While researching for my post earlier today on ways to cut down on driving, I found this study by the Mineta Transportation Institute. Among other things, it argues that wide streets create a lot of very costly parking spots:
A minimum width requirement of 36 feet for a residential street automatically provides two 10-foot traffic lanes and two 8-foot parking lanes, making it a de facto parking policy. Such a street standard provides a large amount (between 740 million and 1.5 billion) of parking spaces on residential streets, in addition to abundant off-street parking spaces (garage and driveway), and it costs trillions of dollars in road investments.
The study later indicates that people are inadvertently paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for parking spots on their streets. It also points out that in addition to providing nearly-innumberable parking spaces and costing tax payers trillions, local city leaders in the U.S. don’t really understand the issue very well.
Charlie Gardner provides a more detailed explanation of the study on the blog Old Urbanist.
One of the more curious aspects of this issue is that in Provo, and presumably other communities, street parking is occasionally viewed as something negative. I’ve heard many people say they wish there were no cars at all on the street. In the L.A. suburb where I grew up, there was even a local ordinance banning overnight parking on the street.
So why the reluctance to embrace the numerous on-street parking spots?
I don’t really know, but if nothing else this study emphasizes the fact that there is plenty of parking, though it’s kind of invisible.
It’s also worth noting that in some communities, including Provo, this type of parking doesn’t really “count.” If a developer erects an apartment building, for example, she can’t legally count the five spots along the street toward the minimum parking requirements. That makes no sense because they are, in fact, parking spots.
I’ve even experienced this firsthand; though there’s room to park four or five cars along the street by my home, by default I still have to have a six car driveway for myself and my downstairs apartment. Realistically, I shouldn’t have a driveway at all (or the street should be narrower) because it creates redundant parking that doesn’t get used.
Ultimately, the message here is that we’re throwing away money and supporting a policy to create more paved parking spaces. That’s not what anyone wants, but if it’s going to change we’ll need to start calling a spade a spade, and a parking spot a parking spot.