White House Elevates Parking Reform: Insights from Two Decades of Presidential Economic Reports

The Economic Report of the President, released annually by the Council of Economic Advisors, offers a telling glimpse into the policy priorities at the highest levels of American government. Earlier this year in March, the 2024 report was published. It featured a chapter with policy recommendations for governments at all levels on how to make housing more affordable. We were pleased to learn that, along with Donald Shoup and Henry Grabar, the Parking Reform Network was directly cited in the report. Importantly, the report made the case for why removing minimum parking requirements is essential for any government body that is serious about addressing the housing crisis. 

After reading the report I got curious and wondered if the previous years’ reports had also covered parking reform. I decided to scan the last 20 reports with the following key terms to get a rough idea of how often parking reform and adjacent urbanist policies were prioritized: parking, affordable housing, zoning, and land-use.

As you can see below, 2016 was the first Economic Report of the President that featured a spike in the occurrence of terms like land use and zoning. What I found was that parking reform, specifically, had only been discussed once before the 2024 report, in 2020. More broadly, I learned that the topic of urban land-use really only emerged into the policy spotlight at the federal level starting around 2016, during Obama’s last term in office. This came at a time when housing prices had started rising precipitously in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, and concerns were being raised about supply side restrictions on housing. For example, the 2016 report predicted that in the years to come, a growing objective of state and local policymakers would be to ensure that “zoning and other constraints do not prevent housing supply from growing in high productivity areas.”

While parking reform was not directly mentioned in the March 2016 Economic Report of the President, it was heavily featured in a special September White House report of the same year, entitled “Housing Development Toolkit”. This report highlighted how parking mandates, along with other land use policies, constrain housing supply and drive up costs. The goal of the toolkit was to provide state and local governments with key starting points for efforts to modernize housing planning and development. To our knowledge this marks the first time an official White House document substantively addressed parking reform.

A line graph showing the mentions of parking reform keywords ("parking," "affordable housing," "land use," "zoning") in the Economic Report of the President from 2004 to 2024.
Occurrence of key terms in each of the Economic Report of the President from 2004 to 2024. Key terms analyzed include parking, affordable housing, and land-use.ption

The 2024 Economic Report of the President is particularly notable. It addresses the housing crisis in depth, proposes robust policy solutions, and, importantly for us, repeatedly mentions parking reform. Our active Mandates Map is directly cited, showcasing the influence of our advocacy. This recognition signals a significant shift: parking reform is now a serious policy area under consideration by top decision-makers. To spotlight this year’s report I am sharing with you the report’s key parking reform findings.

Key findings from the 2024 Report:

A major barrier to parking reform comes from local NIMBYs.

Just last year, in my home town of Ottawa, the approval of an 81-unit affordable housing project (with 61 off-street parking spaces) was delayed after more than 900 local residents signed a petition raising concerns about a lack of enough off and on-street parking, amongst other concerns. What happened in Ottawa is a near daily occurrence across Canada and the USA. It’s the result of a  type of community planning process that, instead of improving community well-being – like keeping hazardous industrial areas away from schools – ends up supporting policies that put up barriers to growth. As the report puts it, “These policies arise naturally from a local decision making process that is influenced by homeowners, who prefer higher home prices, and account for the local costs of increased housing, such as more congestion, but they fail to account for any regional or national benefits. This classic market failure negatively affects individuals in neighboring communities and potential new residents.”

Parking requirements often exceed parking demand, leaving less land available for housing.

If you have watched one of our parking reform presentations, you know just how arbitrary minimum parking requirements can be. For example, in similarly situated regions with similar densities you can find various requirements for the same land use. The arbitrary nature of these mandates often lead to situations where minimum required parking exceeds demand, creating an oversupply. This oversupply is easy to notice in city centers with a large percentage of their land dedicated to off-street parking, as documented via our open-source parking lot maps. . The report even cites one of Donald Shoup’s studies that found that parking requirements in Los Angeles reduced the number of units in apartment buildings by 13%. With over half a million apartment units in LA, that represents 65,000 homes that could have been built if not for minimum parking requirements.

An infographic showing different parking requirements for bowling alleys in various California cities. On the left, there is an illustration of three bowling pins. On the right, the requirements are listed as follows:  Rohnert Park, CA: 2 per lane Yuba City, CA: 3 per lane Novato, CA: 4 per lane + required for ancillary uses Petaluma, CA: 5 for each alley Vacaville, CA: 1 per 300 sq/ft
Minimum parking requirements for bowling alleys in selected municipalities in Northern California.

Historic and dense city centers would be illegal to build with modern minimum parking requirements.

It’s a profound statement on the state of our planning culture when the most desirable places in our cities could not be built today. The housing density, mixed uses, and livability found in the most desirable areas of our cities are not restricted by the once reasonable safety concerns that gave legitimacy to zoning laws. Rather, as the report points out, they are heavily disincentivized by minimum parking requirements, mandatory public hearings, fees, environmental reviews, and building regulations. Cities know that there is ample demand for higher density development in their urban cores, which is why the report finds that many cities who impose parking mandates have special stipulations in their zoning codes affording case by case variances. While these variances are better than nothing, they still deter development by prolonging the approval process, making housing developments more risky in the eyes of investors.

Parking reform has multiple benefits: Less class and racial segregation, more climate resiliency, and less congestion.

Historically, zoning policies were often used to discriminate against minority groups by raising housing prices. Policies that aim to make housing more affordable—such as decreasing minimum lot sizes, legalizing multifamily zoning, and removing minimum parking requirements—can lead to desegregation. The report cites successful examples of this in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

While the report does not discuss on-street parking policies, it highlights how encouraging denser housing by removing parking mandates can reduce sprawl and alleviate congestion. I am hopeful that future reports will include policy prescriptions for on-street parking management as cities increasingly abolish their mandates and look to further reduce the high cost of free parking, as Shoup would put it.

Moreover, parking reform enhances climate resiliency. By encouraging denser housing and reducing sprawl, these policies decrease reliance on cars, lower carbon emissions, and promote more sustainable urban development. This shift supports the creation of more walkable and transit-oriented communities, which are essential for climate adaptation and mitigation. As you can see in the figure below, areas with more dense housing and less car-centric infrastructure generate less transportation related CO2 emissions per household.

A heatmap of the Eastern United States showing CO2 emissions per household by ZIP Code Tabulation Area (ZCTA). The map highlights New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Richmond. The color scale ranges from green (18.5 tCO2e) to red (>62 tCO2e), with higher emissions concentrated in suburban areas and lower emission in urban areas.
This heatmap shows household CO2 emissions in the Eastern U.S., highlighting that central cities like New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Richmond have lower emissions compared to the higher emissions in surrounding urban sprawl areas.

The sky doesn’t fall after getting rid of mandates; many cities have already removed them.

It was great to see the report clearly outlining a timeline of recent legislative reforms, starting with Buffalo’s full repeal of parking mandates in 2017. Importantly, the report emphasized how abolishing mandates does not prevent lower density and more car dependent developments from being built. Instead, all that it does is prevent cities from requiring them. The report details recent parking reforms that took place in the following cities: Anchorage, San Jose, Gainesville, and San Diego, all which can be found on our mandates map. It also mentions state level parking reform developments in California and Connecticut that are also covered in our state legislation map

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