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A new study reportedly found that, indeed, bigger parking lots make us drive more. Though it’s obvious that people who live closer to other people drive less, a forthcoming academic paper finally put it in paper.
As StreetsBlog USA pointed out in a recent article, the key to proving a cause-and-effect relationship is finding a randomized sample of human behavior. In the new paper, “What Do Residential Lotteries Show Us About Transportation Choices?”, four Californian academics found such a sample: the free, site-specific lotteries that San Francisco uses to select who gets to live in the price-regulated homes of new apartment and condo buildings.
After surveying the auto ownership and basic transportation habits of the residents of 2,654 homes in 197 projects built since 2002, the authors found that projects with more on-site parking induce more auto ownership. “Buildings with at least one parking space per unit (as required by zoning codes in most U.S. cities, and in San Francisco until circa 2010) have more than twice the car ownership rate of buildings that have no parking,” the authors wrote. Moreover, the team found no correlation between parking supply and employment status at the time of their 2019 survey.
Through the research, they also found that more parking led to more driving, less transit use, and less walking. They checked the locations of the 197 projects and found that non-automotive transportation choices seem to be induced by higher AllTransit scores (a measure of nearby mass transit quality by street address), higher WalkScores (a measure of the diversity of destinations within walking distance), and higher BikeScores (a measure of the quality of nearby bike networks).
But this was just one study in one city for one year. However, it’s a point in favor of one of the central hypotheses of the modern pro-housing movement. As StreetsBlog USA exemplified, Amsterdam was built mostly before the automobile was invented and has much lower energy use per person than Seattle, despite their comparable population and wealth.
“But at least in the United States, there hasn’t actually been much solid evidence that building cities differently will actually change our behavior enough. This new study strongly suggests that it’s possible, all these centuries later, to build new Amsterdams,” StreetsBlog USA wrote.
More cars on the road tend to mean more collisions, even if the coronavirus pandemic reduced traffic across cities in California. According to data gathered between Feb. 3 and Apr. 27 2020 during the early days of the coronavirus shutdown by UC Berkeley professor Offer Grembek, co-director of the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center (SafeTREC), found a 19% drop in vehicles miles traveled (VMT) in California. The study also found a 29% drop in the rate of minor injury vehicle crashes per 100 million VMT from Mar. 23 through Jun. 8. However, the rate of fatal and severe traffic crashes in the state went up by 15%.
In California, on average, 136,000 are injured in traffic collisions each year, including 1,500 deaths and 5,200 seriously injured. People who walk and bike are at greater risk of fatalities. Pedestrians and bike riders make up 27% of those deaths, despite comprising only 12% of the trips.