How Parking Requirements Help Walmart and Hurt Small Businesses

This photo shows a Salt Lake City parking garage on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Parking lots and garages all over the country were half-empty, we know thanks to a crowd reporting event held by Chuck Marohn. Image: ##http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2013/12/2/the-meaning-of-blackfridayparking.html#.UpzDBoWU6ZY## Strong Towns##
A Salt Lake City parking garage on Black Friday. Photo: ##http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2013/12/2/the-meaning-of-blackfridayparking.html#.UpzDBoWU6ZY##Strong Towns##

On Black Friday, Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns asked his Twitter followers to take pictures of parking lots on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The evidence they returned was pretty damning: Retailers like Walmart, Kohl’s, and Target — some compelled by mandatory parking minimums — provide way more parking than shoppers will ever demand. Marohn collected 70 pictures of wasted asphalt on this big shopping day.

In a follow-up post today, Marohn explains that a lot of the big box stores depicted in these photos are happy to have laws requiring huge expensive parking lots. It keeps the competition down:

Do you think Wal-Mart opposes parking minimums? They may on an individual site here or there, but in general, parking minimums are one of their best advantages. They simultaneously raise the cost of entry for competitors while further tilting the marketplace in favor of businesses catering to people who drive (a segment Wal-Mart dominates). It is a self-reinforcing, downward cycle. If you are pro-biking, pro-walking or pro-transit, you are anti- parking minimums.

And parking minimums force some of the most ridiculous land use decisions I have ever seen. An individual wants to take a vacant storefront and open a business but then city hall tells them they need five parking spots. Where do they get that? Well they either don’t (likely) or they buy a neighboring property, tear down whatever is on that lot and convert it to financially unproductive parking. This decimates the tax base when it happens and encourages horizontal expansion when it doesn’t. If you are pro- environment or if you advocate for a strong, healthy tax base, you are anti- parking minimums.

So who is pro- parking minimums? Many planners, zoners, large corporations, asphalt companies and people driving around looking for a parking spot. For them the not-so-old adage holds: you can never have enough parking.

  • Curt

    Love Strong Towns but I do think that Charles Marohn gets it wrong on who wants parking minimums. Neighborhood activist are the biggest supporters of parking minimums because they don’t want people parking in their neighborhood. Portland had repealed parking minimums for developments within 500 ft. of transit stops. It was neighborhood groups that successfully had them reinstated.

  • andrelot

    While this might be one effect of parking minimum laws, I think it is not the first, or even second thrust on these laws.

    Walmart have too many competitive advantages other than parking. It would open walkable stores if demand existed in a way that, if ignored, would threaten its grip on the market.

    Parking minimums are usually pushed by communities where developments are going to be built and that fear that costumers (or new residents) will crowd them out of existing parking facilities. It is one of the most commonplace concerns voiced on public meetings: if you build this, traffic will increase and parking will become difficult.

  • eriksandblom

    Couldn’t that be addressed by giving ten-year parking passes to the current residents? So they continue paying whatever they pay now.

    And for landowners, higher parking prices are a plus because their parking becomes more profitable.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I don’t think Marohn is saying that Walmart is the *biggest* supporter of parking minimums – he’s just saying that they’re also a supporter of parking minimums, because they keep out competition.

  • Charles Marohn

    Thanks Kenny. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

    Neighborhood activists also support parking when they have few other options for getting around. Start to build a culture for walking/biking and I think those activists will find less traction.

  • neil21

    What would pre-war Vancouver looks like with post-war Vancouver’s parking regulations? This: http://pricetags.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/what-would-commercial-drive-look-like-with-surrey-parking-standards/

  • Juan Matute

    Is the fact that existing parking is underpriced and oversubscribed the fault of new development? No, it’s the fault of the government. Minimum parking requirements shift the burden of dealing with this issue from the government to new developments, which have no control over off-site parking management.

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