Regulating Parking to Promote Livability
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
TABLE OF CONTENTS:........................................................................................................................................... I
LITERATURE REVIEW ...........................................................................................................................................2
PARKING POLICY .......................................................................................................................................................2
LIVABILITY AND PARKING POLICY ............................................................................................................................5
DATA & METHODOLOGY......................................................................................................................................7
Table 1: Selected Cities by Population ................................................................................................................7
Table 2a: Livability Search Terms .......................................................................................................................8
Table 2b: Control search terms ...........................................................................................................................8
RESULTS & ANALYSIS ...........................................................................................................................................9
Figure 1: City of Petaluma, Minimum Parking Requirement ..............................................................................9
Figure 1: City of Louisville: Minimum and Maximum Motor Vehicle Parking Based on Use ..........................10
Table 3: Parking Ordinance Review..................................................................................................................11
Table 4a: Livability Search Term Results ..........................................................................................................15
Table 4b: Control Search Term Results .............................................................................................................16
Table 5: Year of Approval..................................................................................................................................21
POLICY IMPLICATIONS: WHERE DO THESE FINDINGS LEAVE US?.....................................................22
In many cities around the country the urban form reflects decisions made to accommodate the
convenience of the personal automobile. In response to the many problems associated with sprawling,
auto dependent communities, and to accommodate different lifestyle preferences, many municipalities are
incorporating policies into their comprehensive plans intended to decrease auto dependency and create
more livable communities. One of the greatest challenges communities face in achieving livability goals
is how to manage parking in a way that prevents it from dominating the urban environment.
Most municipalities, in an effort to avoid parking shortages, require developers to provide a minimum
amount of parking (outlined in the zoning ordinance) to accommodate peak parking demand. Minimum
parking requirements create an excess of parking which also makes choosing the personal automobile the
preferred mode of transportation, these parking requirements run counter to the livability strategies
outlined in comprehensive plans. This paper asserts that the stated policies and goals of a community
seeking to maintain and/or create more livable communities are undermined by minimum parking
ordinances and a lack of additional parking management and design guidelines. This hypothesis is tested
through a content analysis of eleven municipality’s comprehensive plans and parking ordinances to
understand how the two policy documents either support or disagree with each other.
In many cities around the country the urban form reflects decisions made to accommodate the
convenience of the personal automobile. In response to the many problems associated with
sprawling, auto dependent communities, and to accommodate different lifestyle preferences,
many municipalities are incorporating policies into their comprehensive plans intended to
decrease auto dependency and create more livable communities1. Many policies and goals
associated with livability incorporate land use policies and design guidelines aimed at producing
more pedestrian and transit-oriented communities through, for example, pedestrian amenities and
encouraging a greater mix of land-uses and activities. One of the greatest challenges
communities face in achieving livability goals is how to manage parking in a way that prevents it
from dominating the urban environment.
Most municipalities, in an effort to avoid parking shortages, require that developers
provide a minimum amount of parking (outlined in the zoning ordinance) to accommodate peak
parking demand. Citing several studies on minimum parking requirements and excess free
parking, Donald Shoup, in his book The High Cost of Free Parking, argues that these policies
create a preponderance of free parking spaces that, “disfigure[s] urban design and accelerate[s]
sprawl” (2005, 130). Given that the data integrated into Shoup’s argument suggests minimum
parking requirements create an excess of parking which also makes choosing the personal
automobile the preferred mode of transportation, these parking requirements seem to run counter
to the livability strategies outlined in comprehensive plans.
In this paper, the term “livability” refers to the quality of the built that is “affected by conditions in the
public realm, places where people naturally interact with each other and their community, including streets,
parks, transportation terminals and other public facilities, and so is affected by public policy and planning
decisions. Streetscapes that are attractive, safe and suitable for a variety of transportation modes
(particularly walking) are a key factor in community livability”. (Victoria Transport Policy Institute TDM
The specific parking policies set forth by a municipality need to be consistent with the
broader goals and policies of the community outlined in the comprehensive plan2. However,
municipal zoning codes do not typically address issues relating to an oversupply of parking.
This paper asserts that the stated policies and goals of a community seeking to maintain and/or
create more livable communities are undermined by minimum parking ordinances and a lack of
additional parking management and design guidelines. This hypothesis is tested through a
content analysis of eleven municipality’s comprehensive plans and parking ordinances to
understand how the two either support or disagree with each other. The analysis suggests that
although many municipalities’ comprehensive plans have stated preferences for more compact,
pedestrian oriented and transit-ready neighborhoods, and often state the need to revise their
parking policies, few have updated the parking ordinances to be in line with the comprehensive
Parking is a regulated land use in most if not all local zoning ordinances that typically require
developers to provide a minimum number of parking spaces based on either the number of
residential units, number of employees or the square footage of a commercial building.
