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Minimum Knowledge about Minimum Parking Requirements
What if there were shops -- or more residential units -- in the place of this parking garage at the entrance to the new "Crest" on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn? Walking would be a lot more pleasant, and the neighborhood more accessible. Photo via Streetsblog.

What if there were more shops -- or more residential units -- in place of this parking garage at the entrance to the new "Crest" on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn? Walking would be a lot more pleasant, the neighborhood more accessible, and the housing more affordable. Photo via Streetsblog.

WHAT THEY ARE

Minimum parking requirements require developers to construct a minimum number of parking spots, depending on the zone and type of development — business or residential, for instance. As Michael Lewyn points out, for new residential developments in Jacksonville, Florida, developers must provide 1.75 parking spaces per one-bedroom apartment, even though 16 percent of Jacksonville renters don’t even own one car. In New York City’s case, in some lower-density zones like Staten Island — and even parts of the Bronx — parking space requirements reach up to two spaces per residential unit.

WHAT THEY DO

Here’s why minimum parking requirements need to be “turned on their heads” and evolve into maximum parking limits for new developments:

  • Minimum parking requirements make housing less equitable: The cost of constructing and maintaining parking garages leads developers to “bundle” parking costs with residential costs, increasing the cost of housing. And by taking up space that could otherwise be used for additional housing or commercial units, minimum parking requirements reduce the total supply of housing, driving up the price.
  • They encourage driving by decreasing density: Since these parking spaces take up space that could otherwise be used for commercial or residential units, they decrease density. Residents of lower-density areas tend to be more dependent on their cars.  Imagine if a parking garage in a large residential development instead contained spaces for new businesses like a salon, a convenience store, or a laundromat/cleaner? This would instantly make the development more accessible, discouraging driving, and potentially providing job opportunities for tenants.
  • They make walking unpleasant: More parking means more parking lots and garages for pedestrians to maneuver through — an unpleasant and dangerous endeavor.
  • They subsidize car ownership: Because the price of parking and the price of housing are bundled together, non-car owners essentially subsidize car owners in the building. This creates added incentive for everyone to own a car, and in the meantime, makes car ownership cheaper for those who already do.

Of course, all of these negative externalities of parking regulations have negative externalities of their own –particularly for public health. Walking less means higher obesity and heart disease rates, reduced air quality and increased risk of respiratory disease, for instance.  More parking spaces can also increase pollution from stormwater runoff, since rainfall on parking lots picks up oil, metals and other pollutants before it flows into nearby waters.

NYC PARKING UNDER ATTACK

If New York’s “parking industry feels under attack” — as the Wall Street Journal reported Monday — it’s about time.

The Bloomberg administration has been working on all sorts of honorable initiatives under the umbrella of its PlaNYC 2030 comprehensive sustainability plan. These include cool roofs, complete-street roadway designs, and new bicycle lanes generating a record single-year 35 percent increase in bike commuting from 2008 to 2009.

But zoning regulations could still counteract the positive impacts of many of these sustainable city programs.  Recent analysis from Transportation Alternatives finds that if current minimum parking requirements are maintained, by 2030 they will produce an additional 1 to 1.55 billion annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and around 450,000 annual metric tons of carbon.  That’s the same as burning nearly 9,000 railcars’ worth of coal each year in the city.

Fortunately, as the Wall Street Journal article highlights, the NYC planning department is carrying out studies — slated to be complete by the end of this year — that would potentially call for an end to some of the city’s minimum parking requirements, and provide for more infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.  The studies are focusing on transit-rich areas where off-street parking requirements are most egregiously unnecessary.

MONEY TO REWRITE ZONING CODES

Zoning codes, which often encode these minimum parking requirements,  are one of the principal hindrances to sustainable development in America’s cities. But new Tiger II grants from the federal government include a pool of money for cities to develop new,  more sustainable zoning codes.

One way to minimize the political backlash associated with reducing parking in a city is to promote innovative ways of making parking space usage more efficient. For instance, a new Google Android app called Open Spot allows users to earn “Karma points” by plotting open parking spots on a map; this cuts back on emissions and congestion from cars searching for parking, and in the meantime could help allay drivers’ fears about a reduction in required parking spots.

Washington, D.C. is testing out pay-by-phone, pay-by-space, and pay-by-plate parking;  this type of innovation opens up possibilities such as metering residential streets for non-residents and developing similar innovative tools to ease the lives of walkers, bikers, and public transit riders.

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