America’s Jersey-Sized Parking Opportunity

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- There are nearly 270 million vehicles on America’s roads. Most of them are cars or smaller trucks. And most of them, of course, are usually doing nothing: parked at home, curbside, or in dedicated city and suburban lots. Demand for parking has shaped our cities, and we have shaped our behaviors to the landscapes parking has created.

America’s Jersey-Sized Parking Opportunity

The sheer amount of parking space in the U.S. is probably a problem. A new study funded by the Mortgage Bankers Association “reveals an investment in parking that is out of balance with the current demand for parking in almost all cases.” That’s a rather dry read on the numbers; as my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Justin Fox sees it, parking spaces “are getting way too valuable to keep giving away to commuters for free.” Professor Richard Florida is punchier still: He says that parking “has eaten American cities.”

Looking at the data, it’s hard to argue that Jackson, Wyoming, has anything but an astonishing amount of parking. Even New York City, the only city in the study that averages less than one parking stall per household, might still have more parking than demand would naturally call for, thanks to rules requiring minimum off-street parking.

So if there’s too much parking, what’s to be done with those spaces? Ratios — such as stalls per household or minimum required spots per building — make it hard to focus on the opportunity the spaces present. Fortunately, there’s data to help us.

In an essay in the recently published “Parking and the City,” researchers Emma Kirkpatrick, Amélie Davis and Bryan Pijanowski quantified the amount of urban parking in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. They state that

Our study found that approximately 5 percent of the urban area in the Upper Great Lakes region was devoted to paved lots. … We estimated that 0.24 percent of the land in those four states was used for paved parking lots. If this were scaled up to the entire conterminous U.S., the paved area (just for parking) would cover 7,092 square miles, nearly the entire state of New Jersey.

What could this country do with another New Jersey of urban real estate? More buildings for sure, and probably with less and less parking allocated to them as time goes on — but what type of buildings? I imagine it won’t just be offices and housing. That New Jersey’s worth of urban real estate could, in fact, be an analog for the real New Jersey, with its advanced distributed manufacturing close to transportation networks and high-tech farming. They might have paved paradise to put up a parking lot, but whatever comes after parking can hopefully bring a bit of paradise back.

Weekend reading

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Nathaniel Bullard is an energy analyst, covering technology and business model innovation and system-wide resource transitions.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.