Whitney Merchant

Whitney Merchant

How less parking can make us happier

Parking is not something we think about until we’re circling the block for the third time looking for that elusive space.  Since we only think about parking when we need it, we often assume that more parking is always better. That is not the case. Too much parking reduces the walkability of our neighborhoods, increases the costs of our homes, and adversely impacts how much we exercise.

With the abundance of free parking these days, it’s easy to forget that parking costs money. A single parking space in a garage costs between $20,000 and $35,000 to build. When that garage is part of your apartment building, you pay for that space in your monthly rent or mortgage, regardless of whether or not you own a car. Furthermore, those parking spots take up real estate that could be better used for resident amenities such as a gym, clubhouse, or garden.

While surface lots are cheaper to build at just $10,000 per space, they perpetuate our car-dependent lifestyles. Charming, pedestrian-friendly shopping districts feature connected storefronts that make for great window shopping and allow people to pick up groceries, drop off dry cleaning, grab a latte, and try on that cashmere sweater they’ve been eyeing all within an easy walking area. Clustering services, shops, and homes in a neighborhood also creates the population density necessary for frequent and high-quality public transit. Meanwhile, stores that you are forced to drive to and are surrounded by half-empty asphalt lots do nothing to create a sense of place (See: your local desolate strip mall).

Of course, when we do need to drive, we want to find parking right away. But that doesn’t mean cities should add more parking spaces. Instead, cities can adopt flexible pricing strategies that increase turnover and parking availability. Free parking encourages people to drive and to stay in the space longer than they need. A price hike for the most convenient spaces will encourage people who plan to linger  to find parking farther away. Studies show that the longer a person is staying in an area, the farther they are willing to walk from their car to their destination. As a result, the most valuable spaces are freed up for visitors making a quick stop. This strategy of demand-management makes parking easier and saves people a lot of stress, time, and gas money.

Increasing the price of some parking spaces isn’t just a win for drivers, but for cities as well. The revenue collected can be used by cash-strapped cities for enhancements that benefit all residents such as parks, plazas, landscaping, and benches.

By changing how we think about parking, we can reduce traffic congestion, encourage walking and biking, increase public transit use, ensure available parking for those who need it, and improve the vitality and charm of our hometowns.

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