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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cutting dependence on cars isn't anti-car, it's common sense [greater greater washington]

Cleveland Park resident Herb Caudill posted about the zoning update on the neighborhood listserv, and triggered a lively debate. On the issue of required parking, one resident wrote about "the growing hostility toward the automobile," and said, "The need for parking is a reality of modern urban life." Caudill followed up with this fantastic article, which we're cross-posting with his permission.
The thing about the "anti-car/pro-car" frame is that it's utterly useless when talking about urban planning and transportation planning. Most of us drive sometimes or all of the time. I drive, my wife drives, my friends and neighbors all drive.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.
Certainly some people are car-free by choice and sanctimonious about it; let's ignore them for the time being. And while externalities like pollution and fossil fuels are important, they don't need to factor into this conversation either. This isn't about morality or virtue or sustainability.
The central fact about cars, from a planner's perspective, is that they take up space. Lots of space. And this matters because space in cities (a.k.a real estate) is scarce and therefore expensive.
Cars take up space when they're moving and they take up space when they're parked, and even though they can't be simultaneously moving and parked, you have to plan for both states and plan for peak demand; so you have to set aside some multiple of the real estate actually occupied by the car at any given time.
That's just a practical observation about the spatial geometry of cities that doesn't bow to my ideology or yours. And it would still remain true even if cars ran on nothing but recycled newspapers and emitted nothing but rainbows and unicorn tears.
In the past, our policy response has been to just set aside more and more space for cars: More freeways, more roads, more lanes on existing roads, more parking garages and surface lots. This approach hasn't worked, and there are two very practical reasons why:

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