It seems that Ithaca, New York is working on a plan to increase the permitted level of density in one part of town and to relax minimum parking requirements. Naturally, I favor both steps. Rather than use regulatory minimums to ensure that parking is available, they propose to let builders construct as much parking as they want and use market-rate pricing of street parking to avoid shortages. Opponents of the change seem to think that they’re doing favors to the poor since the burden of more expensive parking falls harder on the poor. But achieving cheap parking through regulatory mandates makes parking cheaper at the cost of making housing more expensive, and the burden of that also falls hardest on the poor.
The distributive impact of parking minimums is to redistribute income from people who don’t own cars to people who do own cars—not to shift income from poor to rich. A rich family will probably have at least one car for every family member who’s at least 16 years old. A family of more modest means will probably own fewer vehicles.
More generally, while I’m obviously not a hard-core free marketers, it does make sense to consider a free market position our default position. Mandating the construction of extra parking doesn’t reduce harmful environmental externalities. Rather, it generates them. It doesn’t help the neediest members of society, it makes it more difficult for them to afford housing. It doesn’t correct important information deficits—people are perfectly capable of asking whether or not a house they’re considering buying or renting comes with a reserved parking space.