We know driving creates pollution: ozone, other toxic tailpipe emissions such as particulates, contaminated water that runs off streets, the heat island effect of the asphalted street and highway network, etc. etc. But until now, few people had studied the polluting effect of parking lots.
But Eric Jaffe, in The Infrastructurist, writes about new work from researchers at University of California at Berkeley that looks at energy and emissions related to America’s vast parking infrastructure. The researchers write,
"The environmental effects of parking are not just from encouraging the use of the automobile over public transit or walking and biking (thus favoring the often more energy-intensive and polluting mode), but also from the material and process requirements in direct, indirect, and supply chain activities related to building and maintaining the infrastructure."
There's no national inventory of how many parking spaces, lots, decks are out there – one academic who's studied parking compares it to the "dark matter" in the universe – but the researchers point to such things as the heat island effect, where pavement raises summer temperatures which requires more energy for air-conditioning, etc. They calculated that when parking spots are taken into account, an average car’s per-mile carbon emissions go up as much as 10 percent.
And as long as we're trashing parking places (which even die-hard environmentalists probably wish they could find as they circle, circle, circle the lot on the Saturday before Christmas) check out "Six Reasons Free Parking Is the Dumbest Thing You Didn't Know You Were Subsidizing," by Christopher Mims in grist.org. The point is not that we shouldn't have parking, but that we should all be a lot more aware of the costs of building and providing it. Maybe we'd be more conservative in how we spend that money – if we realized we were spending it.
And for a parking-related footnote, here's a way Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools might bring in a bit more revenue so CMS won't have to cut a whopping $100 million from the budget and lay off 1,500 people including hundreds of teachers:
Charge high school students more money to park their cars. If CMS provides buses to the schools (which it does, except to magnet high schools) then families that opt to let kids drive can pay for the privilege. Wake County Schools charge $170 and they're raising the fee. CMS charges $25. Ahem.
Each parking space adds $2,500 to the cost of a high school, a CMS architect told me a few years ago. Yes, staffers need parking spaces, and some students probably do, too. But a lot of that money could be better spent.