The hidden pitfalls of parking

Uber Under the Hood
Uber Under the Hood
3 min readJan 21, 2016


Posted by Amy Smith, ‎Policy Research Data Analyst

In the United States, the overwhelming majority of commuters drive themselves to work. There’s been a lot written about the negative impacts of this heavy reliance on individuals driving their own car: increases in congestion, energy consumption and air pollution, to name only a few.

But one of the most significant impacts of this heavy reliance on the private car is also the most visible: parking. Cars sit unused 95% of the time. As a result, an excessive amount of space in cities is dedicated to storing them.

In recent decades, urban planners have started to quantify the issue. Researchers recently determined that 14 percent of all land in Los Angeles County is taken up by parking. Even in Copenhagen, one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities, there are three parking spaces for every car. A view from above helps to get a sense of the staggering amounts of space dedicated to parking in American cities. Aerial photographer Alex MacLean famously took the shot below of parking lots in downtown Houston, Texas:

Credit: Alex MacLean

You might think that the reason there’s so much parking available is that real estate developers are eager to provide it. The reality is, most don’t have a choice. In the majority of American cities, parking policies enforce mandatory parking minimums. These requirements are typically based on a methodology that leads to a systematic oversupply of parking, even where buildings are within a reasonable walking distance to transit.

This oversupply has a host of negative implications, some of which are just starting to be fully understood. First, the provision of parking makes homes and apartments more expensive, hampering housing affordability. Substantial evidence is also being collected that more parking spaces themselves cause more driving, kicking off an escalating feedback loop.

It’s also important to remember that the standards for mandatory parking supply are based on historical data collected during an era when car ownership was assumed to be the desire of anyone who could afford it. Those trends have started to change. In some places, residents are giving up personal cars altogether. According to a study released in 2014 by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the number of car-free households is increasing in some major American cities, including New York and Washington, D.C.

Some cities are taking notice of this shift and are working to make changes to their parking policies, but the political battles around lowered parking standards are not always easy to win.

We believe Uber can be part of the solution. A recent survey found that 10 percent of millennials who use Uber have already changed their car ownership behavior, choosing to get rid of a personal vehicle or to not buy a car because of Uber. Over time, we believe having reliable, affordable access to transportation will enable more people to downsize when it comes to car ownership. A two-car household in the suburbs could go down to one car, and urban households could go without a car altogether. Uber is making it as easy as possible to get from A to B without the need to own a car — or to park it when you get there. Think of what we could do with all the extra space.