Historically off-street parking ordinances were meant to tackle problems associated with a lack
of parking, and to eliminate on-street parking in order to increase street safety and lessen traffic
congestion (Ferguson 2003). Writing in 1940, Walter Behrendt describes a decision made by
Sears Roebuck to locate a new department store three miles out from the central business district
(CBD) where “the price [of land] was low enough to allow for the setting aside of a large parking
“Comprehensive Plan” is used to describe all long term plans for the city; depending on the state this might also be
called the “general plan” or a “master plan.”
area… the convenience offered to the customer was enough to make up for the supposed
disadvantages of the unusual location and to secure successful competition with downtown
businesses” (1940, 464). With businesses continuing the trend of moving outside the CBD,
surface lots popped up in downtown areas to stay competitive and became, as Behrendt
describes, “eyesores in the heart of the city, bringing about the decline of other property values in
their vicinity” (1940, 465). As early as 1940, Behrendt noted that parking is important to
business yet negatively impacts the urban environment.
Behrendt wrote during the time when minimum parking requirements were becoming
standard policy in cities around the country; policies that remain on the books today in many
cities across the country. This pattern leads to the most common criticisms leveled against
parking policies: that they utilize “less spectacular forms of travel demand management
measures” to anticipate parking demand (Garling and Axhausen 2003, 3). Today it is argued that
minimum parking requirements have the opposite effect as originally intended by creating an
overabundance of free parking that contributes to a preference for and dependence on the
personal automobile, intensifying problems associated with increased auto use (i.e. traffic
congestion, air pollution, fragmented urban form, etc) (Shoup 2005).
Manville and Shoup note that parking is an “automatic aspect of the planning process;”
unlike the construction of highways, roads, etc., parking is built without much attention (2005,
244). Parking demand, as defined by Robert Weant and Herbert Levinson, is “the accumulation
of vehicles parked at a given time as a result of activity at a given site” (Shoup 2005, 23). Many
people assume that their parking demand will be met at no cost, thus cities use peak demand for
free parking spaces to determine the required parking ratios (Shoup 2005). In most cases, this
creates an excess of free parking. Shoup summarizes a number of studies conducted on parking
supply, citing one study looking at 10 suburban office parks in Southern California at peak
parking times. This study found that, on average, these lots were only at 56 percent of capacity
(2005, 82); stated another way, 44 percent of the parking spaces in these lots sit empty the
majority of the time.
Minimum parking requirements have not only been found to create excess parking, they
also increase the cost of development. A typical parking space requires approximately 350
square feet of land (200 sq ft for the car and the remaining 150 sq ft for aisles and circulation)
and in many cases an additional 50 square feet is added to allow for adequate landscaping
(Barnett 2003). To build one space for a surface lot the cost is approximately $1000; to build
one space for a parking structure costs approximately $10,0003 (Litman 2002, 5-4.2). If, for
example, a developer is required to build a minimum of 100 spaces for their office building, it is
cheaper to build surface lots unless the cost of land is very steep. This in turn creates a situation
where developers will often look for the cheapest land to provide cheaper surface parking, which
contributes to less dense, less walkable and less transit oriented developments.
While providing parking is costly on the one hand, proposals seeking to reduce the
amount of parking frequently face the challenge that reducing parking will discourage demand
for a given activity (Meyer and McShane 1983). Studies on the economic impacts of restricting
the number of parking spaces are mixed (Stills and Simmonds 2000). Summarizing several
studies, within and outside of the U.S., Stills and Simmonds note that policies reducing the
number of parking spaces have not had any real effect on economic activities, however, they
note that the affects of more aggressive reductions in parking requirements on economic activity
are not known (2000, 300). That said, this paper does not assert that parking requirements
The cost to build a single space in structure parking ranges from ~$6000-10,000 depending on the size of the lot
and the number of floors being constructed.
should be reduced to such an extreme that would make business activity impracticable. Instead,
I emphasize the need to balance parking policies and livability goals so that one supports the
Livability and Parking Policy
Discussions and research on creating more livable communities often springs from arguments
related to sprawl, auto dependency and the decline of urban cores. In the last 50+ years,
development has tended to be low density, single-use projects that, in large part, result from the
way in which the automobile dictates development patterns in the United States (Forinash et. al.
2003). Some of the problems with these development patterns include: reductions in walkability,
transit feasibility, and open space; increases in traffic congestion, air and water pollution, energy
consumption, public health issues (such as obesity, heart disease, fatalities and mental health);
declining community ties and issues of social injustices (such as spatial mismatch and extreme
racial and class segregation) (Barnett 2003; EPA 2006). Parking policies that encourage the
creation of large expanses of surface parking in particular contribute to the decrease in compact,
walkable communities that many municipalities are now trying to recreate (Shoup 2005; Stubbs
2002; EPA 2006).
