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New Evidence Links Sprawl to Parking Minimums

by Angie Schmitt

An aerial photo of an L.A. parking structure. (Image via Heli Photo)

New evidence connecting minimum parking requirements and sprawl is bolstering the argument for an overhaul of government policies related to much space we devote to the storage of cars.

A team of economists from the University of Munich recently released a study examining the effects of mandatory parking minimums on development in urban and suburban Los Angeles. The team found that parking minimums "significantly increase" the amount of land devoted to parking, to the detriment of water quality, pedestrian safety and non-automotive modes of transportation.

The report offers a critical piece of empirical evidence regarding the connection between parking minimums and oversupply. For writer Stephen Smith at Market Urbanism, the new research is compelling evidence supporting the work of parking reform guru Donald C. Shoup, whose book "The High Cost of Free Parking" examined the adverse effects of government policies that subsidize parking:

Although we at Market Urbanism are big fans of Donald Shoup’s work on parking minimums, we have to admit that rigorous econometric evidence that parking minimums mandate more parking than the market would otherwise supply has been a bit lacking. Randal O’Toole at The Antiplanner quite rightly asks to see empirical proof that parking minimums are binding. Tyler Cowen appears to have found this proof, in the form of paper posted online very recently which seeks to determine whether or not non-residential developers in Los Angeles County build more parking than they would in the absence of minimum parking mandates.

Randal O’Toole suggested that Shoup’s residency in Los Angeles might be biasing his research, since the City of Los Angeles is quite dense indeed. This study, however, uses a large dataset with data points from all over the County of Los Angeles, home to almost 10 million people, or over a quarter of all Californians. (Many more live in other dense areas, like San Diego and the Bay Area.) And in fact certain parts of the paper focus solely on suburban areas, and claim to be undercounting some of the denser areas where the discrepancy between what the market would choose and what the law currently dictates would be even greater.

The study ends up finding that at least half of all non-commercial properties have more parking than they would otherwise choose, and that the excess can oftentimes be quite large.

Market Urbanism has asked O'Toole, the libertarian analyst notorious for glossing over the role of government in promoting sprawl, for a response to the new research and has promised to update readers if they receive one.

This post originally appeared on Streetsblog.

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