Sunday Commentary: An Early Discussion on Parking Minimums Would Be Helpful

Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – It seems like many in the community are not aware of changes to state law which largely eliminated parking requirements for the vast majority of the city.

That law took effect in January 2023.

Under the law, “a public agency shall not enforce any minimum parking requirements on a ‘residential, commercial or other development project’ located within one-half mile of public transit.”

Because “Davis has a bus system that meets the objectives of this law and therefore, most of the city falls under the provisions of this law,” the state eliminated parking requirements for nearly all of Davis.

But as we noted a few weeks ago, whenever the issue comes up about an infill project not having sufficient parking, it becomes very clear that that the community is unaware of state law.

People believe that eliminating parking in downtown locations, for example, will push people to parking elsewhere and walking or biking to their vehicles.

That’s one possibility if the city does not figure out ways to address parking enforcement and zones.  But in the long run, it will be a fleeting problem.

People continue to argue that people will drive regardless and that families need cars.  But a lot of the housing without parking is unlikely to be family housing.

It also ignores the demographics most likely to live in rental housing downtown—not families with kids and people who do not work near the downtown.

Meanwhile, it seems important to reiterate that there are a lot of reasons why the state eliminated marking minimums—including cost of housing, inefficient use of space and, of course, climate change considerations.

Here are some recent studies that might be helpful.

Last fall, “Multifamily Dive” reported on a new white paper from Rutgers that found “reducing parking spaces could save money and minimize environmental impact.”

The study found, “Renter-occupied households use fewer parking spaces than new multifamily developments are required to have by state law, based on a study of 175 New Jersey properties by the Rutgers Center for Real Estate at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.”

A new white paper from the center, co-authored with industry professionals from AvalonBay and Tantum Real Estate, proposes new parking ratio standards that “better align with usage.”

The RCRE recommended “on average, 1.41 parking spaces in new lots or garages per unit for garden-style apartments — down from an average of 1.91 mandated by New Jersey’s Residential Site Improvement Standards, a difference of over half a space.” As for high-rises, the study recommends “1.01 spaces per unit on average, down from 1.33 required per unit.”

As Dive reports, “Reducing the required number of parking spaces would reduce construction and operating costs, which would lead to lower rents.”

But perhaps more important is this line: “In recent years, many municipalities have reduced their multifamily parking requirements, which are designed to ensure enough space for vehicles as developers create new housing.”

Moreover, “Some, including San Jose, California, and Bend, Oregon, have eliminated them altogether, and New York City has recently proposed doing so as well.”

Key point: “Reducing construction and land costs and creating opportunities for affordable housing are some of the major reasons cities are taking this step.”

You want parking and affordable housing?  Who is going to pay for that?

Meanwhile, Next City reports on Minneapolis-St. Paul: “Ending Minimum Parking Requirements Was A Policy Win For The Twin Cities.”

Key point: “By ending strict minimum parking requirements, Minneapolis and St. Paul have been able to improve both housing affordability and our urban form.”

The research is becoming clearer—do you want to build affordable housing for people or do you want to house vehicles?

Next City reports, “By ending strict minimum parking requirements, the Twin Cities have been able to improve both housing affordability and our urban form. Based on evidence both local and from across the country, it’s becoming clear that this is a winning policy choice.”

This follows the research by scholar Donald Shoup, saying that “minimum parking mandates don’t consistently reflect the actual demand for parking, relative to the cost of supplying it. The appropriate amount of parking will be different for every building based on its land cost, proximity to transit, and customer base, among numerous other factors.”

This isn’t a zero-parking initiative—although in some places that might well work.

Next City notes that “parking mandates often result in buildings with more parking than developers would otherwise choose.”

This creates problems because parking both takes up valuable space that could go to additional units or businesses in a mixed-use project and it is costly to build.  For example, “a 2021 estimate pegged the average above-ground parking structure at $27,000 per spot, and much higher if you’re digging below ground.”

These costs are crippling—they drive up rents, reduce affordable housing opportunities, and, sometimes, make housing projects unfeasible to build at all.

Moreover, Next City says, “When parking mandates force excess parking spots, they also subtly reshape our transportation choices across a city. Excess parking makes car travel excessively easy, acting as a subsidy to car trips over other travel options—despite the pollution and traffic externalities that cars create.”

Moreover, “It also results in what journalist Henry Grabar terms ‘parkitecture,’ or a sacrifice of our urban form and design at the altar of parking lots.”

Moreover, they note that eliminating such parking minimums doesn’t lead to off-street parking disappearing entirely.

They write, “Even when apartment developers aren’t required to build parking spots, many prospective residents will still want parking (and be willing to pay for it). A world without parking requirements will still have parking, but supplied in quantities responsive to actual demand.”

Someone has to pay for those spots—and it’s often people not actually using them.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. Jim Frame

    I’m not opposed to elimination of parking minimums (minima?) — and it wouldn’t matter if I was, given the present situation — but neither am I confident that it’s going to result in a happy situation.  In any case,  I’m curious to see how it works out, and how long it takes (years? decades?) to reach equilibrium.

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