As the only national organization with a mission to accelerate parking reform, PRN attracts a wide range of people who seek information and advice on how to best implement parking reform in their cities. There’s everyone from urban planners, traffic engineers, city staff, city councilors, advocacy groups, activists, everyday citizens, and journalists that reach out to us.
Recently, a housing developer contacted us and asked for advice on how to convince their local city council to abolish minimum parking requirements. The developer was interested in building affordable middle density housing meant for working families. They faced a roadblock because minimum parking requirements make building affordable middle density housing difficult, as scarce and expensive land is forced to be wasted on parking space, driving up total development costs. In the affordable housing market, it’s extremely important to keep development costs low in order to provide affordable housing prices to consumers. The developer was obviously motivated to keep costs low, but they were also interested in convincing city council that abolishing parking mandates would benefit the city as a whole. They came to us with a list of questions that the city council put together in response to their inquiry about abolishing parking mandates. The developer asked us for advice on how to best answer these questions, as some of the questions were quite technical.
We thought it would be a good idea to go through these questions on the blog so everyone can have an idea of how to answer them. It also provides insight into how midsize cities in America view the issue and what they consider important factors when considering parking reform.
City Council Questions
Below are some of the questions the city had asked a missing middle developer to answer in order for them to make a more informed decision on whether to abolish minimum parking requirements.
- What is the main argument for getting rid of parking minimums?
- When should permits or meters or apps be implemented? Once the street gets to 80% capacity?
- How do we know that developers will pass along parking space savings to the consumer, thereby creating more affordable housing?
- At what point does a parking benefit district begin to make money and not just break even?
- What manpower infrastructure is required to enforce parking? Extra police? Existing police?
- How are parking benefit districts established? Do business owners put together a proposal for city council to review? Or is it the other way around?
Answering the Questions
1. What is the main argument for getting rid of parking minimums?
This one is a big question and there’s a lot of good answers. But the main argument for abolishing parking minimums is related to the massive land use cost parking imposes on the public. Urban land is scarce and valuable, when cities mandate minimum parking requirements they increase the price of every other type of urban land use. Mandating parking in cities means less space for housing and less space for small businesses. This means more expensive housing and more expensive rents for businesses. The end result is a city that quickly becomes unaffordable for regular people.
Not only do parking minimums increase the cost of housing, but they also increase the share of a household’s income spent on transportation by making people dependent on the most expensive mode of transportation (cars). Parking minimums also increase the costs associated with maintaining and servicing the infrastructure of a city. Parking lots generate very little property taxes for the city relative to a commercial or residential structure. Parking lots increase the cost incurred on the city by increasing the share of people who use roads, rather than inducing people to use cost-saving transportation infrastructure (active and public transportation). Over a long enough period, minimum parking requirements result in producing financially insolvent cities that struggle to keep afloat.
There’s also numerous climate benefits to removing parking mandates. For one, asphalt and concrete used in parking structures require energy-intensive production processes that release substantial amounts of CO2 and other GHGs. Parking lots also contribute to the heat island effect by absorbing and retaining heat from the sun. This makes cities less climate adaptable in a warming world by making cities significantly hotter.
2. When should permits or meters or apps be implemented? Once the street gets to 80% capacity?
Generally a city should implement an on street parking management system once a street starts to experience >85% occupancy. Optimal pricing should guarantee that at least 1-2 spaces per block are available for drivers. Pricing on-street parking with the goal of achieving 85% utilization allows enough turnover to guarantee parkers a spot on the same block as their destination.
If developers choose to build less parking as a result of abolishing parking mandates, it’s natural to see demand increase for on-street parking. Overtime metered parking prices will rise in order to maintain an 85% utilization rate. In order to avoid issues of equity it’s critical that the money generated from on-street parking is reinvested to improve public transit services and active transportation infrastructure across the city. This is why If a city is considering abolishing parking minimums it should also consider establishing parking benefit districts to ensure that the parking revenue is properly managed to produce equitable outcomes.
3. How do we know that developers will pass along parking space savings to the consumer, thereby creating more affordable housing?
Minimum parking requirements make it difficult to solve the missing middle/midrise housing problem. The cost associated with building parking spaces on single family lots are exponentially lower than the equivalent per unit costs associated with building parking spaces for middle or midrise housing. There’s two main reasons for this: For one, land value is higher in areas where higher density housing is usually built, secondly (as @pushtheneedle demonstrates below) underground parking imposes a significant additional cost that often makes housing developments unprofitable. This results in fewer homes being built, lowering total supply and increasing total housing costs.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of shopping for a condo unit you’ll remember how expensive a unit can be if it comes with a parking space. Condo buildings that sell unbundled parking are a great way of seeing first hand how expensive parking spaces can be in higher density buildings. For example, in downtown Ottawa, Canada there’s currently unbundled parking being sold for $40,000 per spot. Depending on the size of your housing unit that can be up to 20% of the total cost of your home!
So yes, removing minimum parking requirements will increase total housing supply by virtue of making missing middle housing options attractive for developers. This will help to bring back a diverse set of affordable housing options, like row houses, town houses, courtyard cottages, garden apartments, and point access blocks apartments that are essential in creating vibrant urban spaces.
4. At what point does a parking benefit district begin to make money and not just break even?
Before a city implements a parking benefit district it should conduct a study to estimate whether there will be enough demand to pay the implementation and operational costs associated with a parking benefit districts. There are both fixed costs (physical parking meters, or app-based meters) and operational costs (maintenance, enforcement) to consider. Cities should only implement parking benefit districts if there’s enough demand for it to pay for itself. The first goal should be to manage demand and then use parking revenue to provide a benefit to the city so that it can become less car-dependent in the long term.
5. What manpower infrastructure is required to enforce parking? Extra police? Existing police?
The best practice for parking enforcement is to not have police do parking enforcement in the first place. Police officers are generally quite costly and their time should be reserved for emergency situations rather than issuing parking tickets. Apart from helping to save on costs, reducing the number of interactions between armed police officers and community members can help reduce acts of police brutality. The decriminalization of parking enforcement can help reduce the harm that armed police officers often perpetuate towards marginalized groups.
For these reasons, cities should be shifting parking enforcement duties away from the police and into newly created city departments that solely focus on parking and traffic enforcement. This approach is very common across most of Europe and Canada. There’s also many US cities that have successfully decriminalized parking enforcement like, Burlington, Grand Rapids, and Berkley. Unarmed city parking enforcement officers generally spend their time walking to specific parking areas and answering questions, helping people pay, and issuing citations. This type of in-person support can prove to be beneficial in helping the community adjust to a new type of parking system, like a parking benefit district.
6. How are parking benefit districts established? Do business owners put together a proposal for city council to review? Or is it the other way around?
PRN wrote an extensive activist guide on parking benefit districts. The answer to the above question can be found by reading the road map section where a detailed step by step guide is provided that explains how to best establish a parking benefit district in your own city.