The high-water mark for American parking policy came in the early
1970s, when cities including New York, Boston, and Portland set limits
on off-street parking in their downtowns. They were compelled to do so
by lawsuits brought under the Clean Air Act, which used the lever of
parking policy to curb traffic and reduce pollution from auto
emissions. This level of innovation went unmatched over the ensuing
three-and-a-half decades. Only now are American cities implementing
effective new parking strategies that cut down on traffic.
A report released today by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy [PDF]
highlights the new wave of parking policy innovation that could pay
huge dividends for sustainable transport and livable streets. If your
city aspires to make streets safe, improve the quality of transit, and
foster bicycling, your city needs a coherent parking policy.
was a 35-year parking coma during which the federal
government, cities, and environmentalists forgot why parking was
important," said John Kaehny, who co-authored the report with Matthew
Rufo and UPenn professor Rachel Weinberger. "This study shows people
are starting wake up and understand
that parking is one of most important influences on how cities work and
what form of travel people choose to use."
The early 70s
parking limits beat back the cycle of more car storage, wider roadways,
and greater sprawl that decimates urban areas. The underlying idea was
simple: Manage the supply of parking, and you can reduce the demand for
driving. Yet in America this notion has gone largely unheeded, even in
Instead, the authors note, parking policy is
typically divorced from transportation policy and goals like reducing
congestion or encouraging walking and biking. In most of our urban
areas, planners determine parking volumes using suburban standards,
drawing heavily on ill-suited recommendations in "Parking Generation,"
a manual published by the Institute for Transportation Engineers. The
product is abundant, cheap parking — much of which sits unused most of
Fully 99 percent of car trips in America end in
free parking, an incentive that crowds out all other modes of
transportation. "Even when the price of parking is free," said
Weinberger, "it’s far from free."
The resulting congestion
impedes the effectiveness of transit. Traffic volumes and
double-parking make bicycling less pleasant and more dangerous.
Walkable environments give way to curb cuts, dead walls, and
land-devouring parking facilities that spread destinations farther
apart. The whole vicious cycle is heavily subsidized, with the cost of
parking absorbed into the price of everything from housing to movie
"In a time of economic distress, we can’t afford
to continue these policies," said ITDP’s Michael Replogle. "Continuing
to subsidize parking is very costly for all of us."