Study Questions the Automatic Approval of Wide Suburban Streets

It would be hard to find a suburban community where spacious driveways and garages were in short supply. Why, then, asks Zhan Guo of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, do local development officials automatically pave the way for ample street parking?

In a recent study titled “Amenity or Necessity: Street Standards as Parking Policy,” Guo, an assistant professor of urban planning and transportation policy, and his co-researchers surveyed more than 90 development policymakers and planners around the country and found general confusion about the purpose of the minimum street width standard. The standard creates streets wide enough to allow parking on both sides plus two traffic lanes, and has afforded up to 1.5 billion street parking spaces nationwide.

The authors received differing views, with many local officials seeing the standard as a needed amenity to satisfy market demand for parking, and others calling it a technical necessity to guarantee traffic safety.

However, those surveyed could not explain why the minimum street width in their communities was much narrower for private streets than for public streets. That double standard, identified by the authors, complicates the contention of many officials that the standard exists in order to supply a sufficient amount of parking, or that the minimum street width is technically required to ensure smooth and safe traffic flow.

Despite the lack of public debate about the appropriate width and use of new streets, residents end up paying for the typical provision of street parking through their housing prices, which reflect a development’s overall costs. The authors contend that if street parking was separated from housing prices, many residents would choose cheaper housing in exchange for no street parking, and instead put their car in their driveway or garage.

Research for the study was supported by grants from the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University and New York University. Co-authors include San Jose State lecturers on urban and regional planning Charles Rivasplata and Richard Lee, San Jose State master’s student David Keyon, and NYU master’s student Luis Schloeter.

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