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Visualizing America’s Absurd Parking Requirements

The black rectangles represent the amount of space required for parking in proportion to 10,000 square foot office buildings (represented by the blue rectangles) in different U.S. cities. Image: Seth Goodman at Click to enlarge.

Architect Seth Goodman is on a mission to illustrate the absurdity of parking requirements. The above image, showing mandatory parking requirements for office buildings in different American cities, is one of three infographics he created to show the extent to which American cities mandate the construction of parking.

The worst offenders in the office category were San Jose, Albuquerque and Austin (though Austin recently eliminated all parking minimums downtown). Goodman notes that the majority of U.S. cities exempt their downtowns from these requirements, but he says that’s not enough.”In many of these cities, the relatively small footprint of these exempt areas has failed achieve the critical mass necessary to create robust transit ridership and fully-functioning pedestrian oriented communities.”

Goodman has created two other infographics that explain different cities’ parking requirements for residences and restaurants. The below comes from his examination of residential parking requirements.  You can see that for two-bedroom apartments in U.S. cities, the median parking requirement consumes more than half as much space as the dwelling itself:

Read more…


They Paved Paradise, Parking In Santa Monica

The Real Problem Sat Right Behind Us
Parking has been dominating the public policy debate in Santa Monica the past few weeks, ever since the local lobbying group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) made transportation consultant Jeffery Tumlin into a target. Unfortunately they subsequently succeeded in having him removed from Santa Monica projects after years of great work with city planning efforts including our Bike Action Plan.

Our Santa Monica weekly column is supported by Bike Center in Santa Monica.

The open letter against Tumlin created a stir about the use of the word “nimby” on his website biography, which Tumlin used to characterize the discussion around development in Santa Monica prior to the LUCE process, and has since apologized for. However, that comment had been on the website for years while Tumlin worked on Santa Monica planning projects, as Frank Gruber points in his recent post on the history underlining this whole matter.

The controversy over using the word nimby was most likely a convenient pretense for the real reason SMCLC wanted him gone: he has been pitching ideas to reform our outdated parking policies. Reform ideas which groups like SMCLC have depicted as radical, unfortunately contributing to the local media lens on this issue, which so often adopts or promotes the language of status quo advocates. Paul Barter of Reinventing Parking makes a a compelling case “it is the status quo that is extreme” in Santa Monica and most of the USA.

Looking back over the SMCLC letter, there is the line “…we are concerned by Mr. Tumlin’s proposal to decrease the amount of parking required by new developments in our city– this in spite of residents asking for MORE parking not less…”. One could also just as forcefully assert that residents have asked for less traffic congestion, perhaps even more loudly than for more parking. These two goals are at odds with each other in most contexts, especially locations as popular as Santa Monica.

Santa Monica Parking Land Use

My 2010 off-street parking land use map of DTSM

This is symptomatic of the “have our cake and eat it too” approach to traffic management so often advocated. Of course we cannot have everything we want simply because we want it. Real life involves trade offs. So despite having high parking minimums for decades, a sort of individual mandate for cars, on-street traffic only got more congested. If we build parking spaces faster than we build housing units, as has been the case for quite sometime and which high parking minimums ensure, it really shouldn’t be surprising that streets fill up with cars and that the scale of our parking lots dwarfs our parks for people.

When I look at the backlash to eliminating or even just dialing back parking minimum zoning, I encounter a lot of mistaken ideas about the proposals. One of the most egregious misinterpretations I encounter is believing that somehow dialing back the mandate is a grab for people’s existing parking. The reality is that removing or lowering the mandate is more akin to saying some developments in the future may build fewer parking spaces than one’s built since the 80′s, but would not be obligated to. Read more…


With All Eyes on L.A., Villaraigosa Signs New Bike Parking Ordinance

Moments ago, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed a new bicycle parking ordinance into law which requires more bicycle parking at new developments and even allows a small swap of car parking for bike parking in certain approved development plans. The ordinance was on the verge of being signed last year before a series of small technical changes were added and the legislation had to go back through the City Council Committee structure.

Villaraigosa at the bike plan signing, March 2011. Photo:LACBC Blog

“The city is undergoing a transportation renaissance and we are changing the way Los Angeles moves,” said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, before signing the bill. “We have made unprecedented investments in the city’s bike infrastructure, with more bikeways and bike parking spaces than any time in the city’s history. The bicycle parking ordinance is another step in making it easier for Angelenos to navigate the city on two wheels.”

The ordinance  goes into effect on March 13, 2013.

Under the new law, up to 30% of auto parking can swapped for bicycle parking within a commercial nonresidential  project and 15% of auto parking can be swapped within a residential project that is near a major bus or transit station.  This could be particularly crucial for the transit oriented developments that pop up as a result of the new train lines that are coming online as a result of Measure R.

