The Economist recently ran an excellent piece on parking problems called “Parkageddon: How not to create traffic jams, pollution and urban sprawl.” The article starts by highlighting a much-discussed new construction project—the Apple headquarters in Cupertino, CA—a place where one would assume coastal liberal notions about non-automotive transportation modes would prevail. And yet...

For 14,000 workers, Apple is building almost 11,000 parking spaces. Many cars will be tucked under the main building, but most will cram into two enormous garages to the south. Tot up all the parking spaces and the lanes and ramps that will allow cars to reach them, and it is clear that Apple is allocating a vast area to stationary vehicles. In all, the new headquarters will contain 318,000 square metres of offices and laboratories. The car parks will occupy 325,000 square metres.

Apple is building 11,000 parking spaces not because it wants to but because Cupertino, the suburban city where the new headquarters is located, demands it.

So no one is immune to parking minimum requirements. The Economist then continues with an extended analysis of the myriad problems created by parking minimums as well as the general challenge of finding space to store the immense quantity of cars on our planet:

For as long as there have been cars, there has been a need to store them when they are not moving—which, these days, is about 95% of the time. […] Water companies are not obliged to supply all the water that people would use if it were free, nor are power companies expected to provide all the free electricity that customers might want. But many cities try to provide enough spaces to meet the demand for free parking, even at peak times.

The article highlights several key problems with parking minimums which we've covered on Strong Towns before, including how much valuable space they require to be taken up in our cities (space that could otherwise be occupied with a tax-paying business), how expensive they are for developers trying to build new residential or commercial space, and how they induce driving and traffic, even as public transit and bike initiatives are undertaken in plenty of cities. Following the initial example of the new Apple headquarters, the Economist article considers the impact of parking minimums on the whole Bay Area:

With such a surfeit of parking, most of it free, it is little wonder that most people get around Silicon Valley by car, or that the area has such appalling traffic jams.

We created the map above to catalog cities where parking minimums have been removed or are in the process of being removed. Add your town to the map or submit a change in your town's parking minimum status here.

I've seen this Economist article floating around on a lot of urban planning-related social media accounts, and I'd hazard a guess that the reasons it's been so widely read and shared are: 1) it comes from a popular and well respected news source, and 2) it comes from a news source outside the US. For those of us who work in urbanist circles, it often feels like parking is a strictly American issue—a private shame we must deal with on our own. To see it addressed in an international publication means it’s getting the attention it rightfully deserves as a serious issue. As the article states:

Parking influences the way cities look, and how people travel around them, more powerfully than almost anything else.

My go-to daily news source is Reuters because I appreciate its international perspective on news, especially US news. That’s the same reason I appreciate the Economist and this article in particular. What we’ve come to view as normal in America—i.e. huge parking lots—is something that must be thoroughly explained to people outside of America. This publication forces us to step away from our preconceived American notions and background knowledge and look at the issue of parking with fresh eyes.

Read the full Economist article here.

(All photos by Johnny Sanphillippo)


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