As cyclists and pedestrians we often have the opposite of a windshield world view: we condemn our city planners for building for cars instead of people. We think roads are too wide, distances are too great, and access is considered only for those driving. In fact, when we take subsidies into account (For a detailed analysis “Bikenomics” is a great read) we are actually paying people to drive. But there is an area where Memphis isn’t coddling cars: Parking.

Seth Goodman has produced a series of infographics at that highlight the amount of parking space dedicated to certain uses. It’s important to keep in mind that these are minimum parking requirements; a developer has the right to petition the Planning Director for more parking. But when we compare ourselves to the rest of the country, our minimums are mostly in the low and median for the selected uses.

Memphis has even eliminated or reduced minimums for 5 special districts, including downtown, the Medical District and the University District (UM). So where does Memphis hit the “high water” marks? Office Space and Study Space. Now look at Study Space carefully. To me, the title implies any institution of learning but Goodman only gives data pertaining to high schools. This is for good reason, though. When we look at the City of Memphis and Shelby County’s Unified Development Code (page 157) we see that even this code separates Elementary, Middle and Junior High away from High Schools and the reason is obvious: stadiums.

But isn’t this just another instance of building for the peak and not the norm? Our streets are built for rush hour and our high school parking lots are built for Friday night.


High Schools in Memphis are typically grades 9 through 12. With the Tennessee Graduated Driver License, only drivers age 16, or grade 10, are allowed to drive by themselves. So depending on class size, a quarter of the student body does not even have a car. Goodman draws this conclusion:

“Providing plentiful free parking to high school students gets them hooked on driving from an early age. It sets the expectation that driving is a rite of passage into adulthood and that any other method of getting around is immature or inferior. In a country with an obesity epidemic, that doesn’t seem to be the best lesson to teach. In a setting where equality should be a virtue, it provides a benefit to wealthier students, who have the means to drive a car, with funds [from less parking spots – ed.] that could go towards providing students (including those less well off) with a higher quality education.”

The equity issue is apparent when looking at Memphis area schools: (Central, Collierville, and Germantown were eliminated due to the absence of a single car. My guess is that Google used images that were taken on a Sunday.)

Christian Brothers:
Christian Brothers


White Station:
White Station

East High:
East High



The first 3 schools serve predominantly white children, while the lower 3 are predominantly black. (Source) According to the UDC, schools must be built on arterials or connectors, further increasing the difficulty of bicycle and pedestrian access. And even though the UDC does have minimum Bicycle Parking requirements many area high schools were built before 2011 (the UDC effective date – August 1, 2011 for schools) and aren’t required to install bicycle racks. According to an informal list from the Bike/Ped office only about 30% of schools have a bike rack.


Just as cars aren’t going away any time soon, neither is high school football. What can we do about existing parking lots? As the asphalt deteriorates they should be replaced with permeable pavement that will reduce runoff. What can we do about future parking lots? Again, permeable pavement AND while developers can petition the Planning Director for more parking, they can also petition for less. That might be a hard case to present. Would a policy change be appropriate? Perhaps to amend the UDC to account for on-street parking within a half-mile radius in the tally for minimum requirements around school stadiums. Let me know what you think in the comments.

You can also help out by:
Requesting a bike rack from the Bike/Ped Office
Supporting Safe Routes to Schools
Participating in Park(ing) Day
Starting or joining a walking school bus or biking school bus.

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