Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The distortions from urban vehicle ownership

Two comparative graphics of land-use in downtown Hartford, Connecticut, in 1960 and 2000 illustrate the pernicious effects of motor vehicle ownership and usage. As can be seen, the earmarked parking spaces (in red) have increased dramatically in the 40 years. It rose from 15000 parking slots, covering 7.5% of the land downtown, to 46000 slots, covering 22% of the land.
The explosive growth in vehicle ownership and the very high proportion of private vehicle work commutes over the last 3-4 decades have, in no small measure, been driven by a similar growth of parking facilities. Trends like paid parking have only served to marginally attenuate the growth of vehicle ownership. In this regard, Hartford is pretty much representative of the shifts in land-use across cities of the world.

This has also had distributive consequences. Given the limited and highly valuable land available, the expansion of parking space has come at the cost of other competing claims on land. Even as those who can afford it have benefited, the growth of parking spaces have reduced the space available for affordable housing, community amenities, and even public recreation centers, all of which adversely affect those less well-off. Several of the road-margin parking spaces have come at the cost of decreased road carriageways. Also, road margin parking and parking garages generates less tax revenues for the city than other developments.

A major source of increase in parking spaces have been the minimum parking requirements for both commercial and residential developments. Apart from favoring vehicle owners, such requirements also drive up property prices and rental values thereby crowding out the poor. Further, the high parking charges in such down-town areas have already made private vehicle use affordable only for the non-poor. This, as I blogged earlier, also exacerbates the skewed physical access to employment, for the rich and poor.   

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