Americans Can’t Afford the High Cost of Parking Requirements

Prices for garaged parking space construction. Graph: Access
Americans are paying off the cost of parking construction whether they can afford it or not. Chart: Access Magazine

Building a single parking spot can easily cost more than many Americans’ life savings. In the latest issue of Access Magazine, retired UCLA economist Donald Shoup brings this point home to illustrate the huge financial burden imposed by minimum parking requirements, especially for poor households.

The average construction cost of structured parking, across 12 American cities, is $24,000 for an above-ground space and $34,000 for an underground space. (Surface parking spaces are cheaper, but keep in mind those prices don’t include the cost of purchasing land.) Those costs get bundled into the price of everything, driving up the cost of living even for people who don’t own cars.

The burden of parking requirements, which mandate the construction of parking spaces that otherwise wouldn’t be built, is most acute for people of color.

In 2011, the average net worth of Hispanic households was $7,700 and of black households was $6,300, Shoup notes. Thanks to parking requirements, households without much savings — many of whom have more debt than assets — must contend not only with the cost of parking construction, but the cost of car ownership as well, writes Shoup:

Many families have a negative net worth because their debts exceed their assets: 18 percent of all households, 29 percent of Hispanic households, and 34 percent of Black households had zero or negative net worth in 2011. The only way these indebted people can use the required parking spaces is to buy a car, which they often must finance at a high, subprime interest rate. In a misguided attempt to provide free parking for everyone, cities have created a serious economic injustice by forcing developers to build parking spaces that many people can ill afford.

A more equitable policy would be to simply do away with parking requirements, which in London cut the number of new parking spaces in half. Barring that, even just reducing parking requirements can still have a profound effect on the cost of living, Shoup says.

41 thoughts on Americans Can’t Afford the High Cost of Parking Requirements

  1. Dover, MH, recently completed a new parking garage with 321 spaces at a cost of $11.4 Million, not counting the land, which works out to about $35,000 per space. But the land was previously a city owned surface parking lot with roughly 70 spaces. So that $11.4 Million only got them about 250 additional, spaces, making the incremental cost about $45,000 per space!

  2. The number isn’t connected to the reality of construction, it is more accurately an impact fee. At $63K per parking space, I’ll be happy to start-up a company in that area.

  3. With services like Rover Parking,,
    the options for parking become much more logical, economical and smart.
    There is a ton of parking space that sits empty for days or nights on
    end. Rover’s shared platform allows this space to be utilized.

  4. I hate to say this, but parking lots across the US are like cancer cells that just eat up the healthy parts of our communities. Most parking lots are less them 50% occupied most of the time except during some very few peak times of the year, so the land just lay there wasted and not productive for anything, collecting pollutants, absorbing lots of heat, and looking superbly ugly. Yet it is amazing to see how many old-school trained city planners defending their meangingless minimum parking requirements as a good thing and demanding to see every project they review provide all the (idiotically) “required” parking.

    I was a student of professor Shoup; he is absolutely right, and to the extent I can I will continue as an architect and urban designer/planner to fight each parking lot one at a time. The day when automated cars arrive full fledged, parking lots will be doomed.

  5. You know, shopping centers *provide* their customers with parking if they want to have business. If the value of the real estate around them gets high enough, then these shopping centers start to “stack” or to “bury” the formerly vast swaths of parking spaces around them into elevated or depressed parking garages, as I see in the now expensive real estate of San Jose and vicinity.

    Moreover, the shopping centers will still want wide enough streets for the supply trucks to come and go.

    Without the parking spaces and wide enough streets for supply trucks? Bye bye, upper market destinations, especially in the gentrifying inner cities. Let’s see how much shopping the bicycle-only crowd is able to support and willing to do.

    Like it or not, a great city is still a regional destination. Many of these New Urbanist cities would decline if it was not for nearby suburbs patronizing the stores, restaurants and cultural institutions. Go ahead, shut your self in, then you can peddle around the ghost town by yourself.

  6. Cali,

    You seem to be confusing urban shopping districts versus shopping malls.

    There has been a huge shift over the last 15-20 years away from the suburban shopping and back to main street shopping districts.

