For comparison’s sake, the median US household has a net worth of about $97,000. That’s right, the value of parking per household in Seattle exceeds the wealth of the typical US family.
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When we at Sightline talk about the opportunity to end hidden subsidies for parking that drive up the cost of everything else in our economy, it can be hard to know how much it all matters.

It’s just a parking space—homely and unremarkable. How expensive can it possibly be?

A new report published last week by the Research Institute for Housing America offers a new way to think about the answer—In Seattle, parking accounts for $35.8 billion, or $117,677 of local wealth for each household in the city.

That’s the total replacement cost of the city’s 5.2 parking spaces per Seattle household—3.7 spaces per car in the city. (RIHA’s estimate of 1.6 million parking spaces citywide adds new support to the lowball estimate we made in 2013: 1 million parking spaces.) The replacement cost is what it would take to buy as much land and build as many garages, ramps, curb cuts, lots, and curb spaces as the city already has.

For comparison’s sake, the median US household has a net worth of about $97,000. That’s right, the value of parking per household in Seattle exceeds the wealth of the typical US family.

What would your household choose to do with $117,677?

What amazing things could our society do together if we had $117,677 per household to invest in our shared future?

The good news is that Seattle households are actually less burdened by parking costs than many North Americans. Along a Snake River tributary near the remotest corners of Cascadia, in Jackson, Wyo., RIHA estimates that parking sucks up an estimated $192,138 of wealth for each of that town’s 3,700 households. That’s because 37 percent of Jackson’s land is dedicated to the town’s 100,119 parking spaces.

  • Of course, most people in a small town like Jackson couldn’t comfortably make do without cars. But even if they couldn’t reduce driving one bit, they could still build less parking. A recent study there, mentioned in the RIHA report, found that more than half of Jackson’s parking spaces were empty even during peak tourist season.

    Then there’s the other extreme: New York City. RIHA estimates that New York’s economy dedicates just $6,570 per household to parking.

    That’s not because each individual parking space in New York is anything other than extremely valuable. Mostly, it’s because most of New York had already been built before anyone started setting arbitrary minimums for on-site car storage in new buildings.

    As a result, New York has far fewer parking spaces per household: just 0.6, compared with Seattle’s 5.2. That’s left the Big Apple’s local economy far more money to invest in other things, like the nation’s best public transit system.

    Fortunately for Seattle’s current and future prosperity, and thanks to the work of wise residents and leaders over the last 20 years, the city has been cutting away at the net of parking requirements that hold so much of the local economy’s wealth in the form of car-storage sites. The Seattleites of the future, like all Cascadians in communities that stop subsidizing and mandating lavish amounts of parking, will have reason to be grateful.