Minimum parking requirements in bylaws and planning determine the fewest number of free automobile parking spots a new building is required to have. A number of influential planners have pointed out the obvious problems with the premise of these minimum requirements. But with many drivers seeing free parking as something akin to a fundamental human right, the practice persists in most of the Western world.
Requiring free and plentiful parking is problematic for a number of reasons – it harms the environment, generates vehicle congestion, promotes suburban sprawl, encourages inactivity and drives up building costs (there’s no such thing as truly free parking) – but requiring schools to provide abundant parking is particularly bad planning.
While the cost of an entire school playground runs between $50,000 and $70,000, a single exterior parking spot costs over $10,000 to build, and an underground parking spot can cost up to $45,000. There are no laws or regulations requiring that a playground be incorporated into the design and build of a new school – but some municipal bylaws require schools to provide as much as one on-site parking spot for every person on staff.
Providing on-site parking for parents dropping off and picking up their children means setting aside space that will be used for only a few minutes each day. School staff will use their parking spots for an entire day – but since most schools are located in residential neighborhoods, chances are that there will be plentiful free parking all around the school that’s sitting empty while residents are at work.
“We all want to park free,” writes Donald Shoup, professor of Urban Planning at UCLA. “But we also want to reduce traffic congestion, energy consumption and air pollution. We want affordable housing, efficient transportation, green space, good urban design, great cities and a healthy economy. Unfortunately, ample free parking conflicts with all these other goals.”