Comment of the Day: What Parking Requirements for Bars Really Encourage

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT PARKING REQUIREMENTS FOR BARS REALLY ENCOURAGE “Uggh . . . Every thread on here, or nextdoor, etc., about a new bar or restaurant attracts an inevitable ‘where will all these people park?‘ comment. Why do people feel the need to drive to this bar, and the others in the vicinity? Because our obsession with parking requires every bar or restaurant to dedicate 3/4 of their land area to machinery storage, making everything so far apart you can’t walk anywhere. Wouldn’t it make more sense to PROHIBIT bars from having parking lots, instead? Why does our city REQUIRE bar operators to subsidize one of the most dangerous and reckless activities people regularly engage in — drinking and driving — by forcing bars to provide parking for their patrons? Wouldn’t you rather the bars in your neighborhood made it as difficult as possible for people to drive there, and take an Uber instead? Let’s keep the drunks off our streets: Zero out the parking minimum on any establishment with an on-premise liquor license.” [Angostura, commenting on The Up-Scaled Bungalow Bar Now Puffing Up in Shady Acres Across from Cedar Creek] Illustration: Lulu

26 Comment

  • There are bars in my neighborhood? How did that happen?

  • Makes so much sense that it’ll unfortunately never happen.

  • I’d vote for that.
    I’d like to see denser commercial areas with streetcars :-)

  • What about the employees ?

  • Just park on the street (see White Oak).

  • Stop requiring parking for bars. I like the idea. I’m not usually one for ending commercial parking requirements, because it sends a message that if you can’t afford to live in a neighborhood, you don’t deserve to shop there. But given the problem of drunk driving, I make an exception for bars.
    I would go a step further. They could set the closing time for bars to when the last bus or train runs in the area. That’s even more encouragement for people not to drink and drive.

  • News flash – you’re in Houston not NYC!

  • The urban fantasists who don’t believe in minimum parking should school themselves on the economic concept of the free rider and the common law concept of nuisance. They should also research a little of the history behind Houston minimum parking requirements. These regs did not emerge in a vacuum.

    I lived in Avondale, in Montrose, during the nineties, when it was home to no less than nine bars, mulitiple restaurants and other adult businessess, all without parking and no parking requirements. Houston minimum parking requirements arose because of what was going on in Avondale and a few other neighborhoods inside the loop.

    The patrons of these bars and restaurants did not and still do not live within Avondale. They all drove to Avondale because there was and is still no other way to get there. The bar owners did not provide parking, choosing instead to impose the costs of their patron parking on the city and the residents of Avondale(free rider). The patrons parked, imbibed and then proceeded to be drunken asses all night disturbing the peace of the neighborhood(nuisance).
    Forcing the business owner to bear the costs of patron parking shifts the costs back to the business which benefits from the patronage. It is a reasonable requirement. It also alleviates the nuisance issue by keeping the drunks off the property of other businesses and residences.

  • @Jardinero1 If the problem is bar patrons using the free on street parking, why not just put up signs that restrict parking to neighborhood residents during peak bar hours? Avondale Street (near Taft) has something just like this right now.

  • @ Jardinero1: So the Cliff’s Notes version is that a few neighborhoods had issues with crimes that were already crimes such as public intoxication and disturbances of the peace, and so rather than simply enforcing the existing laws, property rights were infringed with adverse consequences across the entire city.
    Here’s what I think about that: if zero Avondale residents were patronizing Avondale bars (and I’d like to see evidence supporting that claim), then those were the wrong residents in the wrong neighborhood. This was a vibrant neighborhood in the middle of a big city. Things change, get gentrified, rents go up, and the bars move on — so do people — and that’s not a bad thing. It wasn’t your neighborhood, you were just borrowing it. Nor was it some hallowed ground any more than that anybody else’s plot of land.

  • Jardiner01 has convinced me, throwing up in a yard and creating a public nuisance is much worse than driving drunk and killing a pedestrian.

  • @ZAW,
    Zero parking requirements does not mean zero parking. There are pay lots and garages all over midtown and downtown despite those areas not having a parking minimum.
    I’m familiar with the concept of the free rider. You may want to familiarize yourself with the consequences of price controls. Sounds like the problem was under-pricing of on-street parking. When a valuable resource (like a parking space) has its price artificial set too low (zero) demand quickly outstrips supply and scarcity ensues. If you price on-street parking appropriately, private alternatives like off-street garages will materialize.

  • Jeez, what happened to meeting some friends at a bar, having one drink, some bar snacks, and then safely driving home an hour later? Guess I’m getting old…
    If you’re really worried about drunk drivers, what makes you think that those who pay to park in an offsite garage are less likely to drink and drive than those who park in a bar’s own lot, or street-park around the corner?

  • If bars have no parking and there are no alternatives for parking in the neighborhood, people will just go to bars that do have parking instead. But there really is no such thing as a bar where there is no alternative to on site parking, especially in a big sprawling city like Houston. If a bar has no parking, people will park in neighborhoods or nearby businesses that are only open during business hours will turn their lots into pay lots for bar patrons. So, all you will accomplish by giving bars a free pass from parking requirements is giving them a huge advantage in the marketplace so there will be even more bars in a given area. The net effect would be more drunk driving because you have removed one of the biggest cost barriers to opening a bar.

  • Zero out parking requirements in the first place. Do you think HEB is going to start building stores without parking? No. Owners will dedicate as much land to parking as THEY think they need. Hopefully this “everyone has a car” attitude will go away with prevalence of self driving uber type cars.