The ordinance also provides a mechanism to add more bike corrals to city streets.   These on-street public bicycle parking spaces offer an opportunity to provide ample bicycle parking without taking up pedestrian space on sidewalks. Bike corrals have been proven to increase bicycle usage in areas where they are installed, as they encourage residents to travel by bicycle around their neighborhoods to do their shopping and errands.   Read more…

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LA Planners Leapfrog NYC DCP, Approve Plan With No Mandatory Parking

Angie reported this morning that Washington, DC, is moving to reduce mandatory parking requirements in much of the city, which should lower the cost of housing and curb traffic. Meanwhile, despite talk last year of wide-ranging parking reforms for New York’s “inner ring” encircling the Manhattan core, the Department of City Planning has so far only managed to put forward a reduction of parking minimums in transit-saturated Downtown Brooklyn, the most screamingly obvious location.

All the shaded blocks will have no parking requirements under the plan approved yesterday by the Los Angeles Planning Commission.

Now you can add another city to the rapidly expanding list of places leapfrogging NYC on parking reform: Los Angeles.

Yesterday the Los Angeles City Planning Commission approved the Cornfield Arroyo Seco plan, which will eliminate parking minimums as part of a bid to spur mixed-use development along the Gold Line, a light-rail route that began service in 2003. (Streetsblog LA posted this summary of the plan by Joe Linton in 2009.)

Curbed LA reports:

City Planner Claire Bowin told Curbed today that the lack of parking requirements will allow developers to “minimize the amount of parking for specific projects,” given the neighborhood’s proximity to transit, the changing culture of Los Angeles, and the declining need for parking. Given that parking is usually one of the most expensive components of a development project, developers are expected to minimize the construction of parking, or build parking that they can then rent for public uses not attached to their site. The effect, says Bowin, will be to “let the market decide” how much parking is needed and where.

For everyone keeping score at home, Los Angeles has managed to do away with parking minimums along a corridor that’s served by a single light-rail line. Here in NYC, Amanda Burden’s planning department could only muster the will to halve parking requirements for Downtown Brooklyn, with its 14 subway lines.


The Los Angeles Times Really Doesn’t Think Drivers Should Be Fined for Parking at Broken Meters

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted to continue the city policy of ticketing motorized vehicles parked in metered spaces where the meter is vandalized. Since the city began this program in 2009, the number of broken meters has dropped signifiganty, because of a combination of factors including the installation of newer parking meters and a dramatic decrease in the number of meters that are vandalized.

Photo: Mayor Sam

When the “ticketing at broken meters” policy was first announced in 2009, there was a brief media firestorm, although much of the story was lost in a larger uprising over a general increase in parking meter rates. Earlier this year, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that banned ticketing at broken meters unless individual municipalities re-passed ordinances allowing the ticketing. The new legislation did little more than allow the Governor and some legislators to make themselves the “good guys” to the long-suffering California car-driver without actually doing anything.

However, the news of the legislation’s passing in Sacramento sent joy through the legacy media in Los Angeles, many of whom drive from houses to offices in Downtown Los Angeles or the Westside where private parking spaces await them. That the City Council almost immediately vowed to over-turn the law didn’t dampen their excitement.

So last week, the Los Angeles Times got a second chance to make a stink about a policy that is clearly working, vandalism at meters is at an all-time low, even if every broken meter in the city is a result of vandalism. The article on the Council action stated that the city is pocketing $5 million a year from tickets at broken meters. Even though the LADOT made clear that there is never more than 5 meters broken in a given day, the Times misquoted an LADOT official in a way that just happened to fit the narrative that the city was balancing its budget ledgers on the roof of L.A.’s hapless drivers.

To their credit, the Times did print a correction on their web-edition. The correction does make it sound that the LADOT is playing fast and loose with the numbers, not that their reporter made a mistake, but who’s counting?

For those of you without a Times subscription, here is the correction. For obvious reasons, we’re not reprinting the entire article: Read more…


L.A. Finally Embraces Sanity on Parking Policy

Parking minimums have led to parking lots that aren't always the best use of private space. Photo:Gary Kavanagh

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council embraced looser parking standards that will allow communities some flexibility in creating parking standards for new development. The full motion can be read here.

For decades, Los Angeles has labored under a “one size fits all” approach to parking.  This has led to businesses that are forced to put parking lots over urban design and has stopped the city from looking, and being all that it could be. It’s led to “transit oriented developments” with two deeded parking spaces per unit.

There are some parts of the city already blessed with relaxed parking requirements such including the area near the Red Line Station in Hollywood and Western and the Atwater Village, where shops were able to buy their way out of parking minimums.

There are seven tools that can be employed in a  Modified Parking Requirement Districts.

First, the city can exempt businesses that change the existing use of a building from needing to change the buildings parking. The popular example is a restaurant that moves into a space that was once used as a book store. Restaurants require more parking than bookstores under existing code.

Second, the developer could move parking off-site, within 1,500 feet of the entrance. This allows for mixed-use parking lots or shared lots.

Commercial parking credits similar to what was done to create the Atwater Commercial District are now on the table for any district that wants one.

Most obviously, developers can just request a relaxation of the city’s parking requirements.  Districts can also ask for either decreased or increased parking minimums. Read more…


Wait ‘Til Next Year: Parking Reform Bill Pulled from Assembly Committee

The Globe Mills Transit Oriented Development in Sacramento won national and international awards for design and livability. Sacramento has a minimum parking requirement of one space per unit, the same standard A.B. 904 wishes to create for every city in California. Photo:Miyamoto International

With the clock ticking, a state bill that would have banned parking minimums near transit nodes in certain circumstances was pulled from the July 3 California Senate Governance and Finance Committee agenda, shooting down major statewide parking reform efforts for at least another year. A.B. 904, a bill which waspraised by parking policy guru and UCLA professor Donald Shoup, appears to be dead in the water, but opponents vow to re-introduce a similar proposal next year.

Leading the charge for A.B. 904 was Mott Smith, a developer based in Los Angeles who sits on the California Infill Builder’s Association Board of Directors. “I’ve heard from countless cities that they want to fix their 60-year-old parking requirements, but they don’t have the money, the staff or the political will to take this on by themselves,” said Smith. “Next year’s version of AB 904 will give them tools to grow much more sustainably and affordably, without creating an onerous State mandate.” Berkeley Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, who introduced A.B. 904, is likely to sponsor a new proposal.

The legislation would stop municipalities from imposing parking minimums on new development of more than one space per unit or 1,000 square feet of retail within a half-mile of a transit node without meeting one of four exemptions.  The legislation wouldn’t impact parking meter rates, require the removal of any parking space, or even limit the amount of spaces that could be developed.

However, opponents claimed those were all possibilities in their mis-information campaign against the A.B. 904, led by the League of California Cities. The campaign’s tactics were at times laughable: Smith remembers a flyer distributed against A.B. 710, a similar bill a similar bill proposed last year, showing a clown car and bemoaning the lack of car parking for the planned Farmer’s Field Stadium.  Of course, because the bill doesn’t limit the developer with parking maximums, the image had about as much to do with A.B. 710 as a picture of aliens destroying a parking garage.  Still, the campaign was effective.

Read more…


401 Broadway Proposal In Santa Monica Goes From Car-Free To Robo-Garage

Last week I started a multiple part series on traffic, and the myths that surround it in Santa Monica, promising a part 2. That is still coming, but I am holding it for next week’s column to focus on recent developments concerning what had been proposed as a car-free mixed use apartment building at 401 Broadway.

Google Maps view of existing use at site.

At the northeast corner of the prominent Santa Monica intersection of Fourth Street and Broadway,  sits a small surface parking lot and auto shop on 401 Broadway. It’s certainly not the kind of land use suited for an increasingly pedestrian oriented and urbanizing downtown. The site also features two prominent billboards, a rarity in Santa Monica because it has been illegal to put up any new ones for years. A development proposal from the applicant Steve Henry, Fourth and Broadway, LLC has sought to completely transform this space with 56 apartments and ground floor retail spaces.

What made this proposal truly noteworthy however was what was absent from the plan. Zero car parking spaces were proposed. Yes zero. The unique dimensions of the site, which is prohibitively small for a conventional underground parking garage and ramps, helped drive the decision to go with no car parking. It was a bold move by Southern California standards, but one I feel is entirely viable given the location and ample on site bike parking proposed.

The site is in walking proximity to numerous shops, jobs, and services. Nearby transportation opportunities include the core intersections of numerous Big Blue Bus lines, the future Expo Line Station, and the Santa Monica Bike Center is across the street. If car parking was really needed for temporarily or for guests there are many garages in the area, some of which are underutilized much of the time. Read more…


Donald Shoup Responds to California APA Regarding California’s Parking Reform Bill

Donald Shoup at Complete Streets for California Conference

Professor Donald Shoup poses a parking question at UCLA’s Complete Streets for California event in March. Photo: Juan Matute

(A letter from Donald Shoup on AB 904 to the American Planning Association can be found after the jump. – DN)

“Donald Shoup is an academic authority on parking and its effects on transportation, land use, cities, the economy, and the environment,” said the American Institute of Certified Planners in 2004 when it inducted Professor Shoup as a Fellow, the highest honor of the American Planning Association (APA).  In 2005, The APA published Shoup’s tome, The High Cost of Free Parking,  and calls it one of its “most popular and influential titles.”

However it seems the APA’s California Chapter did not consult with Professor Shoup before it sent an email to members urging them to oppose AB 904, an effort to cap parking developers are required to provide at transit oriented developments.

Parking policy requires a delicate balance between the goals of the state and region (reduced vehicle use, increased transit use) and the goals of the municipality (providing convenient parking with new development to mitigate competition for on-street parking spaces).  UCLA Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning Donald Shoup’s solution has been to charge a sufficient price for publicly-owned on-street parking spaces so as to ensure that one or two spaces will typically be available on each block.

New development, which Shoup says should be free to decide how much off-street parking it will provide, increases the area’s parking demand, which in turn increases the price of both public on-street parking and existing off-street private lots.  As the price increases, alternatives to driving such as transit, biking and walking become relatively more attractive.  The “invisible hand” of the parking market plays a regulating function that makes non-auto modes more attractive in denser environments, where such modes can be more effective.

Nearly all local governments have taken a different approach, in which they specify the minimum number of off-street parking spaces each new development must provide.   Such a policy is designed to reduce or eliminate competition for on-street parking, which can placate existing residents and businesses.   However, in many denser built environments parkers prefer a convenient but scarce on-street space to a less-convenient but abundant off-street spaces, and the minimum parking requirements fail to protect incumbent parkers from increased competition.

In many areas the minimum parking requirements far exceed typical demand, leading to areas where parking supply exceeds demand.   Though the resulting parking price is zero, the cost of providing parking and the additional automobile travel is borne by everyone: shoppers paying a higher cost of groceries at the store with free parking, children with asthma playing next to roadways suffering from increased automobile travel, and the type-2 diabetes sufferer who’s substituted convenient parking for walking and biking.

Professor Shoup’s sees AB 904 as a “parking disarmament policy” which will let cities allow parking prices near transit to rise without worrying that other cities with free or cheaper parking will steal their visitors.  In this letter to Kevin J. Keller, president of the APA’s California Chapter, Shoup discusses his reasoning for supporting the bill and displeasure that the Cal APA would oppose the bill without consulting its membership:

Read more…

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As We Redraft Santa Monica Zoning, Let’s Drop The Parking Minimums

Surface Parking Lot To Become Santa Monica Civic Center Public Park In 2012
Ever since I attended a lecture by Donald Shoup at the LA Street summit in 2010, it has been stuck in my brain that most municipal zoning codes effectively make it illegal for developers to pursue truly sustainable models of development. Parking minimum requirements set a bar for levels of parking that must be built, often with arbitrary formulas based on building use and size written during decades when trends of car use and ownership were on very different trajectories than they are today.


To make headway on environmental sustainability, and the lack of affordable housing in Santa Monica, both significant issues in recent Santa Monica politics, I believe it is time to give up on rigid parking minimums.

On the sustainability front, the present scale of automobile dependency in America is not enduring; as fuel becomes more costly and automobile infrastructure investments that expand capacity produce diminishing returns. Given all this, buildings with very low, or zero parking spaces for cars are more sustainable than those with large surface lots of deep garages, regardless if a LEED certification is stamped on it or not. However such car-lite development and land use is outlawed in most areas of Santa Monica, and really most of America.

In the realm of housing, as I pointed out in the post concerning the new affordable housing building going up on Pico Boulevard, high levels of parking for cars adds to construction cost and diminishes the number of units that can be provided for housing people. Developers and managers bundle the cost of parking with units, causing higher rent for anyone living in the development regardless of whether they own a car (or two) or not.

In the case of non-profit developers, fewer units will be constructed to make way for parking. Many of the most affordable market rate apartments in the city could never be built now, because they have too few parking spaces. My own building would not be built if proposed today.  Only a few units of our small complex have parking garages.

Such codes can be circumvented to some extent in Santa Monica through the request of a zoning variance.  Applying for a variance triggers a costly and time consuming public process with no guarantee of earning a variance. For the big developers, passing through such hoops is an annoyance but one they will go through with a team of experts to navigate the process.

For smaller developers, businesses and land owners, seeking a zoning variance to allow fewer parking spaces is a hassle most avoid; even if building fewer parking spaces could benefit their bottom line, provide cheaper retail space for business, or more access to housing.

Take for instance this small 8 unit half finished apartment building, started in 1997 in Santa Monica and featured recently in the Lookout News.  The development languishes with a tight budget, a difficult permitting process that changed during construction, and impractical codes for the site foot print. In 2010 some exceptions were made for senior housing.  This project is now “senior housing” in order to get a parking requirement reduction.

“But while the battle with the contractor has been a major cause of delays, the biggest problem has been parking, according to Desai. A four-unit apartment requires eight parking places for tenants and at least one for guests, he said.

“There isn’t any room,” he said. To meet the standards, Desai said he would have had to demolish the building and start from scratch, which he simply couldn’t afford.” Read more…