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Minimum Parking

By Matthew Yglesias on September 29, 2008 at 1:25 pm

"Minimum Parking"

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Here’s a pretty good AP article about the parking minimums debate in DC and around the country. It leads with the story of Jeff and Alice Speck who live in my neighborhood and built this cool house on an otherwise unusable corner triangle lot:

Alice and Jeff Speck didn’t have a car and didn’t want one. But District of Columbia zoning regulations required them to carve out a place to park one at the house they were building. It would have eaten up precious space on their odd-shaped lot and marred the aesthetics of their neighborhood, dominated by historic row houses. The Specks succeeded in getting a waiver, even though it took nine months.

I think there are absolutely no valid reasons whatsoever for maintaining parking minimum mandates. The minimums are economically inefficient and hamper growth. They’re inequitable, with the burdens falling hardest on the poor. And they’re bad for the environment. And for public health. They’re really, really bad — vestiges of a 1950s mindset that lacked any empirical track record about the relationship between automobiles and urban planning (not their fault, it was new technology) and was also just unduly in love with central planning schemes. There is, however, one extremely powerful political argument in favor of minimum regulations:

In old D.C. neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Georgetown, where parking is scarce, opponents of the change fear that if new homes don’t provide off-street spots, competition for on-street parking will worsen.

Since hypothetical future residents don’t get to vote, this can carry the day. On the merits, the right policy response would be to deal with the on-street parking crunch with performance parking rules. But parking minimums are so pernicious, and the opponents of reform so self-centered, that I think the best way to go is to crudely buy them off. In a city like DC that gives out zone-based residential parking permits, you could just offer incumbent permit holders a guarantee of a lifetime free permits, while saying that all new on-street parking permits will be auctioned or sold at some high price. That’s not quite optimal policy on the merits, but if it could grease the wheels and get minimums eliminated it’d be a deal well-worth making.

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