Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cincinatti, parking mandates and transit

The Transport Politic yesterday reported that the Cincinatti, OH planning commission has decided to reduce the number of required parking spaces at residential and commercial buildings within 600 feet of the new streetcar line downtown. It isn't a done deal because their city council needs to vote on it in order to change the zoning code. Nonetheless this shows a solid commitment to making streetcar transit work rather than just being "a trophy piece to parade around."

Minimum parking requirements are destructive to urban areas. They drive up the cost of construction because every new building requires a shadow building for car parking. Then they drive up the cost of living for people who have to pay for the shadow parking structures after construction. They reduce the city tax base because every parking garage replaces businesses or housing that isn't operating there and bringing tax revenue to city coffers. They stifle new business creation when locations that might otherwise work can't provide "X" number of spaces per 1,000 square feet. They destroy the very urban fabric that defines the city by creating vast dead spaces that are hostile to street life.

Parking minimums also have a deleterious effect on transit by incentivizing car driving. Each new 400 space parking garage that goes up downtown represents 400 drivers who have no reason to take transit to work. Every new city housing unit is required to provide one off-street parking space so potential transit riders now have parking on both ends of their commute. Even grocery stores in urban areas are required to provide vast parking lagoons for their customers. Why would people take transit anywhere with so much "free" parking to be had?

If we're going to revive our urban areas (and we will have to in coming decades) we have to make them dense again and that means utilizing all available space for humans- not cars and SUVs. The surface parking lots or "missing teeth" have to be filled in with human-scaled buildings. Maybe we will even be able to reconfigure some of our parking garages for living or work spaces. But we can't do this with our current regime of parking requirements. We also cannot support transit as long as we continue to subsidize car driving to the degree we have over the last 70-80 years. The Natti realizes this, I hope other American cities follow suit (ahem, Richmond.)

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