Book Review: Richard Willson's Parking Reform Made Easy
Richard Willson has made a name for himself in California and throughout the country as someone who knows about how parking interacts with transit and transit-oriented development (TOD). His work, along with that of Robert Cervero, has moved the needle forward and been cited in numerous county and city documents attempting to reverse the trend of over parking in urban centers and along transit corridors.
So it comes as no surprise that Willson worked to put all of the information he’s researched into a book called Parking Reform Made Easy. Perhaps easy is relative since we know that it is hard work to change these entrenched regulations, but this guide pushes us to think about how to plan for that change.
Reconnecting America’s biggest interest is our national dependence on automobile travel and how it relates to transit, livability, and equity. In that respect, the introduction by superstar Donald Shoup sets a cold sobering tone for the rest of the book. Los Angeles, about to embark on a westside subway project that could redefine travel in the region, has a large mountain to climb with the parking requirements along the corridor. That 2.5 spaces are required for even a studio apartment is enough to make a planner cry.
And the parking requirements along the corridor make it harder to build affordable housing. Willson notes later in the book that parking requirements are gentrifying, which is something I hadn’t considered before. Requiring cars with new housing units makes it harder for those units to be affordable. It’s just one of the many insights that Willson has brought to the table in his book.
In addition to the plentiful facts, figures, and case studies, a section lays out the reasons for and against parking requirements that city planners and transit managers should be required to read. Both sides are stated clearly, and when planners are working through these issues, it is helpful to understand all of these arguments.
But Willson also takes some interesting stands in the text that may or may not go well with certain audiences. He calls out environmentalists for the hypocrisy of wanting to keep a parking space while supporting all other causes, but also points out why they should care about parking as an environmental issue. He also hits at some of Donald Shoup’s ideas on deregulation, saying that the “perfect” should not be the enemy of the “good.” Though some in Washington, DC, might believe otherwise in light of their recent fight. But in general, Willson joins his former professor in touting the market aspects of parking policy throughout the book.
Finally, the toolkit and chapters discussing parking requirements for different kinds of uses is a good basic course in parking requirements and regulations. And the book was focused on a single aspect of parking that serves to focus the topic, but I felt like there could have been more in the book about urban design solutions to the problem as well as more on the links between transit service and auto availability. More is mentioned about form-based codes around page 199 but not as much as I would have liked. There have been some interesting solutions in places such as Charlotte along the light rail line where developers built surface parking because of requirements but went back later to develop on top of it when demand didn’t pan out.
All in all, this is a very important primer for discussing and implementing parking reform. It is laser focused, perhaps too much so at some points, but overall a book most practitioners should own.