Parking requirements are a policy issue that may just be overdue for a paradigm shift. In 2005, author and economist Donald Shoup took planners to task for using outdated and frequently nonsensical parking requirements in his tome The High Cost of Free Parking. In it, he said that the common expectation for free parking was unrealistic and had harmful side effects, in that it created an excess of parking supply, the cost of which was absorbed by developers and passed on in higher prices for other goods and services. As a result, among other ills, there are too many parking spaces which are often vacant, and the cost of the spaces is at least partially burdened upon the poor, who may not even have a car to park but nonetheless pay for them in higher prices elsewhere.
When it arrived, High Cost filled something of a void in planning literature, at least partially. As Shoup himself pointed out, parking theory and regulations received scant attention in planning circles and what data transportation engineers had was minor and scattered, yet most jurisdictions had parking requirements established in their codebooks with little apparent justification for their specifics. Last, the origins of parking requirements were out of date, Shoup said, with their origins going back to the early 20th century, and were in sore need of a fresh look.
While the critique embedded in High Cost was immense, Shoup's recommendations were relatively minor, including, among other things, establishing parking maximums rather than minimums. The book initiated a renewed interest in the subject, but while his critique was often lauded, his recommendations were criticized as being most appropriate in dense urban settings where demand for curbside parking was high and less relevant in other locations.
Enter Richard W. Willson's Parking Reform Made Easy (2013, Island Press, 272 pp., $40). Willson is a transportation consultant, not an academic like Shoup, who has worked on parking issues in a range of environments, and even played a hand in creating a parking model (deets). Here, he proposes a 12-step iterative process that planners and community stakeholders can undertake to develop sensible, context-specific parking requirements. His primary innovation when compared to existing parking models may simply be that he emphasizes a future orientation for his model. In other words, existing models typically project future rates based on past utilization data, when they should be taking into account many factors (including past utization) into an explicitly future rate.
"While I agree with Shoup's deregulation proposal in theory, the reality is that incremental reforms will be made before deregulation occurs. In this case, the perfect is the enemy of the good." -Richard Willson, Parking Reform Made Easy.
Truth be told, Willson's "easy" toolkit may not be all that easy, at least not in the sense that non-experts will be likely to tackle the process on their own. its ease comes from clarity and logic, whereas previously it may have seemed that planners had to grasp at straws using partial and incomete information. His "toolkit" (as he refers to the process) simply takes into account nearly every facet of parking regulation in a clear and logical fashion. Within its structure, planners can handle details such as figuring in noncaptive rates and taking into account, say, transit or cash out programs, at the right point in the process, rather than haphazardly trying to deal with everything at once ("muddling through").
Included in Reform's pages are details drawn from real world examples as well as a fictitious example in Ontario, Calif. used to walk the reader through the model. Willson's also gives practical advice for dealing with varying stakeholder types and gives detailed advice on varying land uses (retail, multifamily housing). Some may wish to see more land uses included, or to see the ones that are there broken down in greater detail to fit with their jurisdiction's existing code (although there is also a section on how to translate the toolkit into code as well).
While Willson's toolkit may need further elaboration and refinement to make it truly effective, that will likely come from practice. For now, it is almost certainly a step forward in reforming parking regulation.