DC High Schools Could Do Without Mandatory Student Parking

A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 28 2012 12:39 PM

DC High Schools Could Do Without Mandatory Student Parking

I've sometimes wondered why there's so much generally vacant surface parking associated with the public high schools in my neighborhood, but I'd mentally ascribed this to bureaucratic laziness (school architects mindless copying structures from the suburbs) rather than to the real villain, the zoning code and the dread parking minimums:

2 for each 3 teachers and other employees, plus either 1 for each 20 classroom seats or 1 for each 10 seats in the largest auditorium, gymnasium or area usable for public assembly, whichever is greater

Why have this rule? As Sara Mead points out, DCPS' 15 and 16 year-old students aren't even allowed to drive and with two thirds of the students eligible for subsidized lunches it's extremely unlikely that the 17 and 18 year-olds own their own cars. My typical view is that we should scrap the Stalinist approach to parking that's in use in the United States and let the market decide how much parking developers want to attach to their buildings. A public school is an inherently non-market phenomenon so some kind of choice needs to be made, but the appropriate choice for DC is probably zero student parking. It's healthier and more environmentally friendly for kids to ride bikes and use transit/walking routes to school and teenagers driving cars is dangerous. In most of the United States zero provision of student parking probably isn't viable, but it would work for DC. But beyond DCPS this creates a strange and pointless barrier to the creation of new public charter high schools. If a charter operation selects a location that's inaccessible without a car and then fails to provide adequate parking, nobody's going to enroll in his school and it will get shut down.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.