Stopping Free Parking from Strangling Society

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Urban planners spend the last hundred years modifying cities and policies to cater to the car – and that’s been harming us ever since. We’ve looked at how changing parking culture can save America’s economy, cities, increase transportation efficiency, and removing spaces can even make parking easier. Slowly, we are seeing change happening around the world. San Francisco, London, and Buffalo have removed their minimum parking spaces rules. Mexico City is switching their parking laws for new buildings from minimum required parking spaces to a maximum.

Municipal governments are learning that cities are for people and not for cars standing still. It’s time to end free parking and the assumption that the first mode of transportation cities should plan for is cars.

Water companies are not obliged to supply all the water that people would use if it were free, nor are power companies expected to provide all the free electricity that customers might want. But many cities try to provide enough spaces to meet the demand for free parking, even at peak times. Some base their parking minimums on the “Parking Generation Handbook”, a tome produced by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. This reports how many cars are found in the free car parks of synagogues, waterslide parks and so on when they are busiest.

The harm caused begins with the obvious fact that parking takes up a lot of room. A typical space is 12-15 square metres; add the necessary access lanes and the space per car roughly doubles. For comparison, this summer The Economist will move into a building in central London where it is assumed each employee will have ten square metres of space. In cities, such as Kansas City (see map), where land is cheap, and surface parking the norm, central areas resemble asphalt oceans dotted with buildings.

Once you become accustomed to the idea that city streets are only for driving and walking, and not for parking, it is difficult to imagine how it could possibly be otherwise. Mr Kondoh is so perplexed by an account of a British suburb, with its kerbside commons, that he asks for a diagram. Your correspondent tries to draw his own street, with large rectangles for houses, a line representing the kerb and small rectangles showing all the parked cars. The small rectangles take up a surprising amount of room.

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