Build cities for people, not parking

Photo by Timothy Tan for Unsplash
  • Improve housing affordability: Minimum parking requirements reduce available space for housing developments, which leads to less housing stock and higher rent for all tenants, even if they are not using the parking. A 2016 UCLA study suggests removing parking mandates could reduce rents for some residents by up to 17%. Because minimum parking requirements apply even to subsidized housing, removing them would allow cities to direct these public funds to build more affordable housing units for low-income families — rather than creating more parking spaces these families may not need or use.
  • Drive economic growth: Large parking lots limit what developers can afford to build. For example, LA’s parking requirements increased the cost of a shopping center by 67%. Parking reform would allow developers to make use of valuable urban real estate for additional retail, housing, and restaurants that could grow into more employment opportunities for the entire community.
  • Support small businesses: Current small business owners are most familiar with the needs of their customers; reforming restrictive parking requirements could allow them to better meet those needs. Allowing more creative uses for unused parking spaces, such as outdoor dining or extended retail, would help local businesses build stronger connections with customers while driving additional revenue.
  • Meet climate goals: Minimum parking requirements are a roadblock for cities working towards crucial climate goals. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that transportation accounts for the largest share (29%) of 2019 greenhouse gas emissions. An oversupply of parking provides an incentive to drive more and depresses environmentally efficient transportation options. Investing in reliable and sustainable public transit and freeing developers to design for walkability and biking can make cities more accessible to residents while also making significant strides towards net zero.
  • Grounded in the core values and commitments identified in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, Saint Paul presented two high-impact policy options to the City’s Planning Commission and City Council using a detailed parking and TDM study that aligned with these key goals. In doing so, the City secured a resounding 6–1 council vote to fully eliminate off-street parking minimums, which also includes strong incentives to encourage walking, biking, and transit use in new developments. Developed in parallel with a comparable policy in neighboring Minneapolis, both Twin Cities successfully eliminated minimum parking requirements within months of each other.
  • Collaboration was key for San Diego, where an unlikely alliance of developers, small business owners, and environmental groups supported parking reform and investments in walking and biking. In addition to eliminating minimum parking requirements for both housing and commercial development near high-quality transit, San Diego passed the Mobility Choices ordinance, which encourages new developments to invest in safe and convenient transportation options, like biking, walking, and public transit, that will make more of the city accessible to everyone. Doing so would increase foot traffic for businesses and help the city reach its climate goals. Furthermore, advocates for low-income and historically marginalized communities won the commitment from the city that at least half of the benefits would go toward underserved neighborhoods.
  • The coalition for Honolulu looked a little different, with environmental groups, social justice organizations, affordable housing proponents, and the Mayor voicing full support for removing minimum parking requirements for residential developments. The bill established new design standards that required parking structures to be set back from sidewalks, prioritizing pedestrian traffic and urban amenities for main streets. However, developers were not in favor of the more walkable design standards and also opposed passing on the savings from the reduced parking to residents in the form of unbundled parking. Ultimately, community leaders and advocates helped to pass sweeping reforms updating decades-old parking policies, which have made progress in advancing the City’s affordability, housing, climate and mobility goals.
  • By rightsizing parking for new developments over 50,000 square feet and encouraging more transit options, Boston is tackling this issue from both the supply and demand side. The city is now requiring parking maximums based on location relative to public transit, grocery stores, and other walkable amenities. In addition, developers are required to reduce car usage by supporting more transit options like bikes, carpooling, and public transit.
  1. Identify city goals to create strategies that align with these priorities. Framing parking reform as a means to support these goals, like housing affordability, environmental targets, or economic growth, will further incentivize elected officials to take action.
  2. Focus conversations and education around the harmful impacts of these regulations to draw additional support from key stakeholders, even those who hesitate at first. Though this process of building a supportive coalition may seem daunting, the fact that parking is regularly a heated issue at city meetings will motivate this leadership to act quickly. Strong city leadership is highly valuable to navigate the technicalities of the zoning code and to amplify the harmful effects of these minimum parking requirements.
  3. Some amount of opposition is inevitable, but advocates can educate and inform elected officials, potential allies and opposing parties alike, and members of the community can garner more support for parking reform.
  4. Other cities have used creative problem solving and strategies to move parking reform forward. Peer learning and sharing can help cities benefit from each others’ knowledge and experience. In addition, cities like San Diego are sharing the positive impact of parking reform, which can further inspire change for more cities.

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Delivery Associates

Delivery Associates

We partner with governments and other social impact organisations to make change happen.

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