We Sorted Through Parking Codes So You Don’t Have To

Written by University of Illinois at Chicago students Maggie Kochman, Zane Jacobson, and Bobby Siemiaszko.

From January through May 2021, three students at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Urban Studies program (UIC) performed work on their end of year project with the Parking Reform Network. This project involved updating the Strong Town’s map of cities that have reduced or eliminated parking minimums; the students worked with Tony Jordan, Jane Wilberding and other PRN members to review, update, and more clearly synthesize the data into a new database.

The widely cited map hosted by Strongtowns is a great resource, but lacks direct code citations and detailed verified information.

The crowdsourced map on the Strong Town’s website was provided to the Parking Reform Network with over 180 cities, districts, or policies related to eliminating or reducing minimum parking requirements. All inputs were entered into a database using Google Tables and were systematically verified and reformatted by the UIC students. The general method for verification was to start with a city in the database without a report search “city name” and “parking requirements” or “city code.” Then find the parking requirements section of the city code to identify if there are exceptions to parking requirements, parking maximums, or notable reductions in minimums. The documentation process was to create a report for the city and fill in what kind of progress was made and then to create a citation with a link to the city code and a screenshot of the referenced section.

The improved dataset uses tags to provide granular information about the scope and magnitude of parking reforms.

The database had four main tables: (1) City, which stored general information about the City itself (2) Citation, which details the sources used, (3) Contact, information to connect with the individual who reported or researched the policy, and (4) Report, which the details of the policy were stored. Within the Report tab, several categories were created to better understand and delineate where each City stands in their parking reform process:

  • The status of the policy: (implemented, passed, planned or unverified
  • How aggressive the city’s policy is: reduced  minimums, eliminated minimums, implemented  maximums
  • Applicable land uses: residential, commercial, etc.
  • The magnitude of the policy: applied only to the city center, along a main street, adjacent to transit oriented development, or citywide
  • Specified requirements: was the policy implemented by right of the city, in lieu of fees, an affordable housing requirement, or something else

Each student worked with PRN members and then independently to fill out one line of information for each city. Oftentimes, multiple choices were applicable for the same city. For example, cities are more willing to reduce or eliminate parking requirements for a downtown district than for residential zones citywide. There were 58 verified reports of “City Center/Business District) reductions or exemptions, versus 29 citywide. 

As we went along, we realized it was not just a simple look up and fill in the data project.  Each city was and is its own entity and has its own way of doing things. There is no one cookie cutter way that cities are eliminating or reducing excessive parking requirements. Meaning that recording each entry was tedious, complex, and sometimes very difficult to find information. If you could find the City Code for the city, it was then a challenge to find the parking requirements. Some cities had comprehensive charts, others had detailed paragraphs, whereas others were very vague or sometimes too specific. To actually be able to choose the correct tags for each city was generally not an intuitive process. Looking at a city like New York with five boroughs and many different neighborhoods and associated requirements within it makes the process of assigning a uniform label  difficult, if not impossible. However, one thing is clear:  parking reform is gaining momentum–cities are lowering or eliminating requirements  where maybe 10 years ago were much higher.

This database was developed to  make it easiest for cities to adapt and improve upon their parking codes through the power of example and precedent. For instance, having a platform to search and identify r cities with downtowns that have eliminated residential parking could be an effective resource when presenting to a city council or the public.    This could then make a much easier argument if city X wants to become more like city Y, finding relevant information at a fast pace that is easy to compare between cities.  The more cities that have parking reform, the more the map can fill up and can pave a way for the future change of reducing and eliminating excess parking requirements. 

Editor’s Note: Since the UIC students completed their coursework, the Parking Reform Network has continued work on verifying these records. Henry Vorosmarti, a Research Intern from Case Western University is currently working with Ryan Johnson, a student at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design on the project. We’re planning to release the dataset and a new map later this year.

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