CRTP: Parking Math

Colin Fiske, Executive Director

At CRTP, we talk about parking a lot, and it’s no secret that we think there’s too much of it. Parking policies past and present have guaranteed free private vehicle storage virtually everywhere in the public realm. Among many other impacts, these policies force land into use for vehicle storage that could otherwise be used for other purposes. Exactly how much land? For this article, rather than discuss parking policy in all its wonky but emotionally laden details, we thought we’d just do some math.

An average parking lot requires about 320 square feet of land per car. (That figure includes both the space itself and the room required to get vehicles in and out of the lot.) A dorm room housing three students at Cal Poly Humboldt requires as little as 50 square feet per student, plus another 10 square feet or so to account for shared hallways. Here’s the math: the university could house as many as five students in the space it takes to store one car in a parking lot or garage.

The public lot at 8th and G Streets in Eureka has 40 parking spaces. A recent analysis showed that this lot never reached more than 50 percent occupancy, even at peak hours. The non-profit Linc Housing proposed a 40-unit apartment building with an even mix of two and three-bedroom units on the same site—plus nine parking spaces! Here’s the math: at least 100 people can live in Eureka in the same space that currently stores fewer than 20 cars at the busiest times.

The Humboldt County zoning code requires anyone wanting to build a new two-bedroom home to provide two off-street parking spaces, plus another two if the street isn’t wide enough for on-street parking. That’s 1,280 square feet of parking—more space than an additional modestly sized house. Here’s the math: Humboldt County could as much as double the space available for housing under current zoning rules if it eliminated its costly parking mandates. 

Parking in McKinleyville indicated by red

The Humboldt County zoning code also requires a minimum of one off-street parking space for every 200 square feet of floor area. Here’s the math: Humboldt County’s code guarantees that every restaurant has at least 60 percent more land devoted to parking than to cooking and eating.  

The Arcata Plaza has 63 angled parking spaces immediately surrounding it (not counting the spaces in front of buildings across the street), which collectively occupy more than 72,000 square feet. The remaining part of the Plaza occupies about 50,000 square feet. Here’s the math: Arcata could increase the size of its premier public gathering place by almost 50 percent simply by removing parking on one side of the street.

There are a lot more calculations we could do, but you get the idea. There’s a lot of land devoted to private vehicle storage. That might not seem like a problem when you’re driving to work or the store, but you may think differently next time you’re looking to rent or buy a home, start a business, or gather with your friends—if you’ve done the math.