Thursday, October 16, 2008
If you want to discourage something, making it more difficult will have some effect. But what if the effort to discourage results more in exasperation than in affecting long-term behavior? The dilemma that faces any parent trying to figure out punishment to a child is also faced by governments that are considering using land use laws to discourage driving and parking. For decades, local governments have imposed “parking minimums” on various forms of new construction, especially commercial construction. The thought was that people inevitably will drive to new construction, so new parking is needed. But what if we want to encourage people to walk, bicycle, or take public transportation?
Across the nation, local governments are debating whether to curb or even revoke the parking minimums. According to one advocate of trashing such laws, the question is: Do we want our city to look like San Francisco (dense, tough to park, but a pleasant place to walk and take public transportation, and, perhaps, “full of character”) or Los Angeles (diffuse, full of parking, but not especially walkable, and, perhaps, “without character”)? But is our choice really so stark and so simple? For some land uses, especially in suburban areas, we know that people will drive, and that only the most stringent restrictions on parking will stop them. If on-site parking isn’t created, they’ll park nearby, perhaps to the great annoyance of other residents. Consider the old Getty Villa Museum near Malibu. The wealthy neighbors knew that people would drive and try to park by their homes. To stop this horrible occurrence, laws were passed to prohibit parking and the Museum did not allow walk-ups; only those with a reserved, on-site parking space could visit. In other suburban locations, and absent such extreme regulations, discouraging nearby parking will just result in people parking further away.
So I’m all for junking parking minimums, but let’s not do so with the great expectation that this will have a great effect of discouraging driving. Just as harshly punishing a two-year-old for breaking a glass probably won’t stop the child from doing it again (but may the child feel very bad for a while), we should realize the limitations of land use laws’ effect on human behavior …
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