Overregulation of Parking Leads to Low Quality

Roger K Lewis’ top pet peeve about the DC area built environment concerns parking garages:

A popular holdover from my previous lists, too many parking garages are still inadequately lighted to ensure good visibility for drivers and pedestrians and for late-night safety. Directional and exit signage in parking garages is often hard to see and follow. Ramps, driving aisles and parking spaces in many garages are still too tight for comfortably turning corners and for parking with reasonable ease without hitting a column.

My initial emotional response to this was to want to counter-complain about the evils of parking garages. But then I put my rational policy analyst hat on and realized that Lewis’ problem is the same as my problem. I think jurisdictions in this area mandate the construction of too much parking. Lewis thinks that the quality of parking being provided is too low. These are, however, basically two sides of the same coin. If we said that every developer of a new building needs to provide cupcakes, and the bigger the building the more cupcakes you need to provide, we’d see a collapse in the price of cupcakes matched by a precipitous decline in average quality.

Under the current regulatory regime, we don’t really know what the market price of parking is, and we also don’t know what kind of price/quality tradeoffs people are willing to make. The US parking situation is basically a version of shopping in the Soviet Union. Sometimes you find intense shortages and people circling the block desperate to find an open space. Othertimes there’s an absurd oversupply of low-quality goods.