Shoup argues that, in zoning ordinances, cars, over people, have become the main
concern (2005, 130). This in turn contributes to urban environments that are not oriented
towards people. Land used for parking lots results in less land for more productive uses, such as
office buildings or residential buildings, and creates less dense urban areas (Wilson 1995). The
amount of land given over to parking creates car oriented site designs, so that, as Wilson notes in
his study of suburban office parks, “pedestrians and transit riders face a long walk from the street
to the buildings. Lower parking requirements would have permitted more clustering of uses and
reduced the amount of land acquired for the redevelopment project” (1995). Wilson argues that
requiring so much parking creates an environment that is less accessible to the pedestrian and
prioritizes the personal automobile over all other modes of transportation.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a paper discussing minimum
parking requirements as a barrier to creating more walkable, compact neighborhoods. They
argue that minimum parking requirements “creates a ‘dead zone’ of empty parking lots in the
middle of what ought to be a bustling commercial district or neighborhood” (EPA 2006, 6). As
previously discussed, minimum parking requirements force developers to create large amounts of
parking, creating a tendency for developers to seek out large, cheaper plots of land to
accommodate these requirements, contributing to less pedestrian oriented environments. For
example, a 25,000 square foot, four-story office building needs approximately four acres to
accommodate the building and meet parking requirements (if a surface lot is used); the parking
lot would cover seven times the amount of land of the building (Barnett 2003, 52). In this
example it would be difficult to create a pedestrian scaled relationship between the building and
the street front with so much surface parking.
Minimum parking policies date back to at least the 1940s and have been replicated
throughout the country (with most cities using standards “developed and published by
professional organizations, including the Institute of Transportation Engineers”) (Forinash et. al.
2003, 2). As demand for more compact, pedestrian and/or transit oriented neighborhoods
increases, parking policies have not kept up with “the complexity of modern mixed-use
development and redevelopment” (EPA 2006, 7). Many of the goals, policies and strategies
outlined in comprehensive plans specifically seek to accommodate these. This paper examines
the preference for improving community livability on the one hand, with outdated parking
policies on the other.
Data & Methodology
A content analysis is the research method used to test my hypothesis that policies and goals
outlined in comprehensive plans seeking to maintain and/or create more livable communities are
undermined by minimum parking ordinances. Content analysis is a research technique employed
to make “replicable and valid inferences from texts to the contexts of their use” (Krippendorff,
2004, p. 18). The data utilized for content analysis is typically some sort of text (i.e. newspapers,
online journals, government reports or policies) (White and Marsh 2006). This paper applies this
technique to analyze the parking ordinances and comprehensive plans of eleven municipalities.
The cities were selected based on easily accessible and searchable plans, and are not a random
sample. An effort was made to select cities of different sizes and geographic locations to
examine if minimum parking requirements are common in cities in different regions and of
different sizes. A list of the selected cities, organized by population size, is proved in table 1
Table 1: Selected Cities by Population
City 2000 Population
Forest Park, Illinois 15,688
Burlington, Vermont 38,889
Petaluma, California 54,548
Boulder, Colorado 94,673
Gainesville, Florida 95,447
Charleston, South Carolina 96,650
Louisville, Kentucky 256,231
Atlanta, Georgia 416,474
Seattle, Washington 563,374
San Antonio, Texas 1,144,646
Phoenix, Arizona 1,321,045
Source: US Census 2000 Summary File 1
Each municipality’s parking ordinance is examined to answer the following questions:
1. Does it apply minimum or maximum parking requirements?
2. What is the required parking for a lot zoned single-family detached?
3. Are there specific parking design guidelines?
4. Are there procedures for requesting a variance (i.e. reduction in number of
required parking spaces for particular land uses)?
After reviewing the parking ordinances, I reviewed each municipality’s comprehensive plan to
identify policies and goals associated with livability. In order to simplify this process, I created a
list of search terms associated with “livability;” the terms selected are those noted to appear
frequently in the livability literature; the terms are listed in table 2a below. In addition, I
searched each plan for 5 general planning terms (control terms) to compare with the occurrence
of livability terms; the control terms are provided below in table 2b. The search was conducted
using Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional’s search tool. This tool counts the number of times a term
or phrase appears in the document; different forms of each of the words (i.e. walkability,
walkable or bicycle, bicycles, bike, biking or cycling) was accounted for by using the
“stemming” option in the search tool.
Table 2a: Livability Search Terms Table 2b: Control search terms
Accessibility Open space Job
Auto dependency Sidewalks Bus
Bicycles Sustainability Redevelopment
Compact dev Transit Children
Livability Transit options Road
Mixed-use Transit oriented development
Pedestrian Transportation choices
Pedestrian friendly Urban villages / centers /
Pedestrian oriented Walkability
The number of times and the average rate each term appears within the comprehensive
plan are noted to provide some insight into the prevalence of livability language; these numbers
are also compared to the rate each control term appears. Additionally, the sections of the plans
where the livability terms appear were carefully reviewed; selected passages are provided in the
results section. The parking ordinances are compared to the comprehensive plan to evaluate how
well or how poorly the parking ordinances uphold the identified policies.
Results & Analysis
A summary of the findings from the parking ordinance review is provided in table 3 (see page
12). Nine of the selected cities have standard minimum parking policies and 2 have established
minimum and maximum parking regulations; my analysis did not find a single example of a city
that has removed all minimum parking regulations.
Figure 1 and figure 2 offer examples of how parking requirements for different land uses
are described in a parking ordinance. In figure 1, an excerpt from the City of Petaluma’s zoning
ordinance illustrates a typical minimum parking requirement policy. This example lists the type
of land use (i.e. an automobile sales and service garage) and then the minimum number of
parking spaces required based on the size of the establishment, or based on the number of
bedrooms (if it is a residential or hotel land use).
