Most of us are familiar with the admonition that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Recently I became acquainted with the work of Donald Stoup who would contends that the same is true of automobile parking. His book, The High Cost of Free Parking, explores the many ways in which automobile parking is costly to everyone.
The costs of parking are born by municipalities, by developers, by residents and by motorists. For developers, there is the for the land required for the parking and the construction of it. Construction is not usually just pavement, but includes drainage structures, oil filters, fences, landscaping, and lighting among other
considerations. This is frequently driven by the local zoning code. Most
codes have minimum requirements which are applied across the board without
regard to actual uses involved and/or empirical data that demonstrates how
parking spaces are actually utilized for particular uses.
Government also pays a price for parking. Most parking is an impervious surface which contributes considerable run-off during storms. Stormwater provisions such as street drains must match the amount of run off and be maintained on a regular basis by Public Works personnel.
Residents of homes and multi-family structures are required to have a certain number of spots in most zoning. These spaces, whether on single family lots or in multi-family parking lots use land space that is calculated into the cost of the dwelling. For an apartment or condo dweller, where parking spaces are mandated, the cost of providing those spaces in land cost and construction becomes part of the “rent” or price. It is a hidden cost. Imagine if a condo were rented or sold based on the cost of the living space with a separate price for the parking spot(s)?
For the motorist, driving around looking for a “free” space also has a cost in time lost, energy used, and air pollution.
In many places, planners are starting to look at parking differently. Some communities are demonstrably ‘over-parked’ resulting in large numbers of spaces not being utilized except on a few occasions. Shared parking is sometimes a way of reducing this. Changing zoning, in some cases, to have a Maximum parking requirement instead of the more common Minimum parking requirement is also gaining favor. Including flexibility in the code to allow a Planning Board to consider actual uses and data relevant to their parking requirements is gaining acceptance in some Westchester communities. Land-banking parking spaces is another method that allows a smaller number of parking spaces to be constructed initially with others not being constructed until needed (land-banked) if the need occurs in the future.
Mr. Stoup makes a strong case that free parking is costly. We shouldn’t be surprised because the same is true, and always has been, about lunches.