Parking Policy in Seattle Gets Less Bad

A blog about business and economics.
July 27 2012 12:04 PM

Parking Policy in Seattle Gets Less Bad

Downtown Seattle
Downtown Seattle

Photograph by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images.

Americans believe in market capitalism, not Soviet-style central planning. Except when it comes to what we do with our land, in which case almost every developed acre in the United States is subject to detailed and hyper-prescriptive central planning about the provision of parking spaces. But while the USSR at least had the good sense to limit itself to Five-Year Plans, in America's cities in suburbs the tendency is for parking plans to just linger for decades. So it's excellent news that Seattle is expanding the scope of land that will be exempt from parking minimums and reducing minimums in large swathes of the city:

[Councilman Richard] Conlin said about 5,670 acres of the city currently have no minimum parking requirement for residential development. He said the new legislation adds about 540 acres. The required minimum would be reduced by 50 percent for an additional 2,590 acres with frequent transit service.

Conlin argued that the legislation in no way prohibits developers from building parking spaces in new buildings, but rather leaves the number up to market demand rather than "an arbitrary city minimum."
Advertisement

Conlin's sound point at the end there, however, does highlight how cramped and narrow the scope of parking reform over the past few years has been. The conceit is generally that cities should identify some particular swathes of land—downtown or downtown-adjacent, near frequent mass transit, whatever—where it seems like parking demand may be low, and then use those places as test cases for less planning. The real change in attitudes that we require is to recognize that there's no need for parking minimums even where demand for parking is high.

In my years I've been to a lot of people's houses. Every single one of them—without exception—has featured at least one chair. People seem to like chairs. But to the best of my knowledge these houses don't have chairs in them because houses require the presence of chairs. Rather the chairs are there because people want chairs. Unfettered markets have many flaws, but the thing that they're really, really good at is ensuring that a given town has exactly as many chairs as its residents want to pay for. Parking is similar. If people want to park somewhere, a free market will provide parking. You just might need to pay for it. Either explicitly as leased parking or implicitly as the cost of the space is bundled in with the cost of a condo. Regulatory minimums are not a way of ensuring "adequate" parking, they're a way of ensuring that there's more parking than people are actually willing to pay for. Which would be great if excessive parking had positive externalities, but instead it has negative ones—contributing to excess air pollution, traffic congestion, and public health ills.

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

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.