Another positive development (accessory units)

Following up on the positive development of Chris Riley and Bill Spelman pushing to lower parking and density requirements for small units along dense corridors, Riley is back at it, this time teaming up with Mike Martinez to lower parking and driveway requirements for accessory dwelling units (secondary structures in the backyard of single-family homes).  Chris Bradford and Steven Yarak have great rundowns on why the ordinance is needed so badly and how it could be even better if it applied to more ADUs.

Chris and Steven can give you a better overview than I can of why ADUs are needed and why parking and driveway requirements make it so hard to build.  So I’ll add a perspective that is so obvious it shouldn’t need to be stated, but now and again we do well to repeat: parking and driveway requirements are unfair, backwards, and detrimental all around.

I live in Austin without a car.  At many apartments I’ve lived in, a solid chunk of the land was (un)used for the worst possible thing: an empty parking space, reserved for the car I don’t have.  That land could’ve been a garden absorbing rainfall and preventing runoff; it could’ve been an outdoor patio, providing me and the other residents with a place to enjoy the weather; it could’ve been more housing, allowing for me to split the costs of housing with another resident or roommate.  Is it useful or fair to require every resident of Austin that doesn’t have a car to still pay the costs of maintaining an empty parking space (and often driveway) next to their home?  Is it beneficial to the city or the planet to encourage residents to drive, over using choices like riding public transit or bikes?  (Crib sheet: answers are no and no.)

Even if I did have a car, though, requiring a reserved parking space for my home still wouldn’t make sense.  I lived in each case on streets with a significant share of their street space reserved for the sole purpose of parking automobiles. The city goes to almost incalculable expense to reserve space along almost every street for no purpose other than parking cars; yet frequently that space goes unused.  It is as if the city spent billions of dollars establishing swimming pools throughout every neighborhood, only to mandate that most private homes have swimming pools to ensure that the public swimming pools didn’t get overused.  Except, subsidizing swimming to that extent, while not a great use of funds, might at least be good for the health and enjoyment of the city, while subsidizing parking encourages emissions and traffic.

Likely, some of those who oppose the reduction in parking and driveway requirements don’t really want the parking requirements specifically; they just know that without them, there would be more ADUs, and they oppose that.  To the extent that this is true, it is a real shame.  The city requires a ton more parking spaces, driving up costs, harming the environment, and subsidizing traffic, all because some who couldn’t get the political forces necessary to achieve their (bad) objective of banning ADUs found a way of doing it by making it practically banned instead of actually banned.

I’m far from the only, first, or best person to make these points about parking.  If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest checking out Graphing Parking, a blog by Austin’s own Seth Goodman; Reinventing Parking, the internationally-themed group blog he participates in, and the canonical work, The High Cost of Free Parking, by UCLA professor Donald Shoup.

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