California has been waiting for AB 1401 for a long time. In 2005, the American Planning Association published The High Cost of Free Parking, an 800-page book in which I argued that minimum parking requirements increase housing costs, subsidize cars, worsen traffic congestion, pollute the air and water, damage the economy, degrade urban design, encourage sprawl, reduce walkability, exclude poor people, and accelerate global warming. To my knowledge, no city planner has argued that minimum parking requirements do not cause these harmful effects. Instead, a flood of recent research has shown that minimum parking requirements do produce all these harmful results. We are poisoning our cities with too much parking.
Minimum parking requirements are almost an established religion in city planning. One shouldn’t criticize anyone else’s religion, of course, but I’m a protestant when it comes to parking requirements. City planning needs a reformation, and AB 1401 can help.
City planners are placed in a difficult position when asked to set parking requirements in zoning ordinances. They don’t know the demand for parking at every apartment building, art gallery, bowling alley, dance hall, fitness club, movie theater, pet store, tavern, zoo, or hundreds of other land uses. Planners also do not know how much the required parking spaces cost or how the parking requirements affect the cost of housing and everything else. Nevertheless, planners must set the parking requirements for every land use.
Planning for parking is an ad-hoc talent learned on the job and is more a political activity than a professional skill. Despite a lack of theory and data, planners have managed to set parking requirements for hundreds of land uses in thousands of cities—the Ten Thousand Commandments for off-street parking.
…Cities usually require or restrict parking without considering the middle ground of neither a minimum nor a maximum. This behavior recalls a Soviet maxim: “What is not required must be prohibited.” AB 1401, however, is something new. It does not require or restrict parking, and developers can provide all the parking they think demand justifies.
…Minimum parking requirements work against…transit investments. For example, Los Angeles is building the Purple Line under Wilshire Boulevard, which already boasts the city’s most frequent bus service. Nevertheless, along parts of Wilshire Boulevard the city requires at least 2.5 parking spaces for every dwelling unit, even for the smallest apartments. Twenty public transit lines serve the UCLA campus near Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, with 119 buses per hour arriving during the morning peak. Nevertheless, across the street from campus, Los Angeles requires 3.5 parking spaces for every apartment that contains more than four rooms.
California has expensive housing for people and free parking for cars.