Parking Lots, Coffee and Taco Bell: When Big Business Opposed Less Regulation

by drewnilsen

Despite the gutting and eventual pulldown of my native California’s Minimum Parking Requirement reform bill, the fact that this issue has become a legitimate part of the policy discussion is encouraging. Minimum Parking Requirements (MPRs) are a long-standing zoning requirement for new development and businesses that exist in cities and suburbs. While the genesis of them aren’t insidious — sure, people do need to park, sometimes — they often suffer from sloppy or outmoded calculations, or they inadvertently deter users of the development from walking or using public transit. Or, MPRs end up creating unnecessary expanses of hot, ugly asphalt that adds to environmentally-damaging impervious cover and sprawl, makes it harder for non-drivers to access, and adds unnecessary costs that get passed on to the consumer, whether they use the parking lot or not.

Reducing or eliminating MPRs in urban areas near transit nodes wouldn’t prohibit developers from building as much parking as they want, it would just relax the regulations they generally face. Many MPRs in America still mandate one car per bedroom, even in residences that are attractive because they are in walkable, transit-friendly areas. In cities and suburbs, parking lot sizes are determined by a metric of 85% of peak capacity — meaning that the vast majority of the time, a parking lot will be mostly empty. Or there are situations like this “green” library in Austin with a huge, underutilized parking lot that ignores its location in a residential neighborhood with ample free street parking during the daytime.

Old habits die hard, and many developers will continue to build more parking spaces than are necessary. But relaxing MPRs, especially in urban areas where other transportation options exist, is a good way to free up more progressive developers to create more efficient, urban places.

In the meantime, it would be nice to see neighboring businesses voluntarily enter into mutually-beneficial parking-sharing arrangements like this, whereby a coffee shop (peak hour: morning) uses a Taco Bell parking lot, and the home of the Doritos Loco Taco (peak hour: whenever teenagers are awake and stoned, e.g. not morning) can use the coffeehouse lot the rest of the day (and late night. Fourth Meal, bro!). Cities could spur such arrangements by offering to waive MPRs when contiguous parking options are available.