The movement for parking reform in New York City is heating up — and parking mandates could be lifted as soon as next year. Mayor Eric Adams’ Administration is currently moving through his three City of Yes zoning text amendments: one for the economy, one for the environment, and most relevantly, one for housing. In the housing text amendment, minimum parking requirements are on the chopping block, and it’s up to advocates to ensure that they are fully lifted citywide.
Last March, Open Plans released our report, Parking Minimums are Parking Mandates: Lifting Parking Mandates in New York City. In our report, we discuss the state of parking mandates in New York City, their harms, and the benefits that lifting them have had in cities across the country. Ultimately, we find that the most significant benefits have been in places where mandates have been lifted completely citywide; we highlight Buffalo, NY as one of those cities.
Before talking about Buffalo, it’s important to know the state of regulations in New York City, the densest major city in the United States. While one would assume such a dense city wouldn’t have any parking mandates, most of the city still has some form of mandate. In the Manhattan Core and parts of Long Island City, Queens, there are no requirements. However, most areas near train stations (but not all) are considered within the Transit Zone, which allows exemptions only for affordable and senior developments. The rest of the city has mandates for all developments ranging from 40% to 100%.
The harms that parking mandates cause are well-documented. They hurt housing affordability, walkability, and accelerate the climate crisis. Research has shown that parking mandates can add 17% to a housing unit’s rent, an increase which disproportionately affects low-income renters. This is partially due to the steep cost of constructing parking; in New York City, it is estimated that creating an underground parking structure can cost as much as $150,000 per space. If parking were not required, these funds could instead be used to create more of the housing we sorely need. Further, our analysis shows that 1.2 parking spots is equivalent in cost to 1 studio apartment — nearly a 1-to-1 trade-off.
Parking mandates hurt a city’s walkability, livability, and the climate at-large in a number of ways. Parking garages that are on the first floor of a building create dead-zones and take up valuable space where vibrant community centers or retail could be. Traditional surface parking lots spread communities apart, making our neighborhoods more car-dependent. And even underground parking lots harm the space above them — due to the fact that there is a structure underneath, planting greenery above is difficult because many plants are not able to root in such shallow soil. Additionally, parking lots result in an increased heat island effect and flooding, which have disparate impacts for neighborhoods of color.
Evidence from cities that have already lifted parking mandates show that it has positive impacts on housing supply and affordability, as well as walkability and livability. In cities like Los Angeles and San Diego, affordable housing production increased after parking mandates were lifted. And in Oregon, statewide reforms have made it so that 37,000 new homes (10% of the governor’s overall housing target) would be cheaper to build just in Portland’s suburbs. Even in New York City, the creation of the Transit Zone has resulted in an increase of affordable units by 36%, particularly those with the deepest affordability — we should expand these benefits to the entire city.
By lifting parking mandates, we are lifting the burdens they place on our city’s walkability — increased vehicle ownership and reductions in density. This would also incentivize residents to walk, bike, or take public transportation, which is necessary for the future of our city and our climate. Further, climate impacts of our self-perpetuated cycle of car ownership have disproportionate impacts on people of color; therefore, lifting parking mandates is a climate justice issue.
New York City has a lot to learn about Buffalo’s movement to lift parking mandates. Like in New York City, Buffalo’s reforms were part of a larger zoning code change called the Green Code. Originally, the city’s planners were hesitant to propose fully lifting mandates, but at a public meeting unveiling the policy, they found that 74% of the 300 attendees strongly supported lifting mandates. From there, the coalition that pushed for the policy was diverse: transportation and environmental advocates, small business owners, developers, and regular citizens.
And the policy has been a huge success for the city thus far — 47% of major developments included less parking than previously required. The effects were felt most profoundly in mixed-use developments, which built 53% fewer parking spaces. These data points are crucial; they show that developers still build parking after mandates are lifted, just not at an arbitrary rate. When mandates are lifted, the supply and demand of parking are right sized, and developers and the city can instead use that land for more housing, green space, or any other use.
Text amendment processes are lengthy, and usually only happen once every eight years (as a priority of the incoming mayor), so this is a once-in-a-decade chance to lift parking minimums and reap the livability, affordability, and economic benefits that doing so would provide. We need folks from all parts of the city to come out to public meetings that the Department of City Planning will be holding in the near future to speak on the need to pursue lifting parking minimums citywide. If you live in New York City, fill out this form to stay in the loop, and sign-up for the information session on September 27th to speak in support of lifting parking mandates. And if you know anyone in New York City, tell them about this issue and have them get involved! As the biggest and most dense major city in the country, we should be leading on common-sense zoning reforms like lifting parking mandates.
Michael works for Open Plans as Policy Analyst supporting their mission to advocate for a more livable, people-centered New York City. Michael is passionate about fighting for a more livable, equitable, and compassionate city. You can reach him by email email@example.com