Several tangentially related articles on parking over the past few weeks:
In a previous post on zoning and unintended consequences, I linked to an Oregon Public Broadcasting piece on zero-parking development in Portland, OR – taking advantage of a clause in the zoning code that removes the requirement to provide off-site parking in developments around high-frequency transit corridors. The key word is in removing the requirement, as the developers are free to provide on-site parking if they wish, but are no longer required to do so. And may have decided to forgo off-street parking entirely.
Portland’s Willamette Week followed with a feature piece on the same issue a month later. Unfortunately, the writer frames the rule as letting developers off the hook for something they ought to pay for, like they were building bathrooms without toilets:
The Portland City Council more than a decade ago created this exemption—a huge financial benefit to developers—to increase density and discourage people from owning and driving cars.
If there’s a single fragment in the zoning code that encapsulates the ambition of city planners and the ethos of Portland, this may be it.
But the policy has its costs, and nearby residents such as Gold-Markel are paying for it.
Throughout the article, the ‘problems’ of this policy are presented in terms of spillover parking – that is, the residents of the new parking-less developments did not get rid of their cars entirely, and now park them on the street. One obvious solution would be to manage parking on the street via pricing, permits, and many other available tools – rather than the blunt instrument of parking space requirements in the zoning code. The zoning code works best when roughly governing broad land use and built form. It is not a particularly strong management tool. Nothing is mentioned about the cost to residents and to the city as a whole of requiring this expensive construction.
Along the same lines in DC (which does have some residential parking management programs in place), a local ANC recently signed off on a parking-free development near a metro station – but only in exchange for the promise that residents of the new building would not be allowed to get Residential Parking Permits for their vehicles. On the one hand, the existence of a management program ought to help mitigate the impacts of such construction; on the other, the fact that the DC project had to negotiate to build without parking in the first place opens the door to “excessive localism” in Matt Yglesias’ terms.
Back in Portland:
Hales tells WW that when the city was rewriting the zoning code in 2000 to eliminate the parking requirement, he never thought developers would actually build apartments without parking.
“We were trying to get developers to put in one [parking] spot instead of two,” he says. “I certainly wasn’t smart enough to anticipate that banks would finance projects with no parking whatsoever.”
The simple fact is that parking doesn’t always pay. Often, the economic case for it is quite weak if it isn’t seen as an absolute requirement (in either the legal sense or in terms of feasibility). Another interesting (but very different case) is Yankee Stadium, where several large new parking garages adjacent to the new ballpark have defaulted on their bonds thanks to low utilization.
This situation is different from a run-of-the-mill zoning case, but it dramatically shows the cost (and the lack of a return) in building too much parking. With that kind of cost in providing parking when demand is low, it’s no wonder that one of the developers in the OPB piece made the claim that “Parking a site is the difference between a $750 apartment and a $1,200 apartment.”
In a more quantitative analysis of parking reforms, the Atlantic Cities looks to London:
In an upcoming issue of Urban Studies, researchers Zhan Guo and Shuai Ren of the Rudin Centre for Transport Policy and Management at NYU consider two core questions when it comes to London’s reform. First, does the parking minimum truly create more parking than people want? Second, is a parking maximum necessary to promote sustainable transport, or will the market alone take care of it?
On the first question, Guo and Ren returned a pretty definitive yes. They examined parking supply at 216 residential developments in London approved from 1997 to 2000, when the parking minimum was in effect, and then roughly 8,250 developments approved from 2004 to 2010, after the minimum was removed and the maximum imposed. Before parking reform, developers created 94 percent of the required minimum; after it, they created just 52 percent of the old minimum.
Those parking spaces that were formerly required obviously were not free to build. As for parking maximums (that is, a requirement that a development not build more than a given amount of off-street parking):
Onto question number two: the effectiveness of the new maximums. Since the purpose of London’s parking reform was to promote alternative transportation, the researchers looked at how parking supply fluctuated in areas with high density and transit access after 2004. What they found is that that the actual parking supplied was higher in Central London, where density and access are greatest, compared to adjacent outer areas.
Guo and Ren call this finding “unexpected.” They suspect that local authorities may want to keep a high maximum (and therefore allow more spaces) to avoid a parking spillover onto already crowded streets in Central London. Another explanation is that the market simply wants more spaces there: people who can afford to live downtown are willing to pay a premium for parking.
I can’t see much problem in allowing parking to be built where the market is willing to bear the cost of construction and operation. Likewise, a developer of a non-residential property could easily see value in providing a great deal of parking as a draw to their development.
None of this changes the fact that a robust system for managing on-street spaces will likely be needed in any case. Such a program in Portland could easily soothe the concerns of nearby residents (though many of their concerns seem to be about the very existence of the newer, dense development in the first place); and a more market-responsive system in DC (hypothesis: most of DC’s RPP stickers are far too cheap relative to the demand for on-street spaces) might have avoided some of the negotiations in Tenleytown.