The Trouble With Half-Measures

A blog about business and economics.
July 15 2013 9:57 AM

D.C. Shows The Problem With Watered-Down Parking Reform Proposals  

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 03: A San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency parking control officer writes a parking ticket for an illegally parked car on July 3, 2013 in San Francisco, California.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The D.C. Office of Planning has had a rewrite of the city's zoning code in the works for a while, and one element of it is a liberalization of the misguided parking requirements that are strangling this city and cities across America. Late last week the office announced that the plan for reform is getting a little less ambitious. In the original proposal, both a designated "downtown" zone and certain select areas nears Metro stations or high-frequency bus lines would be exempt from mandatory parking rules. In the majority of the city, minimum quantities of parking spaces would continue to be set by a Soviety-style central planning regime designed to subsidize automobile ownership just as they are all across the United States of America. But in a few select areas, developers would build as much parking as they think it makes sense to build.

Late last week, though, the planning office announced that it's watering down its reform proposal. Now the minimums will be eliminated in the downtown zone, and in the select transit corridors the minimums will be cut approximately in half. And, of course, in the majority of the city that lies in neither the downtown area nor the transit zones nothing will change.

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In my view, this is another illustration of the basic problem with offering half-measure reforms in the first place. Parking mandates don't make any sense in any part of any city. If you're talking about a neighborhood where demand for parking is high, then great—since demand is so high parking will be built without mandates. If you're talking about a neighborhood where demand for parking is low, then great—since demand is low we'll get by just fine without mandated parking. There's no rule mandating that people own a washing machine, but most new construction comes with one because washing machines are useful and so the market provides. The same principle applies to parking spaces, and parking reformers ought to try to hold the line. Once you get into a public dialogue about where parking is or isn't "needed" you run the risk of lots of backsliding.

* Correction: An earlier version of this piece erroneously stated that the parking changes in transit zones would be limited to residential structures.

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

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