Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I think requiring 4 parking space per house might encourage car ownership

Awhile back, I described the mass ownership of the automobile as a public policy, leading Noumenon to ask why I would call it that -- in comments -- and I spent a bit of time thinking over my arguments before I posted again on it. But basically, I would argue that there are a ton of hidden-and-not-so subsidies for car ownership and more broadly the automotive system, that it effectively makes car ownership a presumed default position, even in a dense, walkable city like the one I live in.

To define my term, I'd define mass-ownership of the automobile as a car ownership ratio of greater than 1 car for every two people in the house. If you've got a family of four, I can see needing two cars, though when I was younger I lived in a household of 4 with "just" one. As a contrast, there are currently more private cars in America than licensed drivers. The number is lower in Canada, but still much higher than 1:2. In both cases, it's the result of a number of choices by government about what to subsidize, and how.

As a basic example, the few streets that have bike lanes almost always also have 4 lanes of automotive traffic. (And of course, most streets have no dedicated bike lanes at all.) There's an embedded preference there, and it's codified in law and asphalt. And if you believe the press, Toronto is one of the most car-hostile cities in Canada. (What's laughable is that the timid half-measures brought forward by the City are being called a "war". Let's tear up the Gardiner and the DVP and replace them with parks, then see what car-hostile looks like.)

If you'd like a better example though, I'd strongly suggest reading this article by Ben Adler about some DC exurbs. I cannot emphasize enough the role that nearsighted or outright stupid or cowardly decisions by regulators have had on creating the car-centric universe.

If you feel like digging really deep, there's plenty of urban planning literature out there on this stuff. My personal recent favourite is "The High Price of Free Parking", by Donald Shoup, which estimates that the legally-mandated creation of free parking spaces in residential and commercial building amounts to a subsidy of about $5000 per car, per year to car owners in America. To be clear: in most municipalities, it is illegal to build a new mall or home without a certain amount of parking spaces set aside. In malls, this gets pretty ridiculous because they're often required to build enough parking not to handle the daily average, but to handle the annual maximum (i.e., Dec. 21) leaving vast amount of empty space the rest of the year. This has huge costs for developers, who pass those costs on to retailers and through them to the customers.

You can read a brief summary of Shoup's book as a PDF here.


Flocons said...

There are two places where you can witness the madness of mass car ownership.

The first is at Yonge and Sheppard during rush hour. This is what happens when you build condos without thinking about the added demands to infrastructure. During rush hour, there is gridlock as condo residents all try to squeeze down Yonge onto the 401 on-ramps simultaneously.

The second is in the parking lots of Pacific Mall on a weekend. This is what happens when you have a venue that everyone wants to go to, but not enough parking spots for everyone.

What scares me is eventually this will be what driving will be like everywhere.

Sean S. said...

check out

some great articles there by one of Vancouver's foremost experts. He calls it "motordom".

Anonymous said...

The title of your post and your comment about store parking requirements illustrate the lunacy of our car centric culture.

You're absolutely correct about most families needing 2 (or more) cars. Our communities are obviously designed for motorized personal transportation. BUT, our homes are quite often designed with only one parking spot. Own two or more cars, or have a small get together and the streets get crowded quickly with parked cars. But since neighborhoods can no longer have straight roads, they all have to curve and swoop, driving becomes dangerous due to all the blind spots created by the parked cars. And homeowners get ticketed regularly for parking overnight, too close to driveways, fire hydrants etc.

Big box plazas and malls are so pedestrian and cyclist hostile that you're courting suicide if you don't drive. Even from store to store.

So to shop you're required to own a car, but you're not allowed to park it at home because there is no space. If we just lived in our cars and knocked down the homes, that would solve the problem. (Why did I just start hearing Cat Stevens singing "But where will the children play?")

As a designed system, I can't think of anything more insane than the suburban/city center car culture that we now have. And I'm a car fanatic. I love owning them, I love driving them. But I still recognize that our system is insane.

Funny you mention bike lanes. In Cambridge every road is mandated to have a bike lane added whenever an new installation or maintenance is performed (a few previously 4 lane roads are now 2 lane because of this policy).

However, you have nowhere to go because of the danger presented by the super huge parking lots. So the bike lanes become recreational only, and you hardly see anyone using them....

We have not taken a holistic approach from home to work/play/shopping in our suburban design and we'll be paying the price for that until the apocalypse.

Madness. Utter fucking madness.