Parking Lot Thought

Though I’ve never taken a poll on the subject, I would be willing to bet that most people (at least here in the USA) would consider a parking lot to be inadequate if it were EVER full — even if the full times were only during occasional special events, and the parking lot sat half-full or even empty most of the rest of the time.

It struck me that I personally believe the opposite: A parking lot is a failure if it is EVER empty, even if there are some times when it is full and people have to be turned away.

Why do I feel this way, against conventional wisdom? Because in the case of the latter parking lot (the one that fills up regularly), the people who are able and who live close by tend to become motivated to leave their cars at home, and instead get to the place on foot, bicycle, or public transport. Thus freeing up spaces for the people who are less able-bodied and/or live further away. So, the limited parking exerts a natural self-corrective force that has a net benefit to the community.

Meanwhile, with the parking lot that rarely fills up, people aren’t motivated to start leaving the car at home. There’s no self-corrective force; and in fact, with social pressure over time, the parking lot is likely to be expanded (even if it means knocking down an old shade tree or historic building or two).

That’s my parking-lot thought for you today! It applies to roads too of course. In fact, maybe that’s how the thought came to me: I heard a fellow citizen at a design workshop yesterday say, “We can’t build our way out of congestion. Building new roads to ease congestion is like buying a bigger belt to deal with a weight problem.” (That is one of my old favorite quotes; I first heard it about 20 years ago when I lived in Austin TX and we were trying without much success to tame the Incessant Road-Building Virus.)

I have a feeling there are a lot of other situations/resources this might apply to. What comes to your mind?

Further Reading

Strong Towns: The Many Costs of Too Much Parking. “[P]arking minimums—local laws requiring private property owners to provide and maintain a certain number of off-street parking spaces—do not belong in a strong city or town. These minimums result in more parking than we actually need. They rob our cities of financial productivity. They hinder those who contribute value to our cities, from small business owners to developers to renters to homeowners. And they result in dead zones of empty, underutilized space.” ( is one of my favorite websites, offering thought-provoking ideas and a wealth of information for everyday people to promote revitalization and sustainable development in our towns/cities.)