Perfect Fit Parking: How Much is Residential Parking Actually Being Used?

In communities across Metro Boston, parking is a point of contention for initiatives ranging from zoning to housing projects: everyone needs more of it. However, there’s little hard data about how many off-street spaces are available in the region and what the actual demand for residential parking is. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s new initiative, “Perfect Fit Parking,” aims to equip local planners with this information so they can make informed decisions about parking plans and policies.

National trends indicate that more urban residents are forgoing vehicle ownership in favor of more sustainable practices, but parking requirements have generally stayed the same.

During Phase I of this effort, MAPC examined on-site parking counts at 80 sites in five municipalities – Arlington, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, and Melrose. Counts were conducted at the anticipated peak occupancy for residential parking – between midnight and 4 a.m. on weeknights. Of the 80 properties surveyed, six were in Arlington, 20 in Chelsea, 10 in Everett, 25 in Malden, and 19 in Melrose.

These five municipalities were selected because of their location in the Inner Core and variety of demographics and transit accessibility. Chelsea, Everett, and Malden are Metropolitan Core Communities, meaning they are densely populated and housing ranges from triple-deckers to large multifamily developments. In contrast, Arlington and Melrose are Streetcar Suburbs – housing is a mix of single family homes, two-four family houses, and mid-size multifamily homes.

Across all developments surveyed, parking was supplied at an average of 1.15 parking spaces per residential unit – but only .85 spaces were used.

During the survey, only seven of the 80 observed parking lots were fully occupied – meaning 91 percent of the properties surveyed had vacant parking spaces. Only 12 of the properties had a parking utilization rate in MAPC’s recommended range, 90 to 100 percent.

Overall, the parking utilization rate was 74 percent across all properties – resulting in 1,200 vacant parking spaces across the 80 properties.

This average was fairly consistent across the five communities: the average utilization rate ranged from 67 percent in Malden to 81 percent in Melrose.


MAPC’s analysis of these results identified what characteristics influence the amount of parking demanded per unit, finding that parking supply per unit and job accessibility were the two most significant factors associated with parking demand.

supply v demand


transit v demand

These findings demonstrate that a data-driven approach to parking requirements, rather than a one-size fits all approach, would better shape parking patterns and influence policy.

In the five communities surveyed, there was a total of 356,100 square feet of empty space – adding up to almost $12,000,000 in unnecessary construction. This unused area could instead be used to build 427 two-bedroom housing units or eight acres of parks.


MAPC is now expanding this project and conducting similar studies in Cambridge, Boston, and other communities in the Inner Core. These findings will ultimately contribute to an online tool communities and planners can use to better align their parking policies with real demand.

For more information and to read the Phase 1 report, please visit the website here: