While critiquing one of my blog posts, Prof. Randall Crane asked: "Is any parking regulation a net social burden or only 1.75 spaces per Jacksonville, Florida apartment?" This question in turn is an example of a broader question: how do we resolve an issue when we don’t know, and perhaps have no way of knowing, the ideal empirical answer?
Parking regulation presents a classic example: looking at environmental harm alone, it seems to me clear that minimum parking requirements create some environmental harm by on balance encouraging driving, but also reduce environmental harm from "cruising" (motorists wasting time and fuel searching for parking spaces).*
Much of my work involves developing transportation demand management and smart growth policies which improve travel options (walking, cycling, public transit, carsharing, etc.), reform pricing and transport planning to encourage travelers to choose the most efficient mode for each trip, and create more accessible, multi-modal communities.
Occasionally, someone familiar with my scholarship asks me: why do you care about walkability and sprawl and cities? Why is this cause more important to you than twenty other worthy causes you might be involved in?
The answer: Freedom. I grew up in a part of Atlanta that, for a carless teenager, was essentially a minimum-security prison. There were no buses or sidewalks, as in many of Atlanta’s suburbs and pseudo-suburbs. But in my parents' non-neighborhood, unlike in most American suburbs, there were also no lawns to walk on, so if you wanted to walk, you had to walk in the street - not a particularly safe experience in 40 mph traffic.