    Supply trucks typically use loading areas not parking spots. They are there to deliver goods, not hang out for the day.

    As far as the bicycle-only crowd shopping habits are concerned, a report I read regarding Polk Street in San Francisco, indicated that most people arrive to area to shop in a mode other than personal cars, walking, mass transit and yes even by bicycle.

  7. LOL

    then why do car dependent geograpghies have such low real estate values compared to walkable geographies ?

    car dependency reduces property values

    walkability increases property values

  8. precisely

    a) people attract people
    b) cars repel people


    less cars = more people = more economic activity = higher property values


  9. LOL

    1) pedestrian zones the world over solved the delivery challenge 40 years ago.

    your argument is red herring

  10. The suburbs weren’t a form of economic expansion. There are more like an unchecked growth of cancer cells which kill the host cities.

  11. Try talking to actual freight drivers and suppliers. Getting into and out of San Francisco, for example, is an utter headache. Sure, the affluent gay and childless people with disposable income make it worthwhile, but most cities cannot build their businesses around that clientele. Real World. LOL, indeed.

  12. Cali,
    Are you suggesting that cities are made up entirely of “affluent gay and childless families”? That is simply not born out by any data.

    In your previous statement you indicated that it was consumers from the suburbs that were coming to the city to shop. Now you are suggesting that it is “affluent gay and childless people” that are the only ones shopping in the city.

    Your right that not every place can have chic boutiques, but I have worked extensively with a number of the major mall owners in the US including, Simon, Westfield, GGP., and they are all keenly aware in the decline in the sales at their traditional rural and suburban shopping centers. They are redesigning their existing malls and developing new malls that are more friendly to alternative modes of transportation.

    According to a recent study the majority of shopping in the US is conducted online rather than brick and mortar stores, so if the malls were not reinventing themselves they would become obsolete.

  13. > Are you suggesting that cities are made up entirely of “affluent gay and childless
    > families”?


    What *is* apparent is that the cities that reduce auto access, without suffering economic harm, are those cities with concentrated populations of affluent singles and gays, like San Francisco. Most cities that would try this would only drive away customers and suffer economically.

    You are correct that malls are being redesigned–often into “Big Box” large scale discount retailers as anchors, with the remaining stores more specialized. These types of stores are very much auto dependent and will remain so.

    It is no accident that a store like, say, Home Depot is not in San Francisco. The nearest one is out in suburban Daly City.

    The one and only Costco in San Francisco has stacked parking and is located right off the US 101 9th Street/10th Street ramp.

  14. You are right that San Francisco ranks among the most bike friendly cities in the US, but so do New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, Portland and Philadelphia. It does not seem apparent to me that your characteristic of these cities is accurate, and certainly does not seem that these cities are suffering economic collapse by balancing their transportation alternatives.

    Regarding San Francisco, I am very familiar with where the Costco is located as well as the Home Depot in Daly City and in Emeryville, and the Lowe’s in Bayshore. I have been to them all, but I am not sure what they have to do with a discussion on urban shopping. They are not mutually exclusive.

    Before the advent of the regional, super regional and power shopping centers (box store shopping centers), large department stores were often located in the downtown urban shopping area.

    This is exactly what we are talking about. You might not be able to take your refrigerator or stove home with you if you are shopping by bicycle, but most people have these types of items delivered to their homes by delivery trucks now, so why do I have to drive there if I can ride a bicycle, walk, take the BART or Muni?

    It seems a pretty big stretch to assume that just because car-centric shopping centers have been around for 60 years in the US that this is the way it has to be.

  15. Except that there are oh so many denser inner cities that are declining into economic ghettoes. The desirability of the area led to denser development, NOT the other way around.

  16. If you look at all of those seven other cities you listed besides San Francisco, you will see declining family and child populations, in absolute terms, let alone relative ones. Nothing wrong with that, raising kids is not for everyone. But raising kids, and the kind of retailers that go with that, namely “big box” ones, *are* a suburban phenomenon. The singleton hipsters live in “Portlandia”, but everyone else lives in Beaverton, Clackamas, or Tigard. (Apply your inner city and suburb analogy to your home city, just change the names).

