Our community pays untold sums of money to build it, have it, and maintain it, regularly compromising and sacrificing material well-being and our core values to ensure we have enough of it.
Day after day, year after year, we continue borrowing from future generations to ensure its abundance in the present. Many of us seek it out and spend our valuable time looking for it. We pay for it every time we make a purchase, and with every mortgage, rent, and tax bill.
I’m talking about free parking and parking the City of San Antonio mandates with new development. Parking is a money pit for cities that devote so much land to it when it could be put to better use.
Michael Kodransky, director of global and U.S. initiatives for the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy, once said, “nobody goes to a city because it has great parking,” Research shows parking incentivizes driving and leads to congestion, more vehicle miles traveled, and heightened air pollution.
Many cities, including, Houston, Cincinnati, and Jacksonville, Florida, are changing zoning and parking requirements to reduce and/or eliminate minimum parking requirements for new development and are adequately pricing parking to reduce the number of drivers in the urban core. Some international cities, such as Mexico City, are taking it a step further and getting rid of minimum parking requirements and only allowing a maximum number of parking spots to be built.
I’ve recently observed two public decisions in San Antonio that illustrate how the City is going in the opposite direction of most other cities, and how much we are willing to give up in order to maintain the free parking status quo.
The first is the North St. Mary’s Street bond project, where the City is proposing to use precious public space and public money to perpetuate the inclusion of free parking.
To understand what the broader community sacrifices for a public street construction project to include free street parking, consider any of the following alternatives:
- Put in place demand-based pricing for on-street parking in neighborhoods and use the revenue from metered parking to pay for other neighborhood projects.
- Install dedicated bike/scooter lanes with barriers to reduce air and water pollution, lessen traffic congestion, and improve health and safety.
- Add functional landscaping that cleans polluted stormwater before it enters the river, improves the appearance of the street, and reduces flooding.
The second is City Council’s adoption of the reformed Infill Development Zoning (IDZ) categories that require homebuilders and new small businesses using two of the three new IDZ zones to build parking. Consider what the City could require of private housing developers or new small businesses instead of making them build parking:
- Build more homes and apartments that are more affordable to more people.
- Build more homes and apartments that are accessible to people with disabilities or designed for aging in place.
- Place large canopy street trees and landscaping next to the development.
- Invest in wider, decorative, or improved sidewalks or bike lanes.
- Nothing – let developers decide how much parking they want to include in their project as some might want to market their product to people who don’t want or need parking.
I have a 3-month-old. By the time she is 16, there will be no need for drivers licenses or parking. The wave of the future is autonomous vehicles, mass transit, walking, and biking. San Antonio needs to jump onto the wave or it will drown in useless parking.
Our values and goals as a city include making our transit system better for all people and modes of transportation, so everyone can get around town conveniently, safely, reliably, and with a variety of choices; ensuring that everyone has an affordable place to live; leaving the next generation with a healthy, sustainable environment; and not leaving the next generation with obsolete infrastructure and a bunch of debt incurred to build it.