The Return of the Blob: Parking Requirements Are Engulfing Los Angeles

At 14 percent of county land, the extent of L.A.'s parking boggles the mind

The growth of L.A. County parking, currently 14 percent of county land. Image via Access magazine.
The growth of L.A. County parking, currently 14 percent of county land. Image via Access magazine.

The latest issue of Access magazine focuses on parking. The introduction is by parking sage Donald Shoup. There are articles on parking in cities (especially Los Angeles), cruising for parking, market-based pricing, parking for smart growth, parking maximums, and parking benefits districts. From Shoup’s introduction:

When it comes to parking, rational people quickly become emotional, and staunch conservatives turn into ardent communists. Critical and analytic faculties seem to shift to a lower level when people think about parking. Some people strongly support market prices—except for parking. Some vehemently oppose subsidies—except for parking. Some abhor planning regulations—except for parking. Some insist on rigorous data collection and statistical tests—except for parking.

Below are summaries of a couple articles most pertinent to Streetsblog L.A. readership.

Do Cities Have Too Much Parking?

The extent of L.A.’s parking boggles the mind. “As of 2010, Los Angeles County had 18.6 million parking spaces, including 5.5 million residential off-street, 9.6 million non-residential off-street, and 3.6 million on-street spaces.”

Disturbing graphics depicting the extent of L.A. County land mass covered by parking made the rounds about a year ago. The recent Access article summarizes and crystallizes findings published earlier in the Journal of the American Planning Association, reviewed by Streetsblog L.A. here. Parking blob images were featured at Better Institutions and Curbed. Yes, Virginia, parking in L.A. “amounts to more than 200 square miles of parking spaces, equivalent to 14 percent of the county’s incorporated land area.”

What can be done to curb the blob continuing to engulf Los Angeles? 

The article’s authors call for reform of L.A.’s wrongheaded suburban minimum parking requirements which “create more parking than is needed.” The authors recommend not only reducing or eliminating parking minimums for future developments, but also repurposing existing parking. For more detail, see Access or Streetsblog’s earlier summary of the pay-walled JAPA article.

Cruising for Parking: Lessons from San Francisco

San Francisco has implemented SFpark, a plan for variable-priced curb metered parking, similar to L.A.’s Express Park program. The Access article examines the question of whether variable priced parking reduces the time that drivers spend “cruising” for parking. Cruising is the practice of, after one has arrived at one’s destination, circling the block looking for available curb parking. One Westwood study, summarized in Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking, estimated that cruising for Westwood parking produced 3,600 miles of excess driving each day, the equivalent of two round trips to the Moon each year.

The trick to minimizing cruising? Price curb parking so that there are nearly always a few open spaces on each block. SFpark adjusts parking meter prices to target an average of 60 to 80 percent occupancy.

Researchers reviewed SFpark data and found that “cruising fell by more than 50 percent over a two-year period in the SFpark pilot areas compared to the control neighborhoods.”

There are a few caveats. The study period coincided with driving increases in a rebounding economy, so in SFpark pilot areas cruising remained more or less the same, while areas without SFpark it worsened.

The reduction in cruising was less dramatic than expected, in part due to disabled placard abuse. About twenty percent of metered spaces are occupied by disability placard holders who park for free at all times, and hence are immune to all price incentives.

43 thoughts on The Return of the Blob: Parking Requirements Are Engulfing Los Angeles

  1. We should price public spaces based on demand. All the free, unlimited parking in Hollywood, MacArthur Park, and Koreatown is causing a lot of problems. On my block there are a half dozen cars that only move for street cleaning.

    Remove all parking minimums would be great, but perhaps we should focus first on areas near transit. I cant think of why we should require any parking to be built within 1/4 mile of a rail station.

    Tax parking in commercial properties. A few dollars per space per day will encourage businesses to only build as much parking as they need, charge a price for it, and convert under used parking into something productive.

  2. Taxing for parking would require voter approval due to Proposition 13 and Proposition 218 and would be unlikely to be passed. Removing parking requirements and free parking on local streets, as well as charging market rates for residential parking permits (at least a few hundred a year in congested areas, not the nominal $40 or $50 that most cities charge).

  3. My understanding is that taxing parking could be possible if you can make the connection that parking use causes a direct need for services from the community(a fee not a tax).

