Let's eliminate parking minimums

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StuInMcCandless
Participant
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The Strong Towns blog had a story a few weeks ago about parking minimums. [link]

I know Bike-Pgh helped get some changes made within the City of Pittsburgh to require some bike parking in exchange for reducing the number of parking spaces mandated. Problem is, that’s only a start, and that’s only one of 130+ municipalities in Allegheny County alone. Ross and McCandless both have such ordinances, and I suspect many more do, as well.

This year, I pledge to get at least one of these ordinances declawed if not removed, somewhere. If anyone has ideas to add, other cities’ experiences to share, links to websites, please post them here.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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For example, this is the McCandless ordinance [297-page PDF]. The relevant section is this:

[this stupid website doesn’t allow tables, so I’m going to have to piece this together, at great effort]


1313.06 PARKING REQUIREMENTS.
(a) The minimum number of off-street parking spaces to be provided for every new
or substantially reconstructed building shall be as follows:

Building or Use
Assisted Living/Personal Care Home
1 space per 2 beds
(Ord. 1192. Passed 11-24-97.)

Auto sales – (outdoor storage)
1 for every 4,000 sq. ft. of storage area

Auto sales room
2 for each 600 sq. ft. of display area

Bowling alley
5 per lane

Churches
1 for every 3 pew seats

Doctors office
2 per doctor plus 1 for each 150 sq. ft. of office space

Home occupation
1 additional

Hospital
1 per bed

Funeral home
20 per parlor (rooms with dividers shall be required to have the minimum number of spaces per potential parlor)

Motel/hotel
5 for each 4 sleeping rooms

Nursing home
1 for every 3 beds

Offices
1 for each 300 sq. ft. of office area
(Ord. 1252. Passed 8-27-01.)

Outdoor storage/display
1 for every 200 sq. ft. of storage/display

Residential
2 per dwelling unit, not to include garage area

Retail store/ service shop
1 for each 150 sq. ft. of gross floor area

Schools
2 per classroom plus 1 for every 5 students in grades 11 and above

Swimming club
1 for each 60 sq. ft. of water surface

Theater
1 for each 3 seats

Warehouse/storage area
1 for each 500 sq. ft. of designated floor area

(b) The minimum number of parking spaces for uses not listed above shall be
sufficient to accommodate the vehicles of the peak number of persons at the facility at any one
time as determined by the Town. Parking spaces suitable for the needs of the handicapped will
be provided as approved on the site plan and sign, railings and ramps will be provided as
appropriate to the site and in accordance with applicable State and Federal regulations. A traffic
and parking study performed by a professional engineer shall be required if requested by the
Town to assist in this determination at the expense of the applicant.

I won’t quote more, but it goes on for eight more sections, with a lot of indents, diagrams, subsections, and cross-references.

There is also Section 1340.07 concerning parking in a C-8 Conditional Use District. This is part of it:

1340.07 CONDITIONAL USES.
(a) Conditional uses permitted in the C-8 District are:

(3) Parking requirements.
A. Required minimum parking for the conditional uses shall be one space for each 275 square feet of gross floor area.
B. Required minimum parking for uses combining the conditional uses with retail and/or office uses, permitted under Section 1340.06, shall conform to the parking requirements in Section 1313.06 for such uses and to subsection (b)(3)A. hereof.

That is ONE MUNICIPALITY.

  • This reply was modified 11 months ago by  StuInMcCandless. Reason: Added detail copy/pasted from original document

zzwergel
Member
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If Pittsburgh has many businesses without their own parking lots, How can such ordinances exist in the City limits?


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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The city has a different ordinance. Ross Twp’s differs from both. I should link them all here, quoting relevant sections.

The point is, having these as codified law means that anytime anyone builds anything, there has to be a set minimum number of parking spaces, even if it doesn’t make sense. This adds to the cost and footprint of any building site, ultimately paid for by tenants and business owners. It also encourages car use, using rules developed years or decades ago. As car usage decreases, these anchor us in the past.


Eric
Member
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I’d say that they’re also anticompetitive too, as, say, a building may be built for one use with required parking minimums but then if a new business is looking at the same space decades later they may not be able to move in due to their parking minimum need.

