Just How Much Pavement Does America Have?

The Christian Science Monitor’s Mark Clayton recently pondered an interesting question. Just how much of America is now a parking lot?

“Early indications point to a lot of asphalt out there. If a single parking space averages 9-feet by 19-feet, then Tippecanoe County’s 355,000 spaces translates into two square miles of pavement, the equivalent of about 1,000 football fields. If Tippecanoe is typical, that would mean the US has paved over roughly 6,000 square miles – an area larger than the state of Connecticut – to accommodate cars or trucks.

That’s a conservative estimate, Pijanowski stresses, since he has not yet included on-street and residential parking or any other floors of parking garages except the rooftops, which are visible by air. In a nation with nearly 250 million registered vehicles, a few extra Rhode Islands of concrete might not seem to matter that much.

But a key finding in Pijanowski’s research is the ratio of parking spaces to vehicles. In Tippecanoe County, at least, there are three times as many spaces as registered passenger vehicles. And there are 11 times as many spaces as families, his yet-to-be-published study found. Does America’s four-wheeled fleet really need all that extra elbow room?

But most local governments think the space for cars is necessary, since they often set minimum parking requirements for stores and businesses. And retailers may be happy to spring for the extra cost of a megalot if it means no customer will be turned away even during the busiest shopping days, such as the day after Thanksgiving.

Nevertheless, some cities, including Pasadena, Calif.; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and Boston, are making progress by revamping parking regulations, charging more for on-street parking, and adjusting the amount of parking required in new developments. In Portland, for instance, maximum parking limits vary with the distance from light-rail stations. There’s less parking required to be built near the stations, more several blocks away, the EPA reports. In Palo Alto and Iowa city, the idea of “land banking” – or setting aside land for parking to be built only if it is really needed has meant minimum parking requirements are waived or relaxed.