Reducing Parking to Reduce Traffic

What a nightmare! For Valentine’s Day my wife and I made a reservation at a sushi place on Sawtelle for seven o’clock. After checking with Google, which told us the trip would take 24 minutes in current traffic, we left at 6:30. We arrived an hour later (what were we thinking?) and after two calls to the restaurant asking them to hold the reservation on a busy night. (The meal was wonderful and our marriage survived the non-romantic traffic.)

I hate being trapped in Santa Monica every night, but I also hate the fact that in the name of fighting traffic, for 80 years we have been doing everything that makes traffic worse by encouraging, in fact by requiring, more driving: by increasing road capacity, by sprawling out development farther and farther away, by destroying and underfunding transit, and by overbuilding and subsidizing parking.

Parking, the black hole of planning, is crucial because people make decisions not to drive to places where parking is scarce.

The Santa Monica Planning Department, which is drafting a new zoning ordinance under the LUCE, recently unveiled plans to reduce parking requirements for new residential developments.

Many members of the public responded with outrage. That didn’t surprise me. What surprises me is that people who complain about traffic congestion also complain about reducing parking requirements. My primary reason for agreeing that we should reduce the parking supply is that I want to reduce traffic.

No, not everyone will stop driving cars if we only wish it so. But not everyone drives as much as everyone else. I don’t want to attract to Santa Monica new residents who drive more, and we can discourage them from moving here by reducing the amount of parking available in new apartments and by requiring new residents to pay the real costs of their parking spaces.

Consider: It costs about $40,000 to build an underground parking space. To amortize that amount, at 5% interest over 30 years, the monthly cost is $215. Add in maintenance, and round it up to $250. Let’s say we have a couple who both work and who want to move to Santa Monica. Your prototypical American working couple who own two cars would need to pay $500 a month for parking if they moved into a building where parking was only available at cost. But if one of them doesn’t need a car to commute, they’ll only need one car and one space, and save half the money.

More to the point, if only one parking space were available for the apartment, and street parking is limited, too, a two-car couple would want to live somewhere else.

As a Santa Monican who wants to reduce traffic congestion, I want to attract new residents who drive less, and to do so I don’t want to subsidize car ownership for those who drive more.

Maybe you are saying – why build apartments and attract any more residents? The answer is that in Santa Monica, where nearly every lot is developed, if we build housing in commercial zones, we’re probably reducing traffic because either the existing commercial development on the site already causes more driving than housing that could be built there would, or if the property is redeveloped as commercial it will certainly cause more driving than new housing.

As for the argument that not requiring developers to build more parking is a giveaway to developers, why do we need to give anything away? Just because you’re not requiring developers to waste money on something that’s not needed (surplus parking), that doesn’t mean you can’t require them to spend it on something else – like paying for traffic mitigations and transit improvements.

Thanks for reading.