A new study published in the journal Urban Design International found that cities with higher rates of driving have fewer people per square mile. On its face, this makes sense: more driving leads to more parking (and vice versa), which combines to drive down density as cities bolster their required parking minimums and also attempt to accommodate cars via increased provision of public parking. As cities spread out, more infrastructure is created, the cost of which must be supported by lower-value, parking-heavy development – every square foot of asphalt means less taxable improvements on a parcel.
The study went further, however, finding that the cities with the most parking had increased levels of driving (by commuters and city-dwellers) and also stagnant or declining median income, population, and jobs within the city. Cities with the least parking had roughly stagnant or declining driving by commuters and city-dwellers, while people and jobs within the city grew and median income skyrocketed.
A summary of the study was posted at The Atlantic Cities.
From the article, it is difficult to tell whether more parking causes stagnant population, jobs, and income, or whether a stagnant economy tends to lead to more parking lots and more driving. Given that the “less parking” communities are midsized close-in suburbs in much larger metro areas, translating the findings to smaller Wisconsin communities is difficult. Interestingly, people in the cities with the least parking actually owned cars at higher rates, but simply used them less, with more people instead opting to take transit to work. The lesson, then, appears to be that a lack of walkability, lack of transportation options, and lack of destinations within walking/biking/transit distance from residences creates more of a traffic problem than car ownership.