    A private parking spot in Koreatown goes for ~$150-200 a month. Street parking obviously isn’t as nice as that, but I see a residential parking permit for the street as being $250-300 a year.

  4. SF is a different animal with a much superior transit system. The study in Westwood said cars looked for a spot for a whopping 3 minutes. Where are you getting 3600 miles of excessive driving each day? How is that even right?

  5. I know I read that too. I’m having a hard time seeing that number as being remotely accurate. In fact, Los Angeles is only mentioned twice in that article. All the charts and data are from SF. He mentions all kinds of data and how it was collected, but no data from the Westwood study. That’s why I’m questioning the “3600 miles” claim.

  6. I agree with the sentiment, but it seems disingenuous to show the parking in the entire county of LA, which is definitely more than just downtown LA and also sounds like it includes structures, as if it were a surface lot centered on downtown. When looked at from the level of the county, since that’s apparently where all the data is getting pulled from anyway, the bubble definitely isn’t as big or noticeable since even at present, this parking amounts to less than 5% of the total area of the county.

  7. 3600 miles??? Two round trips to the moon…mmmmm…3600 divided by two equals 1800 miles for ONE round trip to the moon. 1800 divided by 2 equals 900 miles ONE WAY to the moon. That’s about the same distance from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. NASA needs to quit taking the scenic route to the moon. Its adding 238,000 miles to the trip.

  8. I agree. See my reply to Marven above. If the publisher thinks the moon is 900 miles away, he is either smoking some really really good stuff or he’s got the latest version of Google Maps that the rest of haven’t gotten yet.

  9. Adding up all the unincorporated communities and 88 cities in LA County comes to a total of 1709.65 square miles of land area.

    Its 1437.83 square miles of land area if only the incorporated 88 cities are included. 14% of that total is 201.30 square miles.

    I used the info on this website to find these totals:

    http://www.laalmanac.com/geography/ge09.htm

  10. “Unincorporated communities” means Census Designated Places and does not include the non-urbanized or rural portions of Los Angeles County.

  11. 3,600 miles is a cumulative amount per day, if cars are spending three minutes looking for parking at an average speed of 20 mph then they are traveling one mile, which might seem high but may be reasonable given that they are going down side streets, or may have started looking for parking close to their destination and ended up backtracking or expanding their circle. Most people without parking guidance will try to park as close to their destination as possible, and when they don’t find parking will start from that point and double back.

    The moon number is over a year. 3600 multiplied by 365 is about 1.3 million miles of cumulative excess travel per year.

  12. I believe Marven Norman’s point is: Yes, if all the parking spaces were street level surface lots, then it would be 14% of L.A. County’s land mass. But in reality, many of these spaces are in multi-level garages, subterranean, or residential garages with residential units built as a second story. Since many of these spaces share their footprint, only 5% of actual L.A. County land is used for parking.

    So for example, an apartment developer builds a 100-unit building. The builder also builds a subterranean parking garage with 125 spaces. Yes, there is 50,000 square feet of parking; but 100% of the land is covered with apartments. Your 14% number pulls this shared use space above ground, flattens, and shows it as if it were a surface lot. Marven’s 5% number is the actual footprint used for parking.

    Looking at this objectively, the 14% figure is a shock number. The reality is only 5% of L.A. county’s land is used for parking. Now, whether or not this 5% is well utilized, that is the debate for Streetsblog and municipal planners.

  13. According to Donald Shoup’s book The High Cost Of Free Parking, It’s two trips to the moon using vehicle miles traveled for parking spaces in Westwood Village over a entire year or 945,000 excess VMT.

  14. That’s how I interpret it. I do not have “The High Cost of Free Parking” in front of me so I cannot find the reference.

  15. I’m still not buying it. There’s that many cars going to that area looking for parking every day? I don’t think so.

  16. Do you have research to support your hunch? 15 blocks is a large area, the figure cited does not seem at all surprising to me. I went to UCLA and regularly spent time in the Westwood Village area.

  17. I’m not the one making the claim. Where’s the stats or figures on the study Shoup did in Westwood? That’s what the article is citing, but it doesn’t give any information about that.

