Los Angeles is the spiritual home of American car culture. The traffic is legendary, and the locals’ penchant for talking about their commutes has been the butt of plenty of jokes. But in a city where seemingly everyone drives, just how much parking is needed for all those cars?
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, “14 percent of incorporated land in Los Angeles County is committed to parking.” The report’s authors say that this amounts to about 200 square miles of parking infrastructure (garages, on-street parking, residential spaces, etc.). For comparison, streets and freeways take up less space—the 405, Sunset Boulevard, and all of Los Angeles’s other famous roadways add up to about 140 square miles of Los Angeles County’s land.
The study's authors estimated that "there were 18.6 million parking spaces in L.A. County in 2010, which includes 5.5 million residential off-street, 9.6 million nonresidential off-street, and 3.6 million on-street spaces."
The animated GIF below is included in the study, which is titled “Parking Infrastructure: A Constraint on or Opportunity for Urban Redevelopment?” It shows the stupendous growth of Los Angeles’s parking density over time. Look at those spaces sprout:
Mikhail Chestera, Andrew Frasera, Juan Matuteb, Carolyn Flowera, and Ram Pendyalac // gif via Transportation LCA
As Curbed Los Angeles’s Jeff Wattenhofer argues, “The perception that there will always be available parking leads drivers to neglect public transportation options, contributing to traffic, as well as to the increase in pollution caused by circling the block in search of a spot.” The study comes to a similar conclusion, and the authors state that “[city] planners should encourage the conversion of existing parking facilities to alternative uses,” as all that parking provides commuters with plenty of incentive to keep driving.