Colorado’s Groundbreaking Parking Reform: The Details

They did it! In the final days of the 2024 legislative session, statewide parking reform snuck across the finish line in Colorado. HB 1304, which eliminates many residential parking mandates in the Centennial State, passed on May 6th as part of a groundbreaking slate of land-use reform laws aimed at curbing Colorado’s housing shortage and supporting transit-oriented development.

While it falls short of a full ban on minimum parking mandates in the state, the landmark bill nonetheless puts Colorado near the front of the pack among U.S. states that have taken bold steps toward parking reform. Credit is due to a robust, diverse coalition that fought for an ambitious slate of complementary proposals. The parking bill also had dedicated champions in both the house and senate who sponsored it and worked hard to win their colleagues’ votes, above all its sponsors Rep. Stephanie Vigil (District 16) and Sen. Nick Hinrichsen (District 3).

I wrote a piece for Strong Towns about some of the key lessons from Colorado’s successful land-use reform season, in which advocates regrouped after a disappointing 2023 session and basically ran the table this time. You can read that piece here. My big takeaway was the following:

The story is becoming clear at this point, after similar coalitions won landmark reforms in Oregon and California: The constituency for expanding housing options and re-legalizing walkable urbanism includes housing advocates, safe streets and transit advocates, environmental justice groups, organized labor, climate groups, developers, local businesses, and more. It is a broad, winning coalition, where these groups can collaborate on strategy and build mutual trust.

While a huge win for sensible parking policy, this bill is far from perfect. Here’s some of the nitty-gritty about the compromises required to win passage, and the things other states and cities might want to copy about Colorado’s approach, as well as the things they, well, probably shouldn’t copy.

The gold standard for parking mandates reform, as far as we’re concerned, remains the simplest approach: no minimum parking mandates. Anywhere. For any use. These mandates are arbitrary and lack any rigorous basis, and there is no evidence that they result in an optimal amount of parking, versus simply allowing property owners, businesses and developers to determine the amount to provide based on their knowledge of their customers and the market.

But when political reality intervenes, incremental measures are still an important step forward. Here’s the nitty gritty from Colorado.

This piece is deeply indebted to Matt Frommer of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP). Frommer is a PRN member and kept all of us here at PRN up to date on the twists, turns, and progress of HB 1304.

What HB 1304 Does

Eliminates residential parking mandates near transit. Starting on June 30, 2025, cities and counties in Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) cannot enforce minimum parking requirements for multifamily residential, residential adaptive reuse projects, and mixed-use projects with at least 50% residential uses, if those projects are within ¼-mile of rail and bus stations with service every 30 minutes or less.

Phew. Got that? The MPO requirement prevents the bill from applying to smaller towns in the rural portions of the state, but Colorado’s five MPOs do cover basically the entire Front Range (including Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and associated suburban areas) as well as the Grand Junction area.

The areas covered will be based on a static map of existing and planned transit service created by September 30, 2024. The map will not change over time, while bus service in particular is likely to, resulting in growing gaps and inconsistencies. The bill also, disappointingly, is based on transit stops rather than transit lines. For bus service in particular, we advocate for the use of bus lines in defining transit catchment areas, because bus stops are easy to add (or remove) along an existing line in response to changes in development and the locations of high demand (such as a new apartment building).

The bill does not apply to predominantly or entirely commercial projects. Commercial parking mandates are an important issue in their own right, and one we hope Colorado will address in the future. The 2024 land-use bills and the coalition supporting them were heavily focused on the state’s housing crisis, one of the nation’s worst, and that shaped the decision to focus on a residential ban on parking mandates.

The plus side is that even with all of the caveats, the bill’s provisions cover 70% to 80% of Denver, Colorado’s largest city, and significant portions of smaller cities.

Allows local flexibility to implement parking requirements. HB 1304 contains a provision specifically exempting purpose-built affordable housing, as well as large multifamily projects, from the ban on parking mandates. However, the onus is on local government to justify the exemption on a case-by-case basis—and it’s a little unclear how this might play out.

According to Frommer, “Specifically, for proposed multifamily developments with more than 20 units or for affordable housing projects, a local government may require up to one parking space per unit. However, this allowance is contingent upon the local government providing substantial evidence and data indicating that the specific project would have a substantial negative impact on pedestrian, bicycle, or emergency access or the availability of existing parking within a 1/8-mile radius of the proposed site. Additionally, they must demonstrate that local parking demand strategies would not mitigate these impacts.”

This study must be reviewed and approved by a professional engineer, and must be published publicly and submitted to the state Department of Local Affairs. It remains to be seen whether cities take ample advantage of this provision or find it too onerous to be worth using. California’s AB 2097 contained similar provisions, and we are interested in better understanding how they are being applied in practice. (Let us know if you have experience with this!)

The affordable-housing carve-out was a political concession to win specific votes needed for passage in the Senate. This reveals that concern about the equity impacts of removing parking mandates on low-income residents who need a vehicle for their work (“work trucks” were reportedly a major topic of discussion in the senate debate) remains a salient argument, even when not fully supported by data.

Evidence consistently finds that affordable housing projects see lower parking utilization ratios than market-rate projects, and that the removal of parking mandates allows affordable housing projects to advance and/or to contain more units that otherwise could not be built. For this reason, affordable housing developers were on board early in the coalition advocating for parking reforms in Colorado.

Requires the state to provide technical assistance. HB 1304 directs state agencies to develop best practices and technical assistance by the end of 2024, including sample code language, incentives for affordable housing and Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies, guidance for parking benefit districts, on-street parking management, and shared parking strategies.

Whether the implementation of HB 1304 results in less excess parking and better parking management in Colorado cities likely depends as much on implementation, including the nature of this technical assistance and the guidance provided to cities, as on any of the explicit provisions of the law.

Does not affect certain other parking requirements. HB 1304 does not prevent local governments from requiring a share of the new parking provided voluntarily by a developer to including EV charging infrastructure, and it does not interfere with any existing requirements for accessible parking for people with disabilities. It also does not prevent requirements for paid parking, loading zones for deliveries and other key services, bicycle parking, or vehicle parking maximums.

The Onus is On Cities Now

HB 1304 creates a somewhat complicated set of overlapping and contingent requirements that cities must meet in order to impose a minimum parking standard on private development. For a city that does not want to devote significant administrative time and money to applying these standards, there is an easy answer:

Eliminate all parking mandates, citywide.

Our hope now is that major Colorado cities will opt to take this step instead of undergoing the hassle of implementing HB 1304’s piecemeal approach. And there is already a sign of hope that exactly this might happen: On May 28th, the city of Longmont, Colorado, became the first city in the state to completely abolish minimum parking mandates.

Longmont had already limited the use of parking mandates for commercial properties in its downtown, but now it has extended the policy to cover the whole city. Denver? Boulder? Are you paying attention?

We’re thrilled we’ll get to add Longmont to our map of 74 communities and counting that have abolished all parking minimums, and we see a bright future for parking reform in Colorado.

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