FWD:Land of the Free Parking
- I found this article by Alan Durning to be interesting, I found it at
the following location:
Land of the Free Parking
Cheap spaces drive fuel prices up
June 14, 2001
By Alan Durning
Elm Street Writers Group
President Bush's answer to soaring gasoline prices and
supposed dwindling supplies is to drill for oil from the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge to the Florida coast. But he'd find a much
larger source of untapped energy, and a solution to rising family
transportation and civic costs, somewhere else entirely: In the zoning
and tax codes that make America the land of the free parking place.
Free parking, it turns out, is a powerful cause of the
nation's unquenchable thirst for gasoline. The driving that induces
this thirst underlies an array of national concerns, not just rising
fuel prices but also global climate change, dependence on foreign oil,
tightening traffic snarls, relentless sprawl, and worsening urban
We Americans end more than 90 percent of our car trips in
free parking spaces. But they aren't really free. In fact, as a nation
we pay more to store our vehicles during the 23 hours a day when
they're immobile than we do to keep their tanks full.
Fully 50 percent of the cost of parking is paid by
employers, businesses drivers patronize, and citizens. Another 40
percent of the cost of parking is paid through rent and mortgages for
off-street parking at home. With everybody sharing the cost, it's no
wonder that drivers have almost nothing to gain by leaving their cars
Only about 10 percent of the nation's parking bill is
pay-per-use at meters, lots, or garages. Pay parking is rare because
antiquated provisions in zoning and tax codes - along with expansive
street designs - bloat the parking supply and glut the market. Most
zoning codes require a surplus of parking spaces. In the Pacific
Northwest, for example, office buildings are required to provide up to
four spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor space. Retail developers
devote more space to cars than to merchandise.
The resulting oceans of parking not only invite parking
lots between streets and buildings and by separating the destinations
people want to reach.
A few communities have recently begun shrinking parking
requirements. Portland, Oregon, exempts downtown residential
development from required off-street parking. Olympia, Washington, has
no minimum parking requirements in its downtown.
A simpler reform: Strike all off-street parking
requirements from the law books and leave it to property owners to
decide how much parking space to provide. Many owners, especially real
estate developers, would put less land into parking and more into
buildings, increasing the supply of office space and housing.
Where communities are still being laid out, streets can be
narrow, eliminating on-street parking. Olympia plans to build
residential streets as skinny as 13 feet in one fast-growing
neighborhood - one-third the conventional width and a national record
- while Missoula, Montana, Eugene, Oregon; and Kirkland, Washington,
have pinched some streets down to 20 or 24 feet.
These changes also work for existing developments. With no
parking requirements, the owners of buildings now surrounded by
concrete have new choices: they can expand, sell land to others, or
turn parking into plazas.
It might take 10 years to absorb excess parking space, but
scarcity - and a market - would develop. Free parking would dwindle as
higher-value uses take over space currently devoted to car storage.
And, as those who choose to drive begin to face the full costs of
their decisions, driving would abate.
Finally, the United States could eliminate inequitable tax
provisions that favor driving over other transportation. At present,
taxes encourage employers to supply free parking by treating it as a
nontaxable fringe benefit. Employers may give employees parking worth
$175 a month as an untaxed fringe benefit - equivalent to pretax
income exceeding $2,500 a year.
"Cashing out" employer-paid parking would further dampen
driving. A full-fledged cash-out policy requires that employers who
give workers a free parking space also let them choose to receive
instead the parking's dollar value in cash. Tests of this policy in
Los Angeles show that as many as two in five commuters take the money
and leave their wheels at home. In greater Seattle, the federal
government is supporting efforts by local governments to encourage
businesses to offer this cash-out.
President Bush could, by shepherding a full-fledged
cash-out provision into federal law, save more oil than we're likely
to find in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or off the coast of his
brother's home state. If tens of millions of workers across the
country left their cars at home and tacked an extra $2,500 onto their
paychecks it would save 2.5 million barrels of oil a day or more than
twice what the Department of Energy estimates we can recover from the
Alaska refuge. Subjecting parking to the free market so revered by the
president and his advisors can render new supplies of oil nearly
irrelevant-and safeguard the livability of so many communities.
Alan Durning is executive director of the Seattle-based research
center Northwest Environment Watch (www.northwestwatch.org),
publisher of This Place on Earth 2001: Guide to a Sustainable
Northwest. He can be reached at Alan@....