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Ending parking minimums - why, where, who, how

Parking minimums are under siege and it's a very good thing. 

Most buildings in most cities and towns across the globe are required by law to provide plentiful parking.

But parking minimums are a huge mistake.


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These parking minimums are put in place for understandable but muddle-headed reasons.

Parking minimums (also called minimum parking requirements or norms or standards) do not in fact solve the on-street parking problems they are supposed to solve.

Instead, they cause immense harm by worsening car dependence, hindering infill development, undermining walkable neighborhoods, blocking transit-oriented development, and by making real-estate, including housing, less financially viable and less affordable.

Abolishing parking minimums is not a panacea. By itself, it doesn't necessarily reduce the parking that developers provide in car-dependent locations.

But, among its many benefits, eliminating minimums does enable low-parking or zero-parking buildings where there is a market for them. It makes small-scale infill much more possible in walkable locations. Without parking minimums, park-once-and-walk districts with "Walkable Parking" can emerge in formerly car-dominated locations, which helps foster a transition to more multimodal transport.

The mindsets, assumptions and ideas that keep parking minimums in place are difficult to shake but the good news is that coalitions of parking changemakers have been challenging them in cities around the world, from Auckland to Berlin and from Mexico City to Portland.

So this edition of Reinventing Transport examines parking minimums and the push to abolish them. 

It does so with the help of excerpts from my other site and podcast, Reinventing Parking

You can either listen to the podcast episode (use a podcast app or the player at the beginning of this article) or read the summary below.

Parking policy, and parking minimums, are important 

Carlos Felipe Pardo says that, although parking is nerdy and 'not a sexy topic', it is also a hugely useful and powerful policy arena. He urges everyone 'don't be a child; learn parking!'  [0:58]

Parking is important in part because it is expensive, said Todd Litman. 'Generally, a car costs less than a structured parking space... we give away parking, we don't give away cars.' [2:19]

Andrés Sañudo explained how useful it was to show the enormous scale of the parking space Mexico City was requiring. Parking was the fastest growing kind of floor space! Data on this was a huge boost to the campaign there against the parking minimums. [3:29]

You might wonder why I made this graph go all the way to 22 parking spaces per 100 m2. Does any city require that much? Sadly, yes. I learned recently from @VamonosLA on Twitter that Santa Monica in the LA region, requires bars (outside its downtown) to provide about 21.5 car parking spaces per 100 m2. So the city requires about six times as much parking space as tavern space. 

Todd Litman poked fun at parking requirements for bars, which are often the highest minimums in many cities. See the caption of the graph above, which mentions Santa Monica's parking minimums for bars. Todd also made a serious point about how such parking minimums make it impossible to build local facilities, like pubs, within walkable neighborhoods. [4:04]

Yoga Adiwinarto explained how ITDP Indonesia found a huge, parking-minimums-fuelled, oversupply of parking in the main downtown area of Jakarta. [5:08]

Todd explained how parking minimums and the cross-subsidies they create are both inefficient and unfair. [6:08]

If you manage on street parking properly, you don't need to promote off street parking

Very few areas really have parking shortages. Most have parking management problems. 

On-street parking problems are real. In fact, Shreya Gadepalli said India's cities have seen numerous deadly fights over parking. The parking chaos in the streets that prompts cities to enact parking minimums is a serious issue. [7:17]

But Jakarta provided an example (explained by Yoga) of an all too common phenomenon: plentiful but under-used off-street parking juxtaposed with a horrendous overload of parking in streets and even on footways. [8:14]

It's the same in Delhi, as Shreya highlighted using the vicinity of the Delhi ITDP office as an example. A new city-built parking garage replaced a popular park, yet it languishes almost empty while chaos continues in the streets surrounding it. [9:02]

Todd summarized the usual situation: 'There's really no overall parking problem. The conflict is usually over the most convenient parking spaces.' [10:12]

After a little more detail about on-street parking management as the true solution to on-street parking problems, I summed up the argument so far: 'If you manage on street parking properly, you don't need to promote off street parking.' [14:10]

That was the central message of Prof Donald Shoup's 2006 book, "The High Cost of Free Parking". It is such a powerful book that it often causes something like a conversion experience.
Tony Jordan described the book's impact on him ('I was blown away') and how it helped propel him into activism against parking minimums (and other parking policy foolishness) in Portland, Oregon. [14:46] 

Are real cities really abolishing parking minimums? 

Yes! Numerous cities are doing so. Reinventing Parking has highlighted just a few of them over the last 12 months.

Berlin was a pioneer by abolishing its minimum parking requirements in the 1990s, as we heard from Jos Nino Notz. [16:58]

But don't think all of Europe is so progressive on parking. Car parking minimums are still common, as Fabian Küster told us. [17:40]

Yet, parking minimums are being abolished in some surprisingly car-dependent cities. Matt Lowrie explained how Auckland, New Zealand, eliminated most of its minimum parking requirements. [19:03]

Then Andres Sañudo provided details on Mexico City's impressive city-wide reforms, which eliminated parking minimums and turned them into maximums instead. Furthermore, there is also a financial incentive in the form of a fee, to encourage developers to build less than the maximums allowed. The revenue from this fee is dedicated to improving alternatives to private car travel [19:38]

Andres also made the important point that this financial incentive flips the usual mindset that justifies parking minimums on the grounds that on-site parking is supposed to mitigate spillover parking problems. Andres: 'Parking is not an impact mitigator. But it is exactly the opposite - a guarantee of impact.' [21:54]

Easing fears about ending parking minimums

But isn't plentiful parking necessary? Todd Litman highlighted the enormous scope typically to reduce demand for parking via relatively low-cost steps, including simple parking management efforts. [15:41]

Todd also highlighted that a risk-averse city or developer can always do 'contingency-based planning' to reduce the chances of anything bad happening. In other words, each building can have a plan for what will be done in the event that parking problems emerge. Options include simple on-site parking management methods, shared parking deals with nearby properties, enhancements to alternatives such as car-sharing, bicycles, shuttle services and many others. [22:50]

I also provided reassurance using the concept of Walkable Parking in which we think of parking as something for the neighborhood, not something needed on every site. Having well-managed parking that is open to the public throughout each area helps mitigate concerns that any one building will have a 'shortage'.  [24:32]

The need to organize and agitate against parking minimums

We ended with the importance of activism and of broad coalitions in the fight against parking minimums.

We heard from Tony Jordan from Portand [25:48] and Andres Sañudo again from Mexico City [26:40]. I also explained that Auckland's success also came after a long struggle by a diverse coalition of groups and individuals. [27:57]
Phew. As I said in the podcast, if you have stuck with me this far, then you really should check out Reinventing Parking.


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