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The high cost of free parking

How hidden parking rules hurt our cities.

Produced by Will Chilton & Paul Mackie, Mobility Lab

The cities we live in are shaped by the way we get around them. Over the past 60 years, with more and more people opting to drive cars, the need for parking spaces has increased with the boom in driving.

To accommodate that demand early on, cities and towns started requiring developers to include parking with their new buildings after World War II. These policies, known as mandatory parking minimums, set precise standards for parking spaces for each building. These minimums vary by types of buildings — from beds in hotels and tables in restaurants to urns in crematoriums — but the requirement is the same: Every building must include a corresponding amount of parking. And in many cases, that included parking doesn’t even get used. Go to a shopping mall on Black Friday — the peak demand day for parking at these malls — and you can see plenty of parking spots available. But parking has to be included if the building is going to be built.

And these parking spaces don't come cheap. They increase the total cost of the development, and often take up more surface area than the building itself. It's possible for developers to get exemptions for parking minimums, but the process can be both long and expensive. As such, developers are often discouraged from following through on their plans. And when the projects do get built, they are often surrounded by excessive parking spaces.

Parking requirements have resulted in cities that are spread apart. Buildings get pushed farther away from each other to make room for cars, which leaves people pushed toward driving. Watch the video above to find out how outdated parking regulations define the cities we live in and why overbuilt parking lots should serve a different purpose in the future.

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