Figure 1: City of Petaluma, Minimum Parking Requirement
Source: City of Petaluma 1973, Section 20-300
Figure 2 provides an example of an alternative parking ordinance structure from the City of
Louisville. The City of Louisville has established both minimum and maximum number of
spaces. This is one example of how parking policies can be established to allow for some
parking to support different activities but places limits to avoid creating excess parking. These
examples are meant to indicate the type of content examined for this analysis.
Figure 2: City of Louisville: Minimum and Maximum Motor Vehicle Parking Based on Use
Source: City of Louisville, KY 2004, Table 9.1.2
Each of the parking requirements for parcels zoned single-family detached are recorded
for each selected community to get a sense of how standardize minimum parking requirements
are (see Table 3). Of the nine cities that use minimum parking regulations, five require a
minimum of two spaces per dwelling unit for a single family detached home, one requires
three/du, and three of the nine require one space per dwelling unit. None of these requirements
include additional policies related to the context of where these dwelling units are located. Two
of the parking policies reviewed, Louisville and San Antonio, stand out because they have
established minimum and maximum parking requirements. In these instances the site/project
specific characteristics that influence parking demand are better accommodated because the
developer has some flexibility while still ensuring that there will not be excess parking created.
Table 3: Parking Ordinance Review
Minimum or Single Family - Reduction Design
Maximum Detached policy? Guidelines
Atlanta Minimum 2 per DU Yes Yes
Boulder Minimum 1 per DU Yes Yes
Burlington Minimum 2 per DU Yes Yes
Charleston Minimum 2 per DU Yes Yes
Forest Park Minimum 2 per DU No Yes
Gainesville Minimum 1 per DU Yes Yes
Louisville Min & Max 1-3 per DU Yes Yes
Petaluma Minimum 3 per DU Yes Yes
Phoenix Minimum 2 per DU Yes Yes
San Antonio Min & Max 1-n/a per DU Yes Yes
Seattle Minimum 1 per DU Yes Yes
All of the ordinances reviewed make allowances for particular developments to reduce
the number of required spaces in certain circumstances. In most cases the developer would have
to go through an additional review process in order to prove that the particular project will
generate lower parking demand. Seattle, Louisville, Boulder and Phoenix all allow for an
automatic reduction in the number of required spaces if the development is within a set distance
from a regularly served transit stop (ranging from 200 to 800 feet), however, only Louisville
specified the allowed reduction (which was 20% below the established minimum). Other cities
have some language giving authority to planning staff, the planning commission, or a
development review board to reduce the required number of parking spaces on case by case
basis. For example, the City of Gainesville states in their parking ordinance that:
“the development review board or city plan board, through development plan
review, or staff, when only staff review is required, may authorize a reduction in
the number of required vehicular parking spaces, if it is determined there will be
adequate access to the development by acceptable alternative means and that the
reduction will not infringe upon the parking and access available to other
properties in the area” (City of Gainesville 2006, Section 30-32).
This policy suggests that parking can be reduced if, for example, there is regular transit service
(“adequate access…by acceptable alternative means”) however, there is a missed opportunity to
more explicitly state that the parking requirements in areas with good transit service should be
authorized to have an automatic reduction in parking. In addition, there is no mention of how
large of a reduction could be granted if the criteria are met. If there was some information about
the maximum reduction allowed it may prompt developers to bother with going through an
additional layer of review (because they could weigh the cost of going through an additional
review with the savings they may gain from building less parking).
All eleven cities have some parking design guidelines however, in most cases the
guidelines are vague and could be interpreted differently by different developers. For example,
the city of Phoenix’s parking ordinance states that: “If a parcel is used for surface motor vehicle
parking or interior vehicle circulation as a primary or accessory use, a wall and landscaping shall
be required along all sides of said lot” (City of Phoenix, 2007, Section 702); however, this policy
lacks specific information about how to provide the wall and landscaping in a way that fits the
context of a particular site. More detailed design guidelines can significantly influence the look
and feel of a development which contributes to the overall livability of the area. Burlington,
Vermont’s parking design guidelines stand out as being the most detailed with guidelines for:
location, layout, circulation, screening and lighting. The City states in the guidelines that:
”Parking can be one of the most challenging aspects of the development process.
We recognize the necessity of having cars, yet they create their own set of
difficulties when trying to make room for them in our growing community.
Parking lots can quickly disrupt the historic pattern of buildings and undermine
our efforts at preserving Burlington’s architectural heritage. No one wants acres
of pavement and land is expensive; yet parking needs to be convenient, safe and
accessible.” (City of Burlington 1999).
However, these guidelines are not part of the zoning ordinance; the guide is meant to provide
recommendations and is not referred to within the city’s code.
After reviewing the parking ordinances, each city’s comprehensive plan was reviewed
using the livability search terms described in the methodology section. In table 4a and 4b on the
next page, the counts from this study are provided. The number of times each term appeared is
listed by city as well as the total number of livability terms in each plan; the average number of
times the terms appear in the plans is also provided. The word “parking” is removed from the
total; the number of times parking appeared in the text is noted to show that parking is
recognized by these cities as a notable issue but is not included in the identified livability terms.
