Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

The Cost of Urban Parking


In a time of crumbling infrastructure and challenging budgets, the cost of street maintenance – let alone livability upgrades – is under constant scrutiny. One challenge is that the cost of doing something is easy to measure.

One recent study talks about one of the elephants in urban development: The actual social cost of parking in urban areas. The meters and parking lots have legitimate costs beyond simply the real estate and pavement.

Truck ParkingAbundant parking encourages people to drive, rather than develop or use alternate transportation, leading to increased congestion in the urban core. Parking also takes the place of potential other development options, including green spaces. Pavement reduces land available to absorb rainfall and increases runoff, which can be dirtier due to increased car usage. And the list goes on. Scientific American estimates that there are three parking spots for every car and truck in the US.

“Minimum parking requirements” are often a part of municipal code applied to building and development permits. They rarely take into account other transportation options for accessing an area – and, frankly, many users of potential developments don’t take that into account either. However, these requirements often amount to a subsidy that encourages driving over any other options. Meanwhile, because these costs are shouldered by developers in the construction of parking ramps or large lots around buildings, everyone ends up paying for the parking even if it is ‘free’ – surcharges are built into the rent for building users, which are passed along in retail prices for retail developments. Municipalities shoulder the costs associated with parking-lot storm-water runoff (which in turn end up in taxes/water bills).

As we talk about community livability and complete streets policies, as well as developing additional infrastructure for alternative transportation options, it would be a good time for communities to examine the actual costs of ‘amenities’ like metered on-street parking, and minimum parking requirements for new and repurposed development opportunities. Creating more rational standards for parking, and raising the cost associated with using some forms of parking, could encourage development in many areas, as well as increase revenues associated with some municipal parking. It would also help people consider the true cost of driving versus using other transportation alternatives, as the parking subsidy is invisible to most road users.

Photo by rogersmith, via Flickr

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

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