Patterns determined by automobiles
Both rural and urban areas have suffered from the automobile excesses of the past decades. But their woes are different.
The central urban areas have tended to lose density as more and more of the space once occupied by people is turned over to automobiles. Rather than develop transportation alternatives that are more space-conserving, the central jurisdictions have widened streets and subsidized construction and operation of off-street parking to compete with low density suburbs. Even when the central cities don’t offer the parking as a governmental enterprise, they usually require developers to incorporate large amounts of parking in their structures. The result is the same.
Rural areas that could be used for agriculture, plant and animal habitat, recreational open space or forest are gobbled up by wasteful low density development. Extensive road networks are required for sprawl residents and local government has the burden of maintaining them.
How transportation uses land
Although streets and roads are usually viewed as transportation, they can also be classified as land use, along with other transportation facilities such as parking and fueling facilities, transit stations and operating facilities.
Aside from land allocated to other collective needs – provision of water, waste facilities, power generation and distribution, resource extraction, etc., most of the remaining land is reserved for what might be called the “end uses”, i.e., the buildings and outdoor spaces in which we reside, work, produce, trade and recreate, and reserve for nature itself. In urban areas at least, land is used in relatively equal parts for transportation and for all other activities.
Some parking is part of the street right-of-way. But much of it is built into other land uses, as a requirement imposed by government on owners and developers. It has become the largest single subsidy of automobile use, yet is seldom recognized as a subsidy.