DC Office of Planning Looking at Reduced Parking

The DC Office of Planning’s proposed new rules governing parking structures in high density areas strike me as extremely promising. Parking tends not to get discussed all that much in the national policy conversation. But when you think about real life conversations about transportation modalities, parking often features very heavily as people are disinclined to drive to places where it’s going to be difficult or expensive to park.

There are basically two philosophical approaches government can take to that phenomenon. One, which has predominated in the United States, has been to use a lot of regulatory levers to ensure that everything that’s built includes vast swathes of parking. That ensures that parking is kept cheap, since regulations mandate that it be heavily supplied.

A different, better, approach would be to recognize that in crowded urban areas space is a valuable commodity. Residential rents are high in crowded urban spaces. Commercial rents are high in crowded urban spaces. Retail rents are high in crowded urban spaces. They’re crowded. And often centers of high-value activity. Under the circumstances, it doesn’t really make sense to mandate that there be large set-asides for space to be used for the purposes of low-cost parking. It might make sense if parking spaces had environmental benefits. Or public health benefits. Or aesthetic benefits. But despite the similar letters in the words, a parking lot is not a kind of park. It doesn’t have any of those benefits. Under the circumstances, policy should be mildly discouraging parking as a use of valuable space, not actively encouraging it as we currently do. The OP plan would make the correct switch to a world of somewhat fewer, and somewhat more expensive, parking spaces.

You wouldn’t want to see the federal government making decisions about local parking zoning rules. But I feel like there could be a very constructive role for DOT and HUD to play in promulgating some kind of “best practices” and advise to local community. I know that the federal government did a lot of work to informally shape localities’ response to the dawn of the automobile age in the 1920s, much more through persuasion than through mandates.