    And yes, this phenomenon has *everything* to do with with a discussion urban vs. suburban or rural shopping.

    Now if those suburbanites want to visit the inner city for that shopping or cultural experience that they can’t get in their burbs, then the inner city will have to accommodate their driving in, *if* it wants their suburbanite business.

    Unless, of course, the inner city can be turned into such a concentration of affluent singletons and non-family people that the inner city could care less about attracting the outer suburbanites, as is the case in San Francisco today.

  17. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Most of the post WWII economic boom happened in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The suburbs as we know them today largely didn’t exist at that time.

    What caused the economic boom was the fact the US had a virtual monopoly on manufacturing given that most of Europe and Japan were bombed out from the war. The suburbs and the private automobile had nothing at all to do with this. They actually resulted from the boom. They didn’t cause it. The US had money to build roads to suburbia, and Americans had money to buy cars.

    Policies of the 1950s and 1960s ultimately decimated once vital cities to prop up suburbs. Now that the infrastructure to support those suburbs is coming due for repair we’re finding we don’t have the money because we overbuilt. Or put in layman’s terms the suburbs are unsustainable over the long haul.

  18. Family and Child populations may be falling in a number of these cities, however with the exception of Chicago, all of the other cities that I mentioned are continuing to grow and prosper.

    It is not just San Francisco. New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and yes even Detroit, are all seeing large scale redevelopment that is bring people back into the urban core, which means that these communities are growing a strong resident consumer base.

    This article is about the high cost of parking spots. Not every trip can be made by walking or riding a bike, but if we make these types of transportation safer and more attractive, you end up reducing the number of automobiles on the road, and not every trip to the city has to be by car. Taking the train or Muni is often a good options.

    Couple these together and those car trips into the city by the suburbanites to shop become much easier both getting there and parking once they get there.

  19. Dear Cali,

    I am presently living in Germany where the majority of the shopping is done in city centers where driving is prohibited altogether except for delivery hours in the morning.

    The shops are full of both people and goods and yes, I do know a few delivery driver here. Do you know what they complain about? The Autobahn (interstate) blockages and actually love the fact that they have clear, narrow streets to make their deliveries in the morning.

    It has nothing to do with any other disadvantaged populations (not ‘gay yuppies’ in your vernacular). Just the opposite, walkable, livable neighborhoods is the most egalitarian situation a city could provide.

    But I know, totally different……. cuz, ‘Merica.

  20. Cali Curmudgeon: ‘sticking up for American families by forcing them to drive everywhere since 1958.’

  21. Birth rates have declined overall in most of the US. I can show you lots of country towns with zero bike mode share and minimal public transportation that are extremely elderly. Talking about the % of households with children in a city, or the % of the population under 18, only shows part of the picture.

  22. As cities are the engines of growth, decimating our cities has destroyed our economy. Because politicians listen to people and people are idiots, they gave “us” what we wanted: everything we felt we “deserved”: a new car, a big house, a new highway, nice schools, and rising property values. To accomplish this, the government created more and more debt. How much of the $18 trillion of our national debt is directly related to our insane policy of supporting consumption without production is unknown, but my guess is it’s at least half.

  23. Let’s not forget that there were people in those decimated cities. Many of the slums that had riots in the 1960s were vibrant neighborhoods filled with productive working class and middle class people in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. So – the destruction of cities devastated black communities…who are now blamed for the problem of poverty they didn’t create, while the subsidized white suburban population complains about what ever little support goes to “those people”.

  24. then the inner city will have to accommodate their driving in, *if* it wants their suburbanite business.

    No, it will have to accommodate their traveling in. Driving is one method of traveling, but it is not the only one. Chicago, among some other cities, has a good network of commuter transit that reaches into the suburbs. Detroit is trying to promote a commuter bus network, as well. (Although the suburbs will probably kill the effort, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

  25. I know you and your ilk hate America and sided with the Communists back in the day, but American cities did not emerge in the Middle Ages, and you can’t fault the USA for that. And if “clear, narrow streets” isn’t an oxymoron, I don’t know what is.

