Big Asphalt.

  • Andrew Allison

    As the post suggests, this phenomenon may well be a reflection of declining traffic due to online purchases, a trend which seems likely to continue. The owners (as opposed to the tenants) of Malls, perhaps encouraged by local authorities, should be seeking
    planning permission to convert unused parking space to revenue-producing use.

  • Corlyss

    But hospitals never seem to have enough handicapped parking.

  • teapartydoc

    Millennials don’t drive, but the only people who should have any say as to how the property is to be developed should be THE OWNERS. Not a bunch of libs or crunchy “conservatives” who are actually neofascist liberals.

    • Clovis

      Something tells me that commercial property owners think certain gov’t requirements such as parking spaces are actually prohibitive.

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