How Free Parking Drives Americans to Waste Energy

Density is a choice. Or, rather, it's a multitude of small choices that end up shaping our cities in very particular ways. In Saturday's New York Times, economist Tyler Cowen highlights one of the many ways that our urban planning practices have encouraged the spread of sprawl: free parking. Cowen glosses Donald Shoup's book The High Cost of Free Parking, which definitively showed that regulations requiring free parking have distorted the shape of our cities. Regulations that mandate parking spaces drive their price downward, often to nothing, meaning developers end up building too much parking. Decades of such policies encouraged the outward expansion of our cities, which drove up the amount of energy it takes Americans to meet their lives' basic requirements.

If developers were allowed to face directly the high land costs of providing so much parking, the number of spaces would be a result of a careful economic calculation rather than a matter of satisfying a legal requirement. Parking would be scarcer, and more likely to have a price -- or a higher one than it does now -- and people would be more careful about when and where they drove.

The subsidies are largely invisible to drivers who park their cars -- and thus free or cheap parking spaces feel like natural outcomes of the market, or perhaps even an entitlement. Yet the law is allocating this land rather than letting market prices adjudicate whether we need more parking, and whether that parking should be free. We end up overusing land for cars -- and overusing cars too. You don't have to hate sprawl, or automobiles, to want to stop subsidizing that way of life.

As Professor Shoup wrote, "Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars."

Read the full story at New York Times.

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