It’s not surprising that when push comes to shove, cars are the items that end up outside. Unlike an old sofa, cars are weatherproof. Curbside spots are also legal to store automobiles, while putting an extra fridge or storage shed in the same spot can get you fined. There is also likely an ample number of spaces available. Surveys of on-street parking spaces in the residential neighborhoods of Davis, California; Eugene, Oregon; and Bellevue, Washington, found that even at peak hours the curb spaces were mostly vacant, with 71% to 89% of parking spaces going unused.
Almost everywhere in the Pacific Northwest, as in the rest of the United States and Canada, it’s illegal to build a home without also building one or more parking spaces to go with it. A common defense of these costly parking mandates is that if there is an off-street space to tuck in every car for the night, curbside parking will never get too full. But this idealized image ignores reality. When storing a car on the curb is free, a garage isn’t necessarily a garage: It’s a great big walk-in closet.
To Clear Up a Crowded Curb, You Have To Price It
Even when curbside parking is a hassle, it can still be difficult to coax a car owner into a garage, no matter how mandatory the garage is. Perhaps no example illustrates this better than the West End neighborhood of Vancouver, British Columbia.
A study in 2017 found that 15 out of 16 car owners who live in the West End have access to an off-street parking space. But even at the busiest times of day, those garages and driveways were half empty, just 47% utilized. Meanwhile, 88% of on-street spots were full.
Why wouldn’t residents want to use their private garages instead of circling for five minutes for a street spot? Because parking garages that needed to recoup their construction cost were being undercut by the city. At the time, residential parking permits from the city were $6 a month, while most buildings charged $50 or more per month for a 350-square-foot stall. This led to over 6,000 residents opting for the cheaper city permits and fighting it out daily over 2,747 permitted spots.