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So there are two fields of study in planning and civil engineering: transportation and land use.  This is a dangerous distinction, as it allows both sides to fob off their problems onto the other and call it their routine standard of practice.  If you look clearly at how they interact, you can see a glimmer of hope to restoring choice, fiscal conservatism and sustainability to the way we live and work.

The way development gets done in America is that a property owner will partner with a construction company to build on their site.  To build, they have to get permits from the city or county where they are building.  These permits include construction documents, site plans, stormwater plans, erosion and sediment control plans during construction, drainage plans for occupancy, and parking plans.  The parking plans are set by the intended use of the building or buildings.  If the buildings are expected to generate or attract too much traffic for the existing roads, the developer should* be required to pay for widening the roads connecting the development to the rest of the traffic network.

The goal is that traffic flows as smoothly as possible on the roads, not encumbered by cars, trucks and SUVs parking on the side of the road.  Without parking on every land use connected to the road, traffic loses a lane to parking.  If a destination is very popular, every street for miles around is clogged with parallel parked cars.  The average short city block of 200 feet can fit 10 cars.  Even a quarter mile long block, like the one where I used to live in Atlanta, can fit only 50 cars.  Everything gets clogged when cars all have to park on the street.  It is arteriosclerosis.

So traffic needs a lot of private land to be developed for parking to work.  Every house must have a driveway for its 1-4 cars.  Every business must have a parking lot sized to the initial use of the building and forever constraining what businesses can and cannot locate there.  To put a busy business  like a drive-through restaurant in a sleepy commercial building with a small parking lot is to risk heart attack as traffic backs up into the street.  So we simply don’t allow that.  Parking is destiny, all in the service of traffic.

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* This of course varies with local diligence and corruption.

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