The shopping season is now in full swing, so store parking lots should be completely full, right?
In reality, our parking infrastructure is completely overbuilt and even on the busiest day of the year we have a surplus of parking spaces. This phenomenon was captured well by the #BlackFridayParking event, in which Strong Towns gathered input and images from all over the country on unused parking.
The problem with the oversupply of parking is that it wastes money, as Strong Towns points out:
Can you imagine Wal-Mart building an entire row of their store and then leaving the shelves empty? It would be ridiculous. Why then do we simply accept that large swaths of their land would be built upon for a use (parking) that literally never happens?
Significantly, the Strong Towns post used an image of an empty lot in Salt Lake City on Black Friday to make its point.
Bacon’s Rebellion also reported on #BlackFridayParking, pointing out that the problem lies in local governments requiring parking:
Here’s the issue: Smart Growth advocates are highly critical of local government regulations that mandate a minimum number of parking spaces around retail establishments. The resulting expanses of parking lots, they say, push buildings farther apart and create pedestrian-hostile settings. The ultimate irony, they add, is that most of the parking goes unused.
Posts on both sites note that requiring parking raises costs and tilts the market in favor of sprawl-oriented businesses like Walmart. After all, it’s harder to create a start up and/or local business if a massive amount of resources have to be devoted to building parking. And parking that isn’t even needed to boot.
As it so happens, I also took a few photos of empty lots. In my case, however, I took them of a suburban Walmart on Thanksgiving, right when Walmart was beginning its sales. (I chose that time because Walmart is within walking distance of my parents house, where I was having Thanksgiving.)
Here’s what I saw:
So, clearly the Thursday night sale was not enough to fill up this parking lot.
And judging by reports from all over the internet, Friday’s sales weren’t enough to fill lots either. The saddest thing about this is that it really just hurts our communities; as a result of all this pointless, government-mandated parking we experience less economic vitality, poor walkability and generally ugly places.