From Don Shoup:
Parking requirements create winners and losers: people win in their role as drivers, and they lose in their many other roles. People who don’t own cars don’t organize to change the system, however. Instead, most of them change their behavior to join the winners. More people buy cars, cities further increase their parking requirements and the system becomes even more difficult to reform. Because cities sprawl faster and farther, cars become necessary for almost every errand. Even those who prefer a less automobile-dependent lifestyle find themselves in the motoring majority, driving everywhere, cursing congestion, staring at taillights, inhaling exhaust, and expecting to park free when they get wherever they are going.
I think there are two issues here – the macro and the micro. In the macro sense, I agree with Don. The concept of ubiquitous free parking and the parking requirements put on developers by planners are like pollen for bees. They attract and entice drivers who give no thought to their trips. Developers don’t take distance into consideration when they build office and shopping plazas. It makes no difference. I make a driving decision based on the fact that the government (planners) and cities have decided to pick up the tab and make it easy for me to drive. Would developers provide as much free or subsidized parking if it wasn’t required. Probably not. They may decide to build two smaller malls, more conveniently located to population centers so short mass transit or walking would attract more customers. (Westfield did this in San Francisco, building a 170 store center with virtually no parking.)
In the micro sense, whether I choose to drive or not should be my decision, and not the decision of planners who remove parking spaces or increase the price for parking. In the end, the market should make that decision. If I were charged what it truly costs to provide parking at my destination, I will make travel decisions based on factors that are kept from play by ubiquitous and free or subsidized parking. If I am willing to pay the fare, I can drive. If not, I can walk to a closer store, or take the bus or train. It will be my decision, not a planner or someone who believes he or she knows what’s better for me.