When Andrew Pansini opened Los Angeles's first parking lot back in 1917, he couldn't have known he was setting into motion a Los Angeles love affair with easy parking. It was six days before a single car pulled in to Pansini's lot, but it didn't take long after that for Angelenos to catch on to the luxury of abundant parking options. From the humble beginnings of that first lot on the corner of Fourth and Olive, the LA parking craze was born, with more than 100 parking lots springing up in just six years. Over the next century, off-street parking became about as ubiquitous in LA as palm trees, limiting density and helping to stretch the city to lengths that could no longer be tamed by public transit alone. The car was king. Now, as the city begins to reevaluate its transportation systems to encourage more travel by buses, trains, and bikes, a new study reveals exactly how much space LA has surrendered to parking over the past 100 years. According to a report published in the Journal of the American Planning Association (via The Source), a staggering 14 percent of LA County's incorporated land is devoted to parking.
The report's authors say that more space in LA is devoted to parked cars than driven cars; they estimate parking infrastructure takes up about 200 square miles of land in LA county, which is 1.4 times greater than the 140 square miles of land taken up by streets and freeways. The report estimates the number of actual parking spaces in Los Angeles at around 18.6 million in 2010, made up of 5.5 million residential off-street spots, 9.6 million non-residential off-street spots, and 3.6 million on-street parking spots. That 18.6 million total parking spots amounts to an average 3.3 parking spaces for each one of the 5.6 million cars in the county that year.
Many urban planners think abundant parking goes hand in hand with LA's perpetual traffic woes, pollution, and lack of density. The perception that there will always be available parking leads drivers to neglect public transportation options, contributing to traffic, as well as to the increase in pollution caused by circling the block in search of a spot. Additionally, zoning codes obligate real estate developers to build a certain number of spaces with every project, which is often offered to drivers for free or at well below market value, further encouraging people to drive.
"You can't have the number of cars we have in L.A. without our parking lots, and you can never create urban density with the parking lots we've built," famed LA "parking guru" Donald Shoup told Los Angeles magazine back in 2011. Shoup, former chair of UCLA's Department of Urban Planning, believes there is some use for the 200 square miles of parking space LA is stuck with, but only if the the city radically rethinks the way it parks. Shoup is a proponent of the demand-based pricing structure that is already being used in a couple of notoriously congested LA neighborhoods—rather than arbitrarily pricing spaces, parking prices fluctuate based on how many people want to park. Updated parking meters can also track available parking spaces and broadcast that information to a parking app, eliminating the need for circling in search of an open space. In Downtown LA alone, LADOT's ExpressPark program has improved parking occupancy and increased revenues 2.5 percent. With Westwood getting demand based parking earlier this year and Hollywood following suit in the near future, LA is at least taking one small step to ease its easy parking addiction.