What is Parking Reform?

Parking Reform is the use of policies and activism to discourage the building of too much parking supply and encourage more equitable, efficient and sustainable management of existing parking supply (usually by pricing parking).

Why should we reform parking policy?

For generations our policies and actions have required or encouraged building massive numbers of parking spaces in the United States alone. Conservatively, for every one of the more than 260 million automobiles registered in the USA there are at least 3 parking spaces. In some communities, Des Moines, IA for example, there are more than 19 parking spaces per household.

All of that parking has impacts that have shaped our cities and altered our atmosphere.

  • Parking spaces are expensive. A cheap structured stall costs $20,000 and in many cities $40K-$60K per stall is common. Underground parking can easily double the per-stall cost. As a general rule, $10,000 in construction costs adds $100/mo in needed rents. Conventional parking minimums can increase the rent or mortgage required for an apartment or house by $200-$500 per month.
  • Car parking takes up lots of space! A parking space itself takes up about 180 square feet, but when ramps, driveways, and access paths are taken into account, it’s closer to 300 square feet per stall. Many jurisdictions require more than one space per home, particularly for townhouses and single family homes. In new apartments, the space taken for parking cars takes away from the space that could be housing people. In suburban communities, surface lots prevent walkable design and lead to sprawl.
  • Car parking encourages more car ownership and more driving. When people can cheaply and easily park their cars, they’ll use them more often. When, because of parking lots, it’s difficult to walk somewhere, then driving and parking might be the only choice. When most people drive, it’s difficult to generate the density and demand for good transit service. Parking is never really free; the choice is between paying for it directly, through user fees, or indirectly through higher rents (for residential parking), lower wages (for commuter parking), and higher taxes (for on-street parking). Paying directly is more efficient and fairer, and help achieve strategic planning goals. Compared with cost-recovery pricing (motorists pay directly for the costs of building and operating parking facilities), unpriced parking typically increases vehicle trips by 10-30%, indicating that underpriced parking increases urban traffic congestion, crashes and pollution emissions by this amount.
  • Car parking makes our communities less equitable. Parking requirements force car-free (and car-lite) households to pay for costly parking spaces they don’t need, and since vehicle ownership tends to increase with income, this often forces lower-income households to subsidize the parking costs of their more affluent neighbors.

What can we do about it?

We can demand our elected officials and bureaucrats reform our local and regional parking policies! If parking is in high demand, it shouldn’t be free. Builders and businesses shouldn’t have to build arbitrary amounts of car parking.

By joining the Parking Reform Network you can support parking reform efforts and connect with parking reformers in your community. If there isn’t a parking reform organization where you live, we’ll help you start one!

Together we can educate the public about the impacts of parking policy on housing, climate, equity, and traffic to make improvements in those critical areas.

Build Less. Pay More.

A mostly empty parking lot.

Examples of policies that discourage excess supply are:

  • Elimination of minimum parking requirements
  • Creation of maximum parking entitlements
  • Use of impact fees for new parking stalls
  • Restrictions on new surface lots and impermeable surfaces
  • Allowing (or mandating) shared parking
  • Climate and transportation goals testing of new parking structures

Examples of polices that encourage better use of existing parking supply include:

  • Performance pricing for public on-street (and municipal garage) parking
  • Mandatory parking cash-out for employer-paid parking
  • Peak-hour commuter parking surcharges
  • Unbundling of the cost of parking from building leases and sales

Smart use of parking revenue

Many parking reforms generate revenues in the form of fees and taxes. It is important that parking revenue not disappear into a black-hole of municipal general funds. Parking revenue is a byproduct of good policies and responsible stewardship of public assets, not a money grab. The community should feel that parking revenue is spent in ways that are visibly beneficial and/or advance city or regional goals and values.

Some smart ways to use parking related revenue include:

  • sidewalk improvement and repair
  • crosswalks, bike lanes, and other multi-modal safety projects
  • transit subsidies (particularly if targeted at low income residents and workers)
  • business district improvements (lighting, trashcans, benches & other placemaking)
  • low income transportation subsidies
  • funding for institutions to provide affordable housing (particularly in gentrifying areas)