A Radical Solution: Don’t Require Parking

By John Dorschner

Here’s a way that Miami-Dade and many other urban areas can find a no-expense method of providing more affordable housing, create less traffic and build a more walkable city.

Earlier this month, St. Paul in Minnesota has become the latest to take the radical step of eliminating all requirements city-wide that developers need to provide minimum certain numbers of parking spaces for new projects.

It joins several cities — including Berkeley, Buffalo, Sacramento and Minneapolis — in doing away entirely with a concept that has been a mantra of many urban planners and politicians for decades. Quite a few cities have eliminated the requirement in downtowns, but city-wide is a new frontier.

The old idea was that a developer needed to provide x off-street parking spaces to avoid the chaos of drivers having nowhere to park near new developments.

The new thinking: Why waste tons of space — and money — on promoting the use of cars that only exacerbate urban sprawl and greenhouse gases?

The Pioneer Press reported that after St. Paul approved the change by a 6–1 vote. “Mayor Melvin Carter noted that roughly 36 percent of the city’s land mass was dedicated to moving or storing cars. ‘Our rapidly growing population demands forward facing public policy,’ Carter said. “This simple step will help add much needed housing and jobs as we seek to maximize this period of historic economic expansion in St. Paul.”

In the same article, Council Member Mitra Jalali said, “31 percent of our city’s emissions can be attributed to vehicle travel…. If you build a new bar, under our current zoning rules, nearly two-thirds of the land would need to be parking. That makes no sense.”

In St. Paul, it’s estimated that each ground-level parking spot costs $5,000 and a spot in a parking garage or office/apartment building can run $25,000 to $50,000. Those costs get tacked on to apartment prices — one of the reasons that there’s a shortage of affordable housing.

Developers will still be able to include parking in projects, but it will be up to them and their decisions about what buyers want — not what a government dictates.

Buffalo did away with all parking requirements four years ago. A recent paper by Daniel Baldwin Hess and Jeffrey Rehler at SUNY-Buffalo found that “14 mixed-use projects tracked by the study provided 53 percent less parking than previously required — with four projects building no parking at all,” according to a report on medium.com by Eric Jaffe.

Instead of parking, the Buffalo developers dedicated the space to “higher use,” the researchers wrote — including retail stores and more apartments.

And guess what? The new Buffalo developments tended to be along transit corridors to cater to those who didn’t feel the need for cars. Some of this was for much needed student housing. Previously, developers had shown little interest in those corridors.

One example, Jaffe wrote: “One small-scale mixed-use development near a light rail station rehabilitated an old structure into 10 new apartments with ground-floor retail space. Despite the close proximity to transit, the project wasn’t feasible under the old parking regime — which called for 10 spaces on the site — because the physical structure occupies nearly its entire parcel. With the new rules, it could finally move forward.

“Simply put,” Jaffe concluded, the study showed that “by removing parking requirements, Buffalo unlocked the creation of more than 1,000 new homes and a vibrant array of transit-accessible businesses and restaurants — many of which might never have existed given the high cost of creating new parking.”

A Miami journalist for a half-century dedicated to peace, equality and environmental protection. Author of Verdict on Trial, available on Amazon.