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With well over 10,000 parking spots currently proposed or under construction in garages in downtown Louisville, now is certainly a good time to take a step back and wonder how our downtown will change with so many more cars negotiating the streets. StreetsBlog discusses similar situations in New York where more and more off-street parking is being developed. They describe the phenomenon of induced demand where “the more parking is provided with new residences, the more people will drive.”

The New York advocacy group fears current zoning codes demanding parking requirements are slowly creating an even less pedestrian-friendly streetscape in favor of one perpetually dominated by cars. Groups across the country decry regulated and mandatory parking requirements are a sort of automobile subsidy that instead should be determined by the market. For instance, if a business decides not to include parking at a shop in an area where pedestrians and street parking abounds, they will face the risk of diminished sales from people who only shop where hyper-convenient parking exists. Further, massive increases in parking capacity intrudes into the pedestrian sphere: large curb cuts for new garages and lots force potentially dangerous interactions between vehicles and pedestrians where there otherwise might have been a shop or cafe.

Many experts believe planners’ judgements of parking are inherently skewed from policy toward politics, making such assessments of little value. One parking policy expert, Donald Shoup, explains how planning and parking can go so awry:

…planning departments always insist that developers include a minimum number of parking spots. Shoup doesn’t have much respect for the ability of urban planners to determine how many spots are necessary. Since planners don’t learn anything about parking in school, they learn it on the job, but because parking is so political—NIMBY neighbours constantly squawk at the thought of anyone parking on their street—what they really learn is the politics of parking.

While Louisville may not have the same traffic dynamics as New York City, there are definite lessons to be learned and warnings to be headed. With no real plans or even talk of any practical transit system and a slow residential development rate in downtown, where will Louisville be in 10 or 20 years with a huge new freeway and thousands of additional cars?

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Branden Klayko

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