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.

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