On average, livability terms appear 43 times within the plans; the control terms appear,
on average, 49 times. I am not sure what the control terms are, why you are using them and how
you selected the terms. I am not sure what the average means. I found it more interesting that
some terms were used consistently more frequent than others. Also, is there any connection
between the cities that use livability terms more frequently and whether or not their ordinances
had been updated. This indicates that overall that the comprehensive plans reviewed have
incorporated goals, policies and strategies into their comprehensive plans that seek to increase
“livability.” The terms that appear most often (on average) are: bicycle, open space, transit and
pedestrian with mixed-use and urban villages falling in the second highest range. It should also
be noted that the term “parking” appears as frequently as the livability terms that appear most
frequently. Conducting this search revealed that in most cases these terms appear in passages
that relate to the definition used in this analysis to define livability either directly or indirectly.
Table 4a: Livability Search Term Results
Atlanta Boulder Burlington Charleston Park Gainesville Louisville Petaluma Phoenix Antonio Seattle Total AVG
Parking 117 24 104 6 147 92 92 28 59 26 306 1001 91
Accessibility 7 28 10 11 1 4 4 4 16 6 26 117 11
Auto dependency 9 11 5 0 0 1 3 5 0 0 0 34 3
Bicycles 129 33 86 10 39 112 68 55 198 34 171 935 85
Compact dev 2 23 10 5 0 15 22 0 3 0 14 94 9
Livability 34 12 19 3 0 19 30 0 2 2 22 143 13
Mixed-use 108 30 37 2 8 57 15 23 24 5 84 393 36
open space 95 91 94 15 15 66 93 127 153 30 322 1101 100
Pedestrian 214 32 87 8 57 122 94 23 161 26 412 1236 112
Pedestrian friendly 12 0 2 0 1 1 2 0 5 3 15 41 4
Pedestrian oriented 20 7 2 0 0 9 0 0 21 0 53 112 10
Sidewalks 92 2 20 7 10 96 20 5 21 13 42 328 30
Sustainability 40 39 71 5 2 8 9 0 22 10 49 255 23
Transit 152 43 75 31 21 104 78 46 243 27 415 1235 112
Transit options 5 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 1 11 1
development 2 1 1 0 5 4 0 0 20 0 6 39 4
choices 2 1 2 2 0 28 2 0 1 0 17 55 5
Urban villages /
centers / 4 1 5 4 0 0 0 0 103 2 381 500 45
Walkability 28 17 28 8 2 14 13 6 24 8 69 217 20
Total 916 363 549 111 155 646 451 294 971 163 2024 6643
Average 65 28 42 9 19 54 35 33 75 15 169 43
Table 4b: Control Search Term Results
Atlanta Boulder Burlington Charleston Park Gainesville Louisville Petaluma Phoenix Antonio Seattle Total AVG
Job 127 23 66 27 3 5 12 33 66 10 273 645 59
Bus 19 3 174 4 3 46 4 13 78 3 27 374 34
Redevelopment 124 59 28 26 83 120 52 23 99 16 31 661 60
Children 31 9 65 4 4 8 2 9 16 7 70 225 20
Road 362 19 68 53 31 52 45 72 55 3 8 768 70
Total 663 113 401 114 124 231 115 150 314 39 409 2673
Avg other term 133 23 80 23 25 46 23 30 63 8 82 49
Avg livability term
appears 65 28 42 9 19 54 35 33 75 15 169 43
In addition to conducting a term search in each of the plans, a careful reading of sections
of the plan where the terms appeared and where the term “parking” appears was conducted. This
review revealed that improving livability (as defined previously) is a priority in ten of the eleven
plans reviewed; the City of Forest Park is the one exception. Forest Park’s plan emphasized the
need to increase the city’s parking supply and did not emphasize a need to increase, for example,
pedestrian amenities or bicycle connections. Examples of language using each of the more
commonly found search terms is provided below.
In Burlington, VT’s comprehensive plan, it states that:
“Bicycles continue to play an increasing role in reducing auto dependence and
improving the livability of the city. While bicycling may not be an option for
everyone or every day, properly designed and maintained bicycle facilities,
coupled with a well developed education and enforcement program, can help
provide a reasonable reduction in the use of cars and an enjoyable and healthy
mode of transportation for many.” (City of Burlington, 2006, V-16)
Here the city is directly linking biking to livability goals, which includes reducing auto
In the introduction to the City of Gainesville’s comprehensive plan, they state that:
“The Land Use Element shall foster the unique character of the City by directing
growth and redevelopment in a manner that uses neighborhood centers to provide
goods and services to City residents; protects neighborhoods; distributes growth
and economic activity throughout the City in keeping with the direction of this
element; preserves quality open space and preserves the tree canopy of the City.
The Land Use Element shall promote statewide goals for compact development
and efficient use of infrastructure.” (2002)
In this passage a number of the livability terms appear; the city is clearly establishing that quality
open space, in addition to neighborhood centers, will “foster the unique character of the city.”
The city of Atlanta lists the following policies as attempting to “encourage pedestrian-oriented
mixed-use development aimed at reducing the demand for off-street parking:
1. Encourage additional on-street parking throughout Downtown, Midtown and
other centers as appropriate.
