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Rethinking Parking Minimums

By Mr. Bruce Belmore P.Eng., PTOE posted 02-12-2019 01:50 PM

The inception of parking started in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States as cars were the new status symbol of wealth. There were rows of cars lining the curbs of streets, with no rules governing parking. The first parking meter was installed in the United States in 1935 in Oklahoma City, OK. Privately run off-street lots became popular to meet the demand, and parking structures sprung up to provide parking in proximity to surrounding destinations. Over time, parking management has become more complex and rules were needed to add order.

City zoning ordinances were introduced which identified minimum parking requirements, which are typically calculated on a base unit, such as required stalls per 1,000 square feet of office space, or stalls per bed at a hospital. Developers were required to conform to the minimum parking requirements before they could develop their land. The minimums, however, result in an over-supply of parking. For example, a small restaurant could require a parking area that is 10 times larger than the footprint of the building. The overbuilding of parking increases the distance between buildings and impacts the dense, walkable commercial areas that we enjoy. Further, it is estimated that 25 to 30 percent of congestion in a downtown is caused by motorists searching block after block for available parking.

There is no such thing as free parking. It all comes at some cost. When you go to the grocery store, the cost of parking is included in your purchase. As a first-time homeowner, you may pay an extra $8,000 on the price of a new condo because the cost of the required parking space is buried in the purchase price. Parking minimums make some broad assumptions, including the idea that all homeowners can afford a car, want to pay for a parking stall, and that the car is their preferred mode of transportation. This works against many other policies a city creates to encourage sustainable development, promote active transportation, and serve low income families.

This discussion reminds me of the 1970s Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi in which she famously sings, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Here are some easy ways to regain a piece of paradise:

1. Eliminate mandatory minimum parking requirements – This elimination will not only give people more say over how they live their lives and use their property, but it’s also
an important step in developing affordable housing. Buffalo, NY, USA and Hartford, CT, USA have recently scrapped their minimum parking requirements.
2. Use data, technology, and pricing to manage parking – The District Department of Transportation in Washington, DC, USA uses sensors embedded at metered stalls to measure parking availability, and then pricing is changed based on demand.
3. Help developers and city staff better understand parking demand – ITE Parking Generation Manual, 5th Edition is set for release and will allow better estimation of parking
demand based on a newer, expanded data set and now for different locations including rural, urban/suburban, multi-use sites, and downtown.
4. Promote alternate modes to curb parking demand – Good parking planning goes hand-in-hand with good city policies on transit, as well as cycling and walking.

The good news is excess parking can be repurposed at any time, and the land returned to more meaningful community use. All of this will help build connectivity and vibrancy into our cities.

This is from the President's Message in the February 2019 issue of ITE Journal.