Parking Minimums Will Have Their Revenge on Seattle

A blog about business and economics.
April 10 2012 11:24 AM

Parking Minimums Will Have Their Revenge on Seattle

To the best of my knowledge, no large cities in the United States demand that new apartment buildings be constructed with cable television/Internet jacks pre-installed in the units. And yet every recently built apartment I've ever seen has this feature. That's because developers assume that there's widespread demand for cable TV and modem hookups, so they provide them. Similarly, in an affluent society many people are going to want parking spaces for their automobiles, so we should expect new construction projects to generally feature parking. But right now, new construction projects are generally required to provide parking, in effect taxing households with a below-average quantity of vehicles in order to subsidize households with an above-average quantity.

Erica Barnett writes that in Seattle the mayor has proposed a limited rollback of this policy, allowing developers to build as much or as little parking as the market demands in structures located within 1,300 feet of frequent mass transit service. That seems sensible enough; I only wonder why central planners would need to allocate parking at all. But the Seattle Times thunders against this, arguing that "the vast majority who can afford market-priced housing in Seattle will have a motor vehicle, now and always," and "if they have a vehicle, they will park it—somewhere."

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Unclear, as usual, is how this analysis cuts in favor of government-mandated parking. I've never heard anyone suggest that in the absence of mandates there will be no demand for parking and no creation of parking spaces. Even in Manhattan (or Paris) there are lots of cars, lots of car owners, and lots of parking garages. But at the margin does Seattle need to subsidize extra parking? Note that implicit in the editorial is the recognition that parking mandates are a regressive subsidy. The 16 percent of Seattle households with no car are a disproportionately low-income slice of the city's population. Meanwhile, presumably some Seattle households have one car and others have two or even three cars with the many-cars households almost certainly more affluent than the few-cars households.

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

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