Also yuge environmental issue with so much impermeable land devoted to parking. Creates much more run off. Esp with alcosan under court order re shitholes/shithouses in the rivers.

The bat option would be for a group of groups to sue in state court and get parking minimums overturned all at once.  Going boro by boro will  take forever  and  not  practical.

However this issue is so under the radar that there’s little chance anything will happen


Ted
Member
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Parking minimums make new construction significantly more expensive, which deals a blow to affordable housing both in terms of per-unit cost and the number of units that can be built due to running out of space. They encourage car dependence. And in many cases the offstreet spaces don’t even increase the parking supply; they merely transfer on-street parking that is shared and can adapt to different demands during the day to privatized, off-street garages that only hold cars for their owners when they’re at home (Example, new construction in Bloomfield: https://www.google.com/maps/@40.4641542,-79.956279,3a,75y,298.86h,89.19t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1scQBXuEiJIoEze0pxxCZMTA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656) It’s hard to overstate how detrimental mandatory mininums are. They’re one of the biggest reasons I moved to Philadelphia (and I told my councilperson and the Mayor that).

On the bright side, A lot of people I talk to seem receptive to these ideas when I share them. If you feel defeatist about legislation, why not set a goal of talking to one or two new people every day about this issue and raising its profile? As soon as we get a certain number of people onboard, I believe it should be easy to reduce parking requirements because it won’t cost anyone any money, and developers can still include parking if they think the market wants it.

Also I want to share that the parking minimums in the zoning code are not in step with the feelings of the current administration. Although the Peduto administration lacks the will or ability to remove minimums from the code, I have been informed that in actual practice a developer who wants to get a variance to not provide a certain number of spaces can be successful with the zoning administrator. With that in mind, I encourage everyone reading to go to your local meetings about development, and ask the developers if they have asked the city for a relaxation of parking requirements.


Steven
Participant
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On the other hand, if you eliminate parking minimums, but the culture doesn’t change in response, you still have lots of people driving, and you’ve merely moved the cost of car storage from private to public.

Say a developer puts up an apartment building, so the neighborhood suddenly has a lot more cars that people want to store (i.e. park). With parking minimums, that’s done on private land paid for by the developer and the new tenants. Without, they do it on public streets, squeezing out existing residents, and maybe making it much harder for customers to park near local businesses.

Perhaps there’s now such competition for public parking spaces that the local government is obliged to buy some land and build a parking garage. That money ultimately comes from everyone in the neighborhood, old residents and new alike, plus perhaps grants from state or federal governments (so from lots of people who have nothing to do with the neighborhood).

Yes, the increased competition for public parking spaces might cause some folks to give up their cars and switch to bikes or transit. But most probably won’t, so the net effect of eliminating parking minimums can be to transfer some of the cost of car ownership from the people who own cars and shift it to everyone else.

Ignoring rules for parking minimums might be OK in areas where there’s an excess of public parking, though. Perhaps the trade-off makes sense then. But making such decisions on a case-by-case basis is exactly why we have a system of zoning rules with variances.


zzwergel
Member
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Why don’t I see private parking lots for most businesses in Lawrenceville? If it was for parking minimums, wouldn’t Lawrenceville be full of parking lots?


NMR
Member
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@zz Lawrenceville, as with the rest of the City, was built long before the zoning code was enacted.

Off-street parking is only required to be added when there’s a change of occupancy resulting in a projected increase in demand. This is why you see parking built with all redevelopment, but not when a bar changes ownership.

An equally fun and depressing activity is thinking of your favorite neighborhood, and then seeing if it could even be built to today’s zoning code. Hint: it probably couldn’t unless you really like the suburbs.


Ted
Member
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Steven, what about ignoring parking minimums in areas that are well served by public transit and are in biking/walking distance to lots of amenities? Even without mandatory parking inclusions, I would expect most new apartments to be built with parking. So if 5% of new apartment buildings had no parking, they would disproportionately attract people who don’t drive. On the subject of fairness, is it fair that anyone who wants to live in a building built in the last few decades has to also pay for off-street parking? As time goes by, more and more of our housing will include parking.

