When Required Minimums Do More Harm Than Good
Minimum parking requirements are so prevalent that eliminating them may seem like heresy, but these requirements may be limiting downtown redevelopment or increasing the cost of providing affordable housing. In some situations, the best way to address this is simply to eliminate minimum parking requirements for certain land uses or certain areas, such as in the downtown, near transit stations, or for affordable housing developments.
The key to success when eliminating minimum parking requirements is to minimize the potential for spillover effects – this is, after all, what the minimum requirements are intended to do – and ensure that there are other ways for people to access the site. Having some paid parking garages or lots nearby that are not at full capacity and access to the site via non-auto modes increase the chances of success. However, even if those pieces are in place, there will likely still be a need to control spillover effects. One of the main concerns is generally spillover into nearby residential districts’ on-street parking. This can be addressed with a residential permit parking program. Residents may resist the transition to permit parking, but one way to win them over is through residential parking benefit districts, which charge non-residents to park in unused resident spaces, and invest some of the revenue in neighborhood improvement projects.
On non-residential streets, eliminating minimum parking requirements without charging for on-street parking can lead to a shortage of curb parking spaces, and the associated problems with drivers circling endlessly seeking a space, even when there are many spaces available in nearby parking garages. One solution to that problem is to charge for on-street parking. The revenue collected from on-street meters can be used to pay for the costs of operating parking and for other traffic management-related activities (see M.G.L. Ch.40, §22A), and if the district is hesitant to install meters, the municipality may be able to make an arrangement to invest part of the revenue from the meters in traffic- and parking-related improvements in the district (see parking benefit districts).
Another concern is that if new developments (or redevelopments) are not required to provide parking where previous developments were, the burden of providing parking may be unfairly distributed on the properties that have been there longer. If this is a concern, one alternative is to maintain required minimums but allow developers to pay a fee in lieu of each required space not provided, with the fees to be used for providing public parking. Another alternative is to allow those with an existing parking supply that exceeds their needs to rent or sell it to newcomers who can’t add parking to their sites. In some cases, developers may be constrained by requirements from lenders that they provide a certain amount of parking.
If your community is not ready to drop minimum parking requirements altogether, other options include establishing flexible parking requirements, setting parking maximums in addition to minimums, allowing spaces to be held in landscaped reserves, and allowing developers to pay a fee in lieu of providing spaces.
- The Middleborough Town Manager reported at the Massachusetts Smart Growth Conference in December 2006 that a change to the Town’s zoning code to waive parking requirements for residential units on the second or third story of a downtown building if the building is within a quarter mile of a public parking area available for overnight parking. Because of this policy, the Town has been able to assist building owners to secure 4 different Housing Development Support Grants, creating 25 affordable housing units downtown. The Town Manager credited this change and the additional revenue from upper-story residential units with allowing the property owners to keep street-level retail rents low, increasing property value and property tax revenues, and helping downtown businesses to succeed.
- The Town of Ipswich does not require parking for developments in the CBD or within 500 feet of municipal parking
- The Town of Salem does not require parking for places of worship, secondary schools and places of higher education, or non-residential uses in the B-5 District
- The Town of Gloucester does not require parking for certain uses within 400 feet of a municipal parking facility
- A number of cities across the country have also eliminated required minimums in the Central Business District, including San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.
- Donald Shoup, “The Trouble With Minimum Parking Requirements”, Transportation Research Part A 33 (1999): 549-574. Available as a free download from https://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/.
- Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking (2005), Planners Press, American Planning Association. Available for purchase from https://www.planning.org/APAStore/Search/Default.aspx?p=1814.