Encouraging people to drive to the bar

Written by tim


I get funny looks when the subject of zoning ordinances comes up, mostly because I end up hijacking the conversation to talk about the insanity of our parking laws.

But if other people are talking about it on their blogs, it’s only fair that I get to mention it here:
>[D]id you know that American cities usually require off-street parking at bars? To take a random example, the city of Long Beach, CA requires 20 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of gross floor area for “taverns.” I don’t know what the city thinks people are doing at these bars, but I assure you it’s drinking.

>This is how insane our mentality is. Even bars, businesses whose sole purpose is to sell alcohol for on-site consumption, “need” off-street parking. Even though we know that people drive to them, drink, and drive home. Drink and drive. Yeah, lets make sure these people have plenty of free parking.

Obviously it could be the case that some of those tavern patrons are designated drivers, but I’m opposed to the signal we’re sending here via our zoning laws: that a business which sells alcohol for immediate consumption is required to have a certain number of parking spaces. I don’t know on what planet that made sense to the lawmakers who wrote the code, but here on Earth, we’ve got a serious drunk driving problem and a serious greenhouse gas problem, both of which are exacerbated by these ill-thought-out regulations.

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  1. J

    So because they have parking spaces at a business that sells adult beverages that mean we’re all going to drive drunk? Some people are mature enough to know when they have had enough or plan ahead with a Designate driver and if they have a DD they will need to park somewhere. Not all of us live in big cities with easy access to public transportation that’s running at 2 am. I think we have bigger things to worry about then bar parking lots.

  2. Anonymous

    No, I disagree with J: bars can provide as much parking as they want in general (especially outside the city). But zoning laws with minimum parking requirements mean bars located in the city have to provide giant parking lots. Even when they do not fit well and walking and public transit is readily available. Those free lots encourage people to consume gasoline driving there and drive again after consuming alcohol.
    That is one reason why zoning laws are ill thought-out.

  3. Lachtna

    I agree with you completely J.
    I have been at a local tavern a few times, have eaten there and NEVER drank anything other than a coke because I was driving.
    To assume that everyone that goes to a tavern wants to get drunk off their butt and then BE a butt and drive is insane.

  4. Doug

    I’m with Tim. The point isn’t that everyone who goes into a tavern comes out drunk. Instead, it’s a question of whether we should use our zoning policies to encourage public transit and other ways to get around. I think we should.
    And while I am certain that Lachtna and J are honorable, careful people who would never drive under the influence, I know from my experience in emergency services that far too many people come out of a bar thinking they can drive safely only to wind up in a crash, seriously injuring themselves or others.

  5. Katherine Roberts

    But even in big cities well-served by transit, we still have these insane zoning laws requiring tons of off-street parking. Here in San Francisco, for example, which is both very urban and very well-served by transit, we are still subject to mandatory minimum off-street parking requirements dating from the 1950s, when cars were considered such groovy things it was impossible to have too many of them. If the only issue were whether additional parking was really needed, then why is it impossible for us to re-write those outmoded zoning codes? The problem is that we haven’t updated our attitudes to keep track of reality, which is that cars are not the unmitigated good they were originally thought to be. That’s why articles like this are an important wake-up call, to make us re-examine our assumptions and see if they are still accurate.

  6. Roger

    I have a similar situation at the end of my alley… Sometimes the lot is nearly full though, and given how area homeowners would react to bar patrons using residents’ parking spots for overflow parking, I suspect it’s a “just make sure there’s always enough parking on-site just in case” situation. Most of the time it’s absurd, until just one patron wanders around the neighborhood looking lost telling anyone who’ll listen “I know I parked it around here somewhere…”. Then the whole neighborhood would erupt.

  7. Jeff

    Parking zoning requirements take into account the minimum parking needed to accomodate the expected traffic which might use that building. The building may outlast the bar use, and then transition to some other use within the prescribed zoning allowances. The building could also have been originally built for a different use, but has transitioned into a bar over time. It’s probable, that as society needs change in the future, so will the zoning requirements.

  8. Tim

    As Katherine mentioned, many zoning laws do not get updated as time passes – some of them can be decades old! In the days when the link between CO2 and climate change were not understood, I can understand the idea behind anticipating future parking and driving needs. But what we know now requires that we reconsider the need for parking and driving at all. In my crazy utopia, businesses are easily accessible by foot, bike, and transit, and communities are built in mixed-use and mixed-density developments. I know that isn’t the case everywhere, yet – but it is our zoning laws that will dictate and shape our physical communities into the future.

  9. Roger

    [This was posted in response to a spam comment. We’re doing our best to keep on top of those spam bots! – Ed.]
    Continuing to maximize the transfer of carbon from underground to the thin shell of a sky we have appears to be what negates what could otherwise be the start of a cooling period, but is now instead apparently a warming period via the excess atmospheric carbon.
    Shall we idly wait a geologic time span for actual cooling from an overheated state? Would it be better to attempt to reduce the heating now before the loss of Artic ice quickens further?
    In any case, turning some of the excess pavement into a garden or just grass would be more pleasant.