The City of Seattle is proposing another positive step: lowering requirements for off-street parking that drive up the cost of housing in close-in neighborhoods. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the story.

Unfortunately, reporter Vanessa Ho seems intent on fomenting controversy. She writes:

As bad as it is now, parking on Capitol Hill—Seattle’s densest neighborhood—may get even worse under a proposal by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. The mayor wants to reduce the number of required minimum parking spaces for new multifamily housing on much of Capitol Hill and in two other neighborhoods: First Hill and the University District.

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  • Parking is the automobiles’ Achilles heel. Only massive subsidies and regulatory requirements keep parking so abundant that it’s free to drivers in most locations, as Donald Shoup has documented in devastating detail. Free parking comes with high costs: to communities, to governments, to pedestrians, to retail stores, to nature, and to future generations.

    All Mayor Nickels has proposed is a modest reduction in the degree of legally-mandated subsidization, and only in three urban neighborhoods. Developers are still free to build more off-street parking, if that’s what their condo-buying customers prefer.

    My own view is that off-street parking requirements should not be reduced; they should be eliminated. Parking is a private good, not a public good. So the market, not government, should decide how much off-street parking to provide. My argument for this policy is here.

    As for the parking horror stories related by the PI, these anecdotes simply confirm how critically important parking is to the future of our cities. The price and availability of parking actually change people’s behavior, which is probably why parking policy is so contentious.

    Oh, and one final point: where did Ms. Ho find these potential "victims" of parking scarcity? They sure don’t elicit any sympathy from me.

    Case in point 1:

    "It’s nice to have a car. I mean, hello? So you don’t have to walk 10 miles to get home when you miss the last bus," said Dan Gravelle, 22, who lives in the U District.

    He has taken a bus to his customer-service job on Capitol Hill in recent months, since he lost his license and his car because of unpaid parking tickets and impounding. He said he has since passed up delivery jobs because they required a car.

    Are we to feel for this scofflaw? You have to ignore a lot of tickets to lose your license! There is frequent and reliable bus service between his place of residence and his place of employment along several different routes. County and federal taxpayers are also building a light rail line connecting them. And, in a pinch, it’s only a 3 mile walk or bike ride between the two neighborhoods.

    Besides, there’s no reason whatsoever he can’t have a car—assuming he pays his fines and gets his license back—under the new parking policy. The presumption behind his indignation (and serial parking tickets) seems to be that he has an inalienable right to park for free on public property.

    Case in point 2:

    Over in the U District, Mickey Gallagher drives four to six times a week to his favorite bar, Big Time Brewery, from his job in Mill Creek or his home in Snoqualmie. The bus is out of the question.

    If parking became tighter, it might hamper his social habits, said Gallagher, a 53-year-old children’s librarian. And that would be serious—he’s been coming to the same bar for 15 years because he enjoys the college scene…

    OK, here’s a middle-aged man who spends four to six nights a week at a bar that’s a dozen miles from his home or workplace because he "enjoys the college scene." He drives there and, presumably, home afterward—soberly, we hope but do not presume. A colleague tells me there’s a lightly used pay parking lot about one block from Mr. Gallagher’s pub. In the worst case scenario, then, Mr. Gallagher may have to pay to park his car while he drinks. (Again, I sniff the underlying presumption that free parking is a right, not a privilege.) And this is an argument against Mayor Nickels’ proposal?