  • Isn’t the designated driver concept still a thing?

  • We will have driverless cars in a few years. It will be like carrying a brown paper bag on the subway.

  • @Grant,
    People drive because it’s cheaper (in money and time) than the alternative. If you drive home from the bar (after having one too many), you have, say, a 1% chance to get a $2000 fine. If you park in a garage, you have the same risk, plus you have a 100% chance of paying $20, which starts to make taking an Uber look more attractive.
    But more importantly, if we stop dedicating so much space to parking, the distances between where you live/work and where you consume will fall, and the number of options people can reasonably walk or talk transit to increase.

  • Angostura, its way more than $2000 and that’s without any property damage or deaths.

  • “But more importantly, if we stop dedicating so much space to parking, the distances between where you live/work and where you consume will fall, and the number of options people can reasonably walk or ta[ke] transit to increase.”

    Sure, if we got to start over and built Houston from scratch, we would have something called PLANNING that could make this happen. But the reality is that most Houstonians will not walk more than a half mile to get to where they need to be sober (just look at Minute Maid parking rates during the world series). People responsible for drunk driving are more than likely not the new urbanism types who appreciate the live/work/play development aesthetic.

  • In a perfect world, everyone would take transit to the bar and wouldn’t need a parking space.


    No, really, you think Houston is going to make taking Metro for a night out on the town a viable option when it barely takes care of getting commuters in and out of the city center for the workday? That must be some good weed. You should share it.

    All you do when you take away parking requirements is put too many cars on the side streets and piss off the neighbors.

    Fixing our mobility issues and building a world class transit system requires more stones than our lawmakers (be they congressional, state legislature, or city council) currently possess. We need it, but I don’t expect it in my lifetime. We already neutered our rail system in favor of more buses and tried to call it an upgrade once.

  • You’ve illustrated your point, but I’d venture that the chance of getting pulled over on a DWI is a lot higher than 1%, and that for most of Houston, the market will not support parking prices that cost more than two Uber rides. The relative cost of the parking part of this equation will be smaller…and small relative to the offender’s bar tab.

  • @ Old School: If the end result of lowering the cost barrier to opening more bars is more bars, I say bring it on. That’s unlikely to change, very much, the number of people that go to bars. It just means that there’ll be a greater variety of options. I find the creative possibilities interesting. A case can also be made for economic development purposes that having a cluster of bars boosts a city’s quality of life and makes it more attractive for corporate relocation and conventions. Now I said “very much” because of course there is some induced demand as a result of the betterment of quality of life. That is how you know that a society is succeeding is that its people are happy, vivacious, and fulfilled; but yes, it comes at a cost.
    …and I’m gonna go ahead and touch that third rail. …the cost is worth it.
    Jean-Paul Sarte said: “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance.” It’s the prolonging that’s the fun part. You, stodgy man or woman, get out of our way.

  • “Planning”, a term often used to mean whatever idyllic notion the speaker has about life as they think it should be, has little to do with what happens in the face of actual supply and demand. Roughly speaking, minimum parking requirements increase costs without providing much utility, or in real estate speak “the highest and best use” of the land. So you wind up with bars in concentrated areas, usually farther away from residential areas, thus necessitating the use of *some* kind of transportation. Reducing or eliminating parking requirements does two things: 1) removes a significant cost from building/operating a bar and 2) would, on the whole, *reduce* the need for transportation.
    To see this in action, hop across the pond to our neighbors in the UK and take a look at the density of pubs in various places around the island, then compare that to Houston (there’s even a helpful walking map here: There are plenty of small plots around town that would make great neighborhood bars (who wouldn’t have to compete to be the biggest, baddest, loudest one around either), but can’t be used that way because of parking minimums. “Planning” is not required for this to happen. In fact, it can be convincingly argued that planning is making the problem worse, not better, because despite the popular notion, Houston has a pretty comprehensive set of ordinances that do the same thing.
    Let’s be clear though, forcing bars to close at 2am so everyone gets dumped out on the street gassed out of their minds because they crammed in a couple more shots before the closing bell certainly isn’t helping either.

  • @OldSchool,
    I’m going to go ahead and disagree on the value of planning. The best parts of the city (19th St, parts of Washington, parts of Midtown) were developed before the city passed Chapter 42, and would be illegal to replicate today.
    What has planning gotten our fair city over the past half-century? Here’s a partial list:
    1 – Density caps inside the loop (since repealed), driving multifamily development to areas farther away from downtown, increasing sprawl.
    2 – 70+ ft right-of-ways, which, along with our 25-ft setbacks, result in an absurd 120 feet between facades. Compare that to unplanned, human-scaled environments in pre-19th century cities and the result is 25% of land completely wasted, or given over to automobiles instead of people.
    3 – Parking minimums, requiring up to 75% of land be given over to car storage.
    4 – 25-ft retail setbacks, which, combined with parking minimums, essentially mandate strip-mall development.
    What Houston does well is where it doesn’t “plan”. We don’t segregate residential, commercial and retail. We don’t limit residential density (much) (inside the loop), we don’t cap multi-family density (any more). All those great, walkable places we travel to on vacation have one thing in common: the almost complete lack of planning. And where they did do “planning” it did more harm than good. The gothic quarter in Barcelona is way more charming than the Eixample, and don’t get me started on how Hausmann screwed up Paris.
    Lump me in with the anti-planners on this one.

  • Generally speaking, City Planners are good people that are *required* to enforce rules created by politicians and elected officials; it doesn’t mean that they necessarily agree with them. #EndParkingMinimums