Sustainable Transportation: Parking Toolkit

Courtesy of Diana Angstadt

This toolkit is designed to help local officials, developers, citizen board members, and advocates understand the sources of parking issues in their communities and identify potential solutions. The strategies outlined in the toolkit address a variety of situations and concerns in ways that save money, protect the environment, support local businesses, and encourage alternatives to driving.

The toolkit includes information on how to do a parking study, regulatory tools to tailor parking supply, strategies to reduce parking demand, parking management tools to make more efficient use of existing parking, information on financing parking, and many local examples. There are several ways to access the information in the toolkit:

Parking: A balancing act

Determining the right amount of parking is always a delicate balancing act, between the need for access in an auto-oriented world and the desire to minimize traffic and the sometimes harmful impacts autos bring. Many communities are concerned about the negative impacts of having too little parking – neighbors complain, cars are parked illegally, shop owners worry about discouraging patrons, lenders and developers worry about the desirability of their properties, drivers waste time hunting for parking spaces, etc. Recently,  some communities have begun to realize that too much parking can be as detrimental to the community as too little, and have taken steps to reduce parking requirements and improve the efficiency of existing parking.

Parking Costs

Constructing and maintaining parking is expensive. Construction costs per space can range from roughly $1,500-2,000 per space for surface parking in suburban areas to over $20,000 for underground parking in urban areas, not counting land costs, which can be substantial, especially in urban areas. Annual operation and maintenance costs can run from $100-500 per space. All told, the annual costs per parking space can run from roughly $400 a year for suburban surface parking, over $1,200 a year for a 2-level suburban structure, to over $2,000 for an urban parking structure. [1] In addition to the direct costs of building and maintaining the spaces, parking takes up space that could otherwise be used for additional commercial space or housing; incurs environmental costs including increased stormwater runoff and pollution and heat island impacts; and costs to the transportation system from its impact on the relative appeal of driving versus alternative modes. These costs should be recognized and balanced against the benefits parking provides in driver convenience and access.

Parking Needs

There is no simple, correct answer on how much parking is needed. The answer for your community will depend on:

  • Area of interest (town and neighborhood centers will have different needs than stand alone developments)
  • Access available to that area (less parking is needed for locations with good walk and transit access)
  • Type of development existing or planned (residential parking needs are greatest overnight, office during the day, and some retail uses will need the most parking on weekends).

Where there is a mix of uses parking can be shared. But the answer to parking needs is also a local policy choice – to invest in auto-oriented versus transit and pedestrian transportation options, to concentrate development or to spread out, and how best to maximize local tax revenues.

The best way to understand the parking needs in your community is to start with a survey of the existing parking situation. Whether your concern is parking in the town center or how much parking to require of a new development, you need to know how much of what types of parking is currently available and how is it used. In most cases, the survey should include both public and private parking, on-street as well as off-street spaces. Many simple counts can be accomplished by local volunteers, and traffic consultants are usually available for the more complicated process of estimating future demand. Basic guidance on how to do a parking study and examples of some recent local studies are available in this toolkit

Besides providing counts of existing use, surveys are also helpful in determining community priorities. Many communities have used surveys of local businesses to help determine parking needs. Convening a community parking or transportation committee is another common approach, allowing many different voices to be heard and to work together for a solution.


1. Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, “Parking Evaluation: Evaluating Parking Problems, Solutions, Costs, and Benefits”, Online TDM Encyclopedia,