    Nor did I ever say the particular inner city populations that I mentioned in the USA are “disadvantaged”. If anything, they are *affluent* and often gentrifying former slums. (And I supsect not having to pay for kids does account for a good deal of that affluence).

  26. Getting into SF is a nightmare because of all the congestion, not because it’s inherently hard to travel there. Furthermore, no one is seriously proposing a complete and utter ban on motor traffic. Most places have (or should set) delivery hours which can allow the deliveries to be made at times with the least traffic out, creating a win-win for everybody.

  27. If anything, reducing parking and allowing more livable cities enhances a family’s ability to shop, not hinders it. Parents will feel more confident letting their younger children to ride with them or even by themselves and can also send them on errands to buy groceries. Other stuff can and is delivered to the house.

  28. Clear, narrow streets is not an oxymoron any more than 6 lane perpetually clogged streets is. You must be new to California.

    And you did indeed use the struggling families of America who are somehow better served by having option to traveling by cars by comparing them ‘affluent, gay and childless’ just as you did in your response. Try to keep your clichés straight.

    The part about communism and hating America: good to see, as a self described curmudgeon, still have a sense of humor.

  29. No need to accommodate driving in. That’s counterproductive because the externalities of suburbanites driving into a city costs the city more than any taxes they generate from using businesses. Better to just not have that kind of business at all given that it’s a net negative.

    Especially in cities with good public transit the message should be come by public transit or don’t bother coming at all. For too long cities have indeed tried to do exactly what you said—accommodate suburbanites driving in. It’s destroyed urban vitality everywhere it’s been tried. It’s no coincidence the most vital cities in the US are those which never gave in wholesale to the idea of catering to suburban car users.

  30. Except there is not a single inner city where that is happening. Decade after decade, census after census, the numbers of people under 18 have fallen, even in, nay especially in, gentrifying inner cities. The gentrification is a good thing, but it is older empty nesters, younger single professionals not (yet) with children, or gays who are doing the gentrifying, not families..

  31. Most true inner cities are generally adding housing that is not really compatible with and generally out of the price range of a family. When it costs $3200/month to rent a two-bedroom like it does in some cities, it isn’t a surprise to find that families quickly relocate to suburbs, especially as the family size gets past two in number. Housing costs can easily be cut in half or more by making such a move. On the flip side, some inner city neighborhoods don’t have reputations for being the most family-friendly environments, even if people are raising children there out of necessity. But that doesn’t mean that cities are fundamentally incompatible with families with children because big box stores are not necessary to raise a family. People raised families in cities without them for decades before they became the norm. The only reason that people think that they’re “necessary” now is because there are few other convenient options (which in many cases, is at least partly due to other options being illegal). If other options were conveniently available, there would be more participation in them and families would be better able to survive in a city.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Shoup to O’Toole: The Market for Parking Is Anything But Free

We’re reprinting this reply [PDF] from UCLA professor Donald Shoup, author of the High Cost of Free Parking, to Randal O’Toole, the libertarian Cato Institute senior fellow who refuses to acknowledge the role of massive government intervention in the market for parking, and the effect this has had on America’s car dependence. It’s an excellent […]

Apartment Blockers

Alan Durning is the executive director and founder of Sightline Institute, a think tank on sustainability issues in the Pacific Northwest. This article, originally posted on Sightline’s blog, is #9 in their series, “Parking? Lots!” Have you ever watched the excavation that precedes a tall building? It seems to take forever. Then, when the digging […]

How Much of Your Rent Covers the Hidden Cost of Parking?

If you rent an apartment in a building with a garage, odds are you don’t get a bill every month that explains how much that parking costs you. But while the price of parking is generally bundled into the price of housing, you still pay for parking — and it’s expensive. The costs of land, construction, […]

Parking Craters Aren’t Just Ugly, They’re a Cancer on Your City’s Downtown

Streetsblog’s Parking Madness competition has highlighted the blight that results when large surface parking lots take over a city’s downtown. Even though Rochester, winner of 2014’s Golden Crater, certainly gains bragging rights, all of the competitors have something to worry about: Cumulatively, the past 50 years of building parking have had a debilitating effect on America’s downtowns. […]