2. Encourage the redevelopment of surface parking lots into higher-density,
3. Encourage mixed-use developments with shared parking amongst the different
4. Encourage the construction of parking decks with retail/commercial, office, or
residential uses at the ground level.
5. Encourage participation in Transportation Management Associations to
encourage alternative modes of travel, promote shared parking, and reduce
traffic congestion and the demand for parking.
6. Limit off-street parking ratios for certain uses within transit station areas.”
(City of Atlanta, 2000, 9-87).
Again these policies reveal that the city identifies parking as an impediment to creating more
pedestrian-oriented development, however, these policies have not been incorporated into the
parking regulations outlined in the city’s zoning ordinance
The City of Phoenix, AZ describes the need to redirect development so that pedestrians and
transit riders are prioritized:
“A transit-oriented development pattern places increased emphasis on the
pedestrian and transit rider by providing improved access in an environment that
is more hospitable to both. The importance of the automobile is not reduced;
however, it is reoriented so that pedestrian and transit riders have a level of access
and convenience that is comparable to that afforded to automobile passengers.”
This particular policy is quite interesting because it recognizes that the automobile is and will
continue to be of great importance while acknowledging that there are also other modes of
transportation that the built environment needs to accommodate as much as the automobile.
Within the City of Petaluma’s general plan they define mixed use as a:
“classification that supports a variety of uses, including retail, residential, service
commercial, and offices. Development is oriented toward the pedestrian, with
parking provided, to the extent possible, in larger common areas or garages”
This passage implies that the city views typical parking design (i.e. large surface lots) as running
counter to pedestrian oriented development and hopes to move away from this pattern by
encouraging parking to be clustered together so as not to dominate the area.
In the City of Seattle’s comprehensive plan, they describe the way that parking impacts modal
“Long- or short-term parking is part of every car trip, and parking, especially
when free, is a key factor in the mode choice for a trip. The availability and price
of parking influences people’s housing and transportation choices about where to
live and how to travel to work, shop, and conduct personal business. The City’s
challenge is to provide enough parking to meet mobility and economic needs,
while limiting supply to encourage people to use non-auto modes.” (2005)
In a different section of the comprehensive plan, they discuss maximum parking requirements:
“Maintain maximum parking requirements to restrict the supply of available
longterm parking and to encourage use of alternatives to commuting by auto.
Favor short-term parking to meet shopper and visitor needs over long-term
parking. Exempt residential use from parking requirements within downtown
where residents can walk or have convenient transit access to work and services,
in order to promote affordable housing and reduce auto dependency.” (2005,
It is clear that Seattle recognizes that parking influences modal choice and that setting maximum
parking requirements and exempting some areas from parking requirements is essential.
However, this comprehensive plan was written in 2005 and the City’s parking ordinance was just
updated in February 2007. Within the updated parking ordinance certain districts can be
exempted from parking requirements, however, minimum, not maximum, parking requirements
are maintained. A counter example to this is provided from the City of Louisville. In
Louisville’s comprehensive plan, they discuss parking as follows:
“Parking requirements should take into account the density and relative
proximity of residences to businesses in the market area, the availability and use
of alternative modes of transportation, and the character and pattern of the form
district. Additional considerations including hours of operation and opportunities
for shared parking may be factored on a site by site basis. On-site parking
standards should reflect the availability of on-street and public parking. Parking
standards should include the minimum and maximum number of spaces required
based on the land use and pattern of development in the area.” (2000)
Consequently, when their parking ordinance was updated in 2006, both minimum and maximum
parking requirements were set for all land uses, and allowances for a reduction to these
requirements are based on the context and surrounding uses of specific developments. In
“9.1.1 Relationship to the Comprehensive Plan
The parking and loading standards prescribed by this Part are intended to
implement the following Cornerstone 2020 Comprehensive Plan Goals and Plan
City of Louisville, KY, 2004, p. 9.1-1
This is an example of how a connection can be made to indicate how the parking ordinance
works as the implementation arm of the comprehensive plan.
The passages presented above are only a small sample of the goals, policies, and
strategies included in the comprehensive plans that I define as tools meant to promote more
livable communities. These plans are full of goals, objectives and policies that both explicitly
and implicitly seek to reduce auto dependency, increase walkability and many of the plans
directly address parking as something that needs to be changed in order to achieve these goals.
At the same time, with the exception of Louisville and San Antonio, the parking ordinances have
not been updated to support these goals, even when the comprehensive plans speak directly to
the need for a change.
In table 5 (below), the year the comprehensive plan was approved and the year that the
parking ordinance was last updated is provided.
Table 5: Year of Approval
Atlanta 2004 2007
Boulder 2005 2007
Burlington 2006 2002
Charleston 2002 2005
Forest Park 2001 2006
Gainesville 2002 2007
Louisville 2000 2004
Petaluma 19874 1973
Phoenix 2002 2007
San Antonio 1997 2007
Seattle 2005 2004
In eight out of the eleven cities, the ordinances were updated (or re-approved) more recently than
the comprehensive plans. The parking ordinance supports livability goals in the comprehensive
plan in only two instances, the City of Louisville and the City of San Antonio. In all other
instances the parking ordinances have established minimum parking requirements that may
undermine the livability goals outlined in their comprehensive plans. Managing parking in a
way that avoids the creation of excess parking and incorporates design and other management
The have been updated nine times since 1987; the last update was 1999; a completely revised general plan is
tools that promote pedestrian, cycling and transit is an opportunity to promote the livability goals
many communities hope to achieve.
