Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Concern about auto traffic has played a greater role, perhaps, than any other factor in pushing modern land use law to restrict and shape new construction. For both commercial and residential building, for example, the developer often is required to provide for a certain amount of parking. Without such parking requirements, government fears, people would park in the surrounding area, annoying neighbors and placing intolerable demands on a limited number of spots. One result of these laws in that parking is now a dominant urban land use, both in suburbs and cities.
But there is a move to soften the nation’s mandatory parking laws, especially in connection with multifamily housing in dense neighborhoods. There are many benefits to a legal change. First, it dovetails with efforts to encourage public transportation. Second, fewer parking spaces in cities mean more space for housing, including low-cost housing. Third, it would lower the cost of housing for those who can do without a parking space. And fourth, it is a free market approach: parking would be provided in response to free market demand (like most other good s and services), instead of what government thinks is best. (San Francisco is going further and requiring that condo sellers “unbundle” parking spaces from the sale of new units in certain areas.)
But what about the concerns of annoying the neighbors? Here, I suggest a difference between commercial and residential property. When visiting a store, drivers are more likely to engage in anti-social parking behavior: blocking driveways, taking reserved spots, and double-parking. After all, the driver often thinks, “I’ll only be here for a few minutes” and “I’m not going to repeat this practice tomorrow” (maybe). With residential parking, however, the resident driver knows that he or she will have to repeat the parking practice day after day, and that egregious practices are more likely to be caught. As a result, the residential driver is likely to behave more socially –- such as by paying for secure off-site parking (as thousands of Manhattanites do). If my theory is correct, law might do well by removing parking requirements for residential property before doing so for commercial property.