So what, exactly, do nuns drive? 

Don’t search for the punchline; it’s an important question raised by Governing Magazine‘s Alan Ehrenhalt in his recent, useful recap of Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking:

How many parking spaces should a convent be legally required to provide? If you immediately answered “zero,” then you probably have some common sense. Parking at a convent shouldn’t be a zoning question.

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Shoup condemns zoning laws that require businesses to provide free parking without much regard to type of business and neighborhood. Ehrenhalt notes in his article the appropriately large fuss Shoup makes about a pesky little document published decades ago by the Institute of Transportation Engineers called “Parking Generation,” which zoning officials still frequently use to guide city policy. It recommends that businesses — from convents to taxi stands (!) — maintain enough free parking spaces that “virtually every driver will be able to find one virtually all the time.”

Unfortunately, as Shoup points out, this document is frequently misused because the assessments of free parking only apply to “suburban sites with ample free parking and no public transit” (his emphasis).

In denser areas where people use public transportation, even a little, policies based on “Parking Generation’s” numbers can be irresponsible. As we noted in this op-ed, free parking drives up fuel prices, discourages walking and other transportation, and hides the true costs of driving. 

Over at Northwest Environment Watch, we’ve had a bit to say in the past about Shoup’s book and free parking. To summarize, reducing or eliminating free parking that businesses are required to provide can:

  • create compact downtowns by using land more efficiently;
  • promote economically and socially vibrant neighborhoods;
  • shift money to civic transportation projects via “in-lieu of” fees businesses in some cities can pay instead of providing free parking;
  • open up more space for housing and make it more cost-efficient for developers to build dense, walkable neighborhoods.

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