Americans have been driving less and less for the past decade and I see this trend continuing as our urban cores see growth and as environmental and health concerns increase. We should take this opportunity to not bake parking into every development, small and large. I see the construction of a new public garage as unlikely, and if there was enough of a demand for parking then the private sector could fill it. But even if the city did build a new garage, this wouldn’t be the absolute worst thing because a well built garage can be repurposed, but thousands of smaller garages would be less likely to be repurposed. Also a parking space in your own building is a much bigger incentive to drive than a parking space a couple blocks away in a garage.


NMR
Member
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With parking minimums, that’s done on private land paid for by the developer and the new tenants.

In a completely hypothetical sense, yes, but in reality a large proportion of development is subsidized by the taxpayer in some form.

I’ve seen estimate for new multifamily construction cost in Pittsburgh at around $150/SF. That means my first 700 SF apartment in the city would cost about $100k to build.  It costs about $20k per stall to build new construction structured parking in Pittsburgh.  About 20% of the cost to build the unit alone.

Take 20% of the cost out of the apartments flying up all over the city and all the sudden the tax breaks and incentives also get reduced, if not eliminated, without reducing the number of actual housing units.

And this obviously doesn’t even touch on the affordable housing crisis, where the public subsidizes almost all of the cost.


zzwergel
Member
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What was the intent on parking minimums anyway? People were always able to walk to/from nearby residences and businesses to another.


Steven
Participant
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Steven, what about ignoring parking minimums in areas that are well served by public transit and are in biking/walking distance to lots of amenities?

That seems like a good idea to me. They should at least be reduced way down in such cases.

My point was that parking minimums can be good or bad depending on the specific situation. We can either write the rules to attempt to distinguish between the two in every case (which is hard), or we can use the current system, where a developer has to make an argument before a board that this particular development shouldn’t have to provide parking (for instance, by pointing out that the area is well-served by transit, etc.).

Simply eliminating the rule entirely means we lose the ability to enforce minimums in cases where they are appropriate.

Even without mandatory parking inclusions, I would expect most new apartments to be built with parking.

My impression is developers regularly try to reduce the amount of parking they provide to the absolute minimum, and would happily provide none if they could. They get more profit from filling all their land with apartments, not space for cars. That’s why we saw a sudden flood of bike parking in new developments once the city let them reduce car parking minimums in exchange.

On the subject of fairness, is it fair that anyone who wants to live in a building built in the last few decades has to also pay for off-street parking?

No, but there’s some unfairness no matter how you do things. It’s also unfair that someone with a car living in an older building can use free on-street parking while a similar driver in a newer building has to pay for his. Do we make things as fair as possible for the person with a car, or the person without one, when we can’t do both? Does this answer change in a car-centric neighborhood vs one where most folks use transit?

And this obviously doesn’t even touch on the affordable housing crisis, where the public subsidizes almost all of the cost.

You mean public housing? Looking at new public housing, my impression is it tends not to have much dedicated parking. Look at the area near the Kennard Playground, say Bentley Drive. (I think that’s public housing, no?) One small lot in the middle and lots of cars parking on the street. Did they get variances? However it happened, the current system seems to be working OK there. I don’t see a lot of taxpayer-subsidized but unneeded private parking.

What was the intent on parking minimums anyway?

As I explained above, developers would put up new construction with no parking, and sometimes on-street parking in a neighborhood would grow more and more scarce. Residents wanted to prevent that.


zzwergel
Member
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Since the new ordinances took effect, Could a section of parking lot at The Waterworks, which is in the city limits be sold to a developer who intends to build apartments on the land and install bike racks in the area to compensate for the lost parking spaces that the new apartment building occupies? The developer could also argue that there are three bus lines (1, 75, 91), all with moderate to high frequency, as well as all the amenities offered by The Waterworks running nearby so they can reduce the minimum requirement for car parking even more.

If this stuff is true, instead of having an ocean of asphalt and paint, the area could be turned into a green, transit-oriented development including the existing strip mall and filling in a lot of the empty spaces with offices, a transit hub, a park, and residential development which has much less impervious surface to worry about causing a CSO event in the area.


NMR
Member
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The Planning Commission is fairly progressive on parking variances in my experience; a developer on the Northside reduced the need for new parking construction by negotiating a deal to lease excess spaces in an existing garage and got the variance approved. However, this ruling was challenged in court and overturned.

