Robbie Liben

With the exception of our downtown, Missoula, like all US cities, has vast swaths of excess parking spaces. It is due to our wasteful and archaic zoning laws which for over 50 years have required arbitrary parking mandates within all private residential and commercial development and redevelopment projects.

Parking mandates steal away the flexibility and agency that homeowners, developers and business owners need in order to be creative, to adapt and thrive. Excess car parking discourages the creation of a more walkable and bike-able Missoula.

Every parking lot requires driveway aprons that cross sidewalks, creating more real and perceived danger for pedestrians and parents. It degrades the appeal of walking: Think about how pleasant it is strolling from shop to shop along Higgins Ave. In contrast, think of how unpleasant it is strolling from parking lot to parking lot along Reserve St.

Excess car parking actively undermines our climate efforts and our investments in an award-winning bus transit system. Encouraging more cars on our roads adds to our carbon footprint, contributing to the climate emergency, and impedes the potential efficiencies of transit.

Parking mandates are fiscally irresponsible too. Every linear foot of public infrastructure, such as asphalt, storm water drainage, water and sewer line running past a parking lot must be maintained by our tax dollars; but that segment of investment lacks enough significant adjacent-parcel taxable value for our municipality to provide upkeep of our nearby investments.

It is estimated that America has seven parking spaces for every single car. That’s an outrageous waste of valuable land. It’s time for Missoula to change that – now – and unlock the potential of all parcels to be used for more housing and other highly prized community assets such as corner grocery stores and coffee shops.

In alignment with many U.S. cities’ efforts and visions for better futures, Missoula’s City Council was considering an initiative to modernize our parking mandates sooner than the long-term code reform process will allow. Unfortunately, a substitute motion has been introduced that would essentially make no changes to the status quo. It was a motion to do nothing. This Wednesday May 17th City Council has the opportunity to revert to the original motion and get this crucial policy directive moving sooner.

It is important to understand that elimination of parking mandates does not mean parking space construction is prohibited, but rather it leaves it up to property owners to decide what is best for their parcel and for their intended resident-buyers or tenants.

Our city and our citizens deserve action on housing and a more walkable community now, not four years away. And to help get there, we deserve what is widely recognized as the best practice cost-free change of eliminating our arbitrary parking mandates.

Robbie Liben is an Organizer with Western Montana Democratic Socialists of America,