  18. Actually, look at Access Magazine’s Parking topic. There’s an entire grad school course on parking issues in there.

  19. This is what your source says:

    “Over a year, cruising in Westwood Village creates 950,000 excess VMT—equivalent to 38 trips around the earth, or four trips to the moon.”

    No idea where Joe is getting 2 trips to the moon every day.

  20. Yea, I don’t even care anymore. It’s just more of Streetsblog’s anti-car rhetoric. They want everyone in LA on bikes and it’s still not safe enough for that. Oh well.

  21. Except at every suburban mall. Except at most strip malls. Except in most suburban areas. Except on many streets in residential areas, many of them quite dense, even ones near transit stations. Except along many commercial strips where merchants think their customers will go away if they charge for parking (but merchants and their employees take up much of the parking). Except along residential streets next to those commercial strips that do have a few meters. It’s changing, a little. But there is lots of free unlimited parking in many many places.

  22. Actually, Streetsblog wants people to have choices, and as long as people can park for free wherever they go, then they will choose to drive, if they have a car–which forces cities to accommodate cars, and parking, which takes up a lot of room which then cannot be used to make it safer for people walking and biking and getting off transit. And it is never free, btw. Shoup says it better–you really should read his stuff.

  23. Nope that’s not true at all. They want an end to all driving and actively work towards that. They want to take away choices in the hopes that it will push people to bike or walk.

  24. Everywhere in Koreatown south of 8th street or north of 5th is free parking, no limitation except a narrow strip on Olympic, 3rd street, Vermont, and Western. IE 3/4 of the neighborhood or more.

  25. Charging for parking would actually make driving better. You might have to pay $.50 to park your car for an hour, or you might need to pay $50 a year to get a residential parking permit(more in very high demand areas) but you would decrease your trip time because you dont need to look for parking.

  26. Suburban malls don’t have overnight parking do they? Most strip malls usually have signs that say one hour parking only. Residential areas like Koreatown still have some streets that are 1 or 2 hour parking during the day. Residential strips by commercial strips have meters, or are 1 or 2 hour parking without meters. Hollywood Blvd. near me is no parking from 1:30am til 6am. Lots of other residential/commercial mixed areas do not allow overnight parking. There is no overnight parking in Beverly Hills unless you have a permit. Everyone always says there is too much free parking. Where? Where is all this unrestricted free parking?

  27. And how difficult is it to find a spot there? Very difficult. Koreatown has the highest density in the city, something like 42,000 people per square mile. And Korea town isn’t all of LA, it’s a very small part.

  28. LOL. That’s pretty funny. I guess you know better than I! To make the world a better place (which is what those of us at Streetsblog aim for) only some of the people who are pooping up the planet with their cars need to shift out of them. If everyone who was even a little inclined to do so switched some of their short trips (most trips are under a few miles) to walking or biking or transit–something other than driving solo–we would all experience a profound difference in traffic congestion and air quality. But too many people think they can’t because safety, distracted drivers, lack of bike lanes, cars parked for free taking up space, and a bunch of other reasons–which Streetsblog is trying to bring some attention to. Thanks!

  29. While you may not find parking in front of your residence, it is available within a quarter mile walk. Last weekend I was at an engagement/birthday party for a friend who lives in one of those condos off Fourth Street, and many people drove, and were able to find parking within a five minute walk. (I did not drive.)

  30. In most suburbs, in almost all of the San Fernando Valley, South Central Los Angeles, and the Harbor District, and even much of the Westside that isn’t in a RPP. Not to mention most of Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Ventura Counties. Even areas where you would expect parking charges, like near the beach, you can get free parking within a 5-10 minute walk of places like Huntington.

  31. As if safety, distracted drivers, and lack of bike lanes aren’t perfectly valid reasons for not wanting to ride a bike or walk everywhere. 2 people were killed waiting for the bus right by me over the weekend. If there was a reasonable alternative to driving, I could see it happening. But city wide there is not. This blog insists on demanding bike lanes on roads that are dangerous. It’s hard for me to get behind them a lot of the time.

  32. The Valley still has street sweeping. Beach parking isn’t guaranteed overnight. The concern isn’t with less densely populated areas, like San Bernardino. Who wants to park there?

  33. Most of that area is 2 hr restricted parking during the day. I only know this because I have friends who have to move their cars every 2 hours and it can take sometimes 45 minutes to find a space.

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