Policy Implications: Where do these findings leave us?
There is a plethora of parking management strategies discussed in the literature and that are
currently being practiced in cities around the country. This section will highlight a few specific
policies that fall under the general headings of reducing supply and demand, and improving
design standards. This is in no way reflective of all possible strategies that very effectively
reduce the negative impacts associated with parking; this section is meant only to provide a few
examples of the many ways parking policies can be improved to support livability goals.
The analysis suggests that although the municipalities selected understand the affects of
parking on livability goals, few have brought their parking ordinances in line with the
comprehensive plans. So what policy tools can be used to manage parking in a way that
There are many examples of ways that municipalities can manage and regulate parking in
a way that provides enough, rather than excess, parking and avoids the parking lot as the
dominant land use. There is not one single parking policy that will solve all problems associated
with parking, however, a combination of policies and design guidelines can accommodate
parking needs without creating an excess and can also better integrate parking into the built
The first sets of policies discussed are aimed at limiting the supply of parking. The first
is changing parking requirements from minimums to maximums. As previously stated,
minimum parking requirements are calculated to satisfy peak demand for free parking, and
generally do not correctly reflect parking demand, consequently creating excess parking,
subsidizing the use of the personal automobile, and contributing to less dense, less walkable, and
less transit-viable urban environments (Shoup 2002; Wilson 1995, Forinash et. all. 2003).
Maximum parking requirements, on the other hand, limit the number of parking spaces a
developer can provide. London’s Department of Environment, Transportation and Regions notes
that “a balance has to be struck between encouraging new investment in town centers by
providing adequate levels of parking, and potentially increasing traffic congestion caused by too
many cars” (2001, Section 54). Instead of asking developers to provide at least a certain number
of parking spaces, developers are asked to provide no more than a certain number of parking
spaces. Maximum parking requirements allow the developer to decide the number of parking
spaces the market will allow for within the limit, which helps avoid excess parking. One caveat
to this is that maximum parking requirements need to include policies that require a minimum
number of spaces dedicated to persons with disabilities. Maximum parking regulations can also
be combined with minimum parking regulations, as is the case in Louisville and San Antonio, to
accommodate these issues.
Shoup, advocating getting rid of parking requirements all together, argues that by
eliminating the inefficiency of requiring off-street parking, over time the “ratio of parking spaces
to people will decline” and the cost of parking will increase (Shoup 2005, 495). This is an ideal
strategy which, as Shoup goes on to suggest, would need to be implemented slowly over time so
that as the supply of parking decreases and the price increases, access to alternative
transportation options will increase, allowing individuals to make different choices. These
policies over time allow individual businesses and developers to decide whether and how much
off-street parking to provide. Those businesses, for example, that decide not to provide free
parking can sell their goods at lower prices because the cost of parking is unbundled from the
price of the good. Shoup notes that developers, business owners, etc., “will have every reason to
make the right decision because they will pay for their own mistakes—and will prosper if they
choose wisely” (Shoup 2005, 497). Additionally, businesses that rely more on walk-in business
no longer have to carry the costs of providing free parking which can contribute to more “mixed-
use and infill development near existing infrastructure and less greenfield development in
outlying areas” (Shoup 2005, 498). Whether implementing parking maximums or combining
parking minimums and maximums, these policies should be written somewhat flexibly, regularly
reviewed, and updated to ensure that parking supply is adequate (i.e. that the policies are not just
creating more congestion as people circle and line up to wait for spaces). (MGOSG 2006).
Another parking management strategy aimed at reducing the supply of parking is a
shared parking policy. Shared Parking allows parking spaces to be shared by more than one user
(for example, an office development shares with restaurants that open after regular office hours),
reducing the total number of parking spaces built and utilizing existing parking facilities more
efficiently (Victoria Transport Policy Institute 2007). Shared parking can be coupled with
minimum or maximum parking requirements. This type of policy is potentially most effective
for parking lots that have significant numbers of unused spaces and have regular utilization
patterns for the filled spaces. Several of the ordinances reviewed for this paper allowed for
shared parking under specific conditions. For example, the City of Phoenix has a shared parking
model in their parking ordinance:
“Shared Parking Model. The shared parking model can be used as a basis for
predicting the parking demand for a particular mix of uses on a site as an
alternative to the parking requirements table… The model assumes that every
separate use will need the full amount of parking that is called for in the parking
requirements at some point during the day (called the 'peak' period for that use).
Where different uses need parking at different times of the day, there is an
opportunity for them to share parking. The total number of parking spaces needed
to serve a mixed use site (the parking demand) may be significantly less than the
number of stalls that would nave to be built if each of the uses had to provide
parking on its own.” (2007).
