Here’s a decent newspaper article with a lousy headline. The article is about pending new legislation that would remove parking requirements in Seattle’s densest in-city neighborhoods. Not so scary, I think. But the headline is sneering and editorializing.
Before we dive in, let’s get something straight. The new rules won’t eliminate parking, or make it illegal, or even tax it. All they do is–gasp–stop forcing businesses and developers to provide it in abundance. Under the new rules, a developer can provide just as much parking as he or she feels like. As much as the market can bear. Or more. But they won’t be forced to provide it by city law.
The article even quotes one complainer, who may have a future in headline writing:
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Fewer parking spots could mean fewer customers, said Dennis Ross, president of the Admiral Community Council in West Seattle. “Without parking, our business will suffer,” Ross said. “If you disinvest in parking, you need to invest in transit.”
What on earth is Ross talking about? First off, if he truly believes that his business requires parking then, by all means, he should provide plenty of parking for his customers. But he should do it on his own dime (and therefore the dime of his customers too). He shouldn’t expect the city to mandate seas of asphalt.
Second, “if you disinvest in parking…” What? No one’s “disinvesting” in parking. Look, if the city were investing in parking, I’d want them to stop. But they’re not, they’re just going stop forcing builders in a few neighborhoods to provide an oversupply. I’m for investing in transit, of course, but that’s not really related.
It’s becoming widely accepted that free parking isn’t actually free. It has high costs in inefficient land use, stunted economic growth, and environmental impacts. It can even add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of a new condo—a meaningful problem in places where affordable housing is vanishing. (The best research for the ills of mandatory parking lots comes from Donald Shoup’s coup de grace, The High Cost of Free Parking.)
We already put hundreds, if not thousands, of restrictions on developers and businesses. Many of those rules are good and necessary, but taken together, they do impose a burden—a burden that should be eased when it makes sense. And parking minimums are a perfect example.
Forget about free parking. Free the market for parking.
UPDATE: Over at The Stranger, Eric Barnett also rants about the article’s slant.
ANOTHER UPDATE 12/12/06: A much better follow-up article with a much better headline.
It still quotes one fellow who doesn’t seem to understand the rule change:
“It’s very business-unfriendly,” said Dan Wiseman… His customers, he said, “are going to go to the big-box stores that have the parking.”
Of course, there’s a pretty easy solution for Mr. Wiseman: he can provide acres and acres of parking. He just can’t expect city law to make it mandatory.
The reason retail business owners are worried about the dropping of the parking-provision requirement is that they will no longer be able to count on their competitors’ overproviding parking at the same rate as themselves, and therefore being able to save on operating expenses, which will allow the competitor to lower prices. Also, even when retail operators decide what amount of parking to provide (now that they are free to decide this on their own), he will still have to accommodate the high peak parking demand, which is ’empowered’ by extensive private car-ownership (shared-car users have to avoid peak car use very often, reducing parking requirements at their destinations).Turning parking into an entrepreneurial industry (provided only where it makes money on its own) needs to be accompanied by reform in car-access, away from OPOCO (one-car, one-person orientation).