Flexible Parking Requirements

Parking Requirements That Fit Your Community

Most communities have standards for the minimum amount of parking required for new developments written into their zoning code. These minimums are generally based on the Institute of Transportation Engineers Parking Generation Handbook and/or other communities’ parking requirements. But the ITE Handbook was always intended to be used in conjunction with information about local conditions, and the local conditions will vary from one community to another, so generic standards may be a poor fit for local needs.

One way to improve on generic parking requirements is to allow flexibility based on certain considerations, such as:

  • access to transit (the frequency and quality of the transit service will also be a factor);
  • presence of nearby complementary destinations within walking/biking distance and/or potential for shared parking;
  • expected demographics for residential developments (age, income, other auto-ownership factors);
  • overall auto ownership rates in the community;
  • implementation of programs to reduce demand for parking, such as parking cash out, unbundled parking, priority parking for carpools, bike parking spaces, or car sharing; and
  • parking studies providing data to support requests to reduce or increase parking.

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute offers some guidelines for the level of parking reduction appropriate based on the factors above and others in the table below [1].

Table 1 - Parking Demand Adjustment Factors

Providing flexibility in minimum parking requirements can be accomplished either by allowing the relevant permitting authority discretion to reduce the number of spaces required based on those factors, or by establishing more specific criteria that will allow for reductions in required parking by right. The advantage of setting out the criteria specifically and allowing reductions automatically is that developers will know up front how many spaces they will be expected to provide.

Another option is to allow on-street parking spaces to count towards off-street parking requirements in certain situations.

Local examples:
  • The City of Somerville allows a 20% reduction in required parking spaces for any non-residential use located within 1000 feet of a rapid transit station, or a reduction of up to 20% if it can be demonstrated that the use will need fewer spaces than required in the bylaw, such as for facilities serving the handicapped or where auto ownership is especially low (Somerville’s regulation).
  • The City of Newton has lower minimum parking requirements for state or federally subsidized low-income or elderly housing developments (see regulation).
  • The Town of Braintree allows reductions in required parking as part of a special permit or site plan review based on completion of a parking study meeting the given requirements and determination that the parking to be provided will be adequate (see regulation).
  • The Town of Belmont allows the Planning Board to reduce parking requirements based on age or other characteristics of site users and on implementation of parking demand mitigation strategies, and allows projects in one Local Business district to count on-street parking in some circumstances (see regulation).
  • The Town of Norwood allows reductions based on the same criteria, allows on-street parking to count towards requirements in some Special Districts, and has reduced requirements for residential uses in the CBD
  • The City of Weymouth allows non-residential uses in the Neighborhood Center District to count nearby on-street parking towards minimum off-street requirements in some cases
National examples:
  • Los Angeles allows a reduction of 0.5 spaces per unit for deed-restricted affordable units and additional reductions for units within 1500 feet of a transit line [3].
  • Eugene, Oregon allows reduction of parking requirements on a case-by-case basis subject to a parking study documenting that the reduced amount of parking will be sufficient [4].
  • Seattle, Washington grants reductions in minimum parking requirements for affordable housing (down to 0.5 to 1 space per unit, depending on income, location, and unit size); housing for seniors or people with disabilities; multi-family developments with car-sharing programs; and developments in dense, mixed-use neighborhoods [4].
  • Santa Monica, California reduces parking from 2 spaces per unit to 1.5 for two bedroom affordable housing units [3].
  • Hartford, Connecticut allows reductions of up to 30% of required parking in exchange for implementing TDM programs such as discounted carpool parking, rideshare promotions, subsidized transit passes and shuttle services to off-site parking [2].
Additional Resources:
  1. Todd Litman, Parking Management: Strategies, Evaluation, and Planning, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, April 2006; p. 14. Download pdf
  2. Maryland Governor’s Office of Smart Growth, Driving Urban Environments: Smart Growth Parking Best Practices, March 2006; p. 3-5. Download pdf
  3. Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, Parking Requirements Guide for Affordable Housing Developers, February 2004. Download pdf
  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Parking Spaces / Community Places: Finding the Balance Through Smart Growth Solutions, January 2006; p. 14-16. Click here to view
  5. Victoria Transport Policy Institute, “More Accurate and Flexible Standards”, Online TDM Encyclopedia.  Click here to view
  6. Georgia Quality Growth Partnership, “Flexible Parking Standards”, Quality Growth ToolkitClick here to view
  7. American Planning Association, PAS 377: Flexible Parking Requirements (1983), APA Planning Advisory Service. Available for purchase
  8. Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc., Northwest Connecticut Parking Study – Phase II: Model Zoning Regulations for Parking for Northwestern Connecticut, Northwestern Connecticut Council of Governments and Litchfield Hills Council of Elected Officials, September 2003. Download pdf
  9. Christopher V. Forinash, et al., “Smart Growth Alternatives to Minimum Parking Requirements”, Proceedings from the 2nd Urban Street Symposium, July 28-30, 2003. Download PDF