This policy incorporates the time parking is demanded into the formula used to calculate the
number of required spaces. In the best case scenario this policy is combined with other policies
that more accurately reflect demand; in the case of Phoenix, their required parking is still set by
minimum parking requirements based on peak demand which tends to overestimate parking.
Policies that support reductions in parking supply seek to change the demand for parking.
Reductions in the supply of parking should be coupled with strategies that increase demand for
other modes of transportation through: transit investments, financial incentives for non-single
occupancy vehicle use, pricing strategies, investments in cycling infrastructure, and other tactics
supportive of transit-oriented development (MGOSG 2006). For example, transit-overlay zones
are a zoning tool that can identify areas within a specified distance of frequent transit service;
part of this zoning would allow for significant reductions in the amount of required parking in
these areas (EPA 2006). In addition, allowing reductions for senior or affordable housing
developments, neighborhood specific parking regulations, and parking freezes in particular
districts can help to manage parking supply to more accurately reflect demand (Forinash et. al.
Parking pricing can also help change the demand for parking and increase demand for
other transportation choices. In most cases, parking is “free” in theory but is really paid for
through subsidies by employers or retailers, or is bundled with the price of rent, building
purchases and consumer goods. Additionally, when individuals are charged for parking the rates
are typically not high enough to provide any real motivation for individuals to choose not to
drive (Litman 2006). Charging for parking may contribute to changes in individual
Individuals are often resistant or frustrated with paying for parking because they are
accustomed to it being free and because payment systems are inconvenient (i.e. they require that
you have an ample supply of change or even cash at all times). However, new systems that are
more flexible, convenient and more accurate are available to accommodate a variety of payment
methods such as coins, bills, credit and debit cards, and by cellular telephone or the Internet.
Additionally, these methods incorporate multiple rates, automatically adjust rates by day and
time, and charge only for the amount of time parked. (Litman 2006, 19)
Parking facility design is another important aspect of managing parking. Improving the
physical design and layout of parking facilities is a good way to avoid having surface parking
lots that dominate the built environment. The Maryland Governor’s Office of Smart Growth
proposes the following five objectives that are intended to reduce the negative impacts parking
has on the environment and on urban character:
Design sites such that vehicles are not the dominant feature;
Provide necessary parking without large expanses of pavement;
Minimize runoff from parking lots utilizing techniques to return surface water to the
Encourage vibrant street level activity; and
Create a safe and comfortable environment for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as
vehicles.” (MGOSG 2006, 19)
Depending on the context of a particular city or site, different design schematics will be more or
less appropriate. A few examples of issues that parking design regulations should address
include (but are not limited to): the location on the site, landscaping and screening requirements,
architectural treatments, on-street parking instead of lot parking, parking structures rather than
lots, reduced stall dimensions, tandem/stacked or valet parking, regulate pavement materials,
limit curb cuts, provide separate bicycle and pedestrian entrances into any lot, provide pedestrian
walkways to avoid having to walk through or around large expanses of surface parking, require
pedestrian oriented lighting (MGOSG 2006). Generally speaking, design requirements that are
pedestrian oriented rather than auto oriented will have more success at achieving more compact,
My analysis reveals that in all but one of the selected municipalities livability policies are
incorporated into their comprehensive plans. Many of these policies are intended to decrease
auto dependency and create more livable communities. Additionally, the results combined with
the literature review, indicate that parking ordinances need to transition from the standard
minimum parking requirements to more innovative parking management strategies in order to
achieve these goals. These strategies should take into account more then demand at peak usage
times by considering how reductions in the parking could provide opportunities to reduce auto
dependency, increase walkability, create more aesthetically pleasing environments, increase
transit usage and reduce the amount of impervious surfaces created by surface parking.
The first step for municipalities is examining the relationship between the future goals,
objectives and policies laid out in their plans to their existing parking policy. A zoning
ordinance is meant to implement the policies outlined in the comprehensive plan; therefore
communities must consider how the parking regulations in their zoning ordinance limit their
ability to achieve these goals and should think more broadly about how more nuanced parking
management policies can promote, rather than impede, their vision for the future. Additionally,
when thinking about parking regulations the discussion needs to move beyond understanding
how to calculate the required number of parking spaces. The problems associated with parking
are largely related to requirements creating an oversupply of parking, but are also exasperated by
a lack of attention to design and context specific policies. Communities that want to reduce
personal automobile use, for example, need to consider how parking policies make transit and
other modes of transportation less attractive to individual users (i.e. why should I ride the bus for
20 minutes when I can drive in 10 and park for free).
The goals and policies laid out in comprehensive plans and the parking requirements of
many municipalities are conflicting. My analysis confirms that there is a clear desire to reduce
auto dependency and create more livable communities yet most communities have not taken the
next step to update the zoning ordinances (in this case parking regulations). It is not to say that a
change in parking policy will solve all of the problems associated with our overdependence on
the personal automobile and/or allow for the ideal, “livable” urban environment. However, the
preponderance of free parking certainly makes choosing to drive an easier choice and impedes a
community’s ability to create the more vibrant, walkable, transit and biker friendly environments
they repeatedly state is the goal for the future of their community.
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