Parking Spillover

Spillover: Vehicles parked where they’re not wanted

When there is a shortage of parking available in one area or for a particular use, drivers may end up parking where they are not wanted – in residential neighborhoods, in prime downtown street spaces, in neighboring private lots, etc. In some cases, this spillover of parking may occur frequently or even daily (for example near a train station, a public park, or downtown). If the spillover parking tends to occur at a time when the residents or other preferential users do not generally need the spaces – such as in the middle of the day in a residential neighborhood – then it may not a be serious problem. But if spillover is making it difficult for residents to park in their own neighborhood, using up all available visitor parking, or making it difficult for downtown shoppers to find a parking space, those conflicts will need to be managed. In other cases, there may be special events that cause spillover, such as major sporting events or the biggest annual shopping days. These special events call for special parking plans and usually require the use of remote parking lots, normally used for other purposes, with walk or special shuttle access back to the event. They will also require restrictions on parking in neighborhoods and unauthorized lots and enforcement of those restrictions for the duration of the event.

Spillover is the problem that parking minimums are usually designed to prevent. Minimums set high enough can usually prevent spillover parking, but at a cost of spaces that go unused during most time periods, incurring fiscal, environmental, and aesthetic costs. As mentioned under the problem of too much parking, this land could otherwise be devoted to more productive uses if supply was better matched to demand. While adding more parking or increasing required minimums where shortages occur is one way to prevent spillover, there are many other ways to address the issue that may be more beneficial to your community.

It is a good idea to start by evaluating the parking situation carefully. When does spillover occur? What destination is attracting the vehicles that are causing the spillover parking? Is there designated parking for that destination? Is it completely full at times when the spillover is occurring? Which street faces or lots are being impacted by the spillover? Is there currently any regulation on parking in those areas (pricing, time limits, or restrictions on use)? Is there other parking (public or private) nearby that would be better suited to handling overflow parking demand during spillover periods? It may be necessary or desirable to conduct a full parking study to find the answers to these questions. In this case, the study area should include both the area that could be causing the spillover problems as well as the neighborhoods and lots where the spillover problems have been noticed. Residents and property owners in both areas should be involved in collecting and reviewing the data and in deciding on the best response. Basic guidance on how to do a parking study and examples of some recent local studies are available in this toolkit.


Once current demand is known any or all of the strategies below may be appropriate.

  • Require or encourage the development of overflow parking plans for peak periods and special events, especially in cases where minimum parking requirements have been lowered.
  • Encourage or develop off-site parking for overflow, with shuttle service if needed. For example, park and ride lots may serve as off-site lots to access downtowns if shuttle service is provided. (See off-site parking and shuttle service.)
  • If there are private parking lots or garages nearby that have extra capacity during peak times, allow property owners to lease the extra spaces or charge the public to use them during the site’s off-peak hours (see shared parking).
  • Require or encourage the establishments generating the spillover parking to participate in programs to reduce parking demand and traffic, such as car sharing, bicycle parking and amenities, subsidized transit passes, etc. (see parking and transportation demand management).
  • Develop a residential permit parking program. Only nearby residents and their guests may park on the streets or in certain lots, during the entire day or during peak spillover periods. (See residential permit parking.)
  • Combine a residential permit parking program with a parking benefit district, so that residents can allow certain outside users to park for a fee, and can receive the benefits of the revenue generated.
  • Prohibit all parking on neighborhood streets during peak hours. Without a residential parking program, for example, this may be the only way to prevent overflow parking during special events. (See time restrictions.)
  • Establish time limits for parking on impacted streets. In residential neighborhoods, this can be combined with a residential permit parking program to allow outside users to park for a limited time, while allowing residents to park at any time, or can be implemented on commercial streets if long-term users are preventing shoppers and customers from finding short-term parking.
  • Charge for on-street parking in commercial areas if businesses are being impacted by commuter parking. If there are already meters for on-street parking, raise hourly rates, or allow meter rates to vary with demand (see charging for parking). To make this more palatable, make payment easy using advanced meter technology, and/or establish a parking benefit district to reinvest part or all of the revenue from parking fees in maintenance or improvements for the district where it is generated.
  • Increase enforcement of time limits, permit parking, meters, etc.
  • Discourage shop owners and employees from parking in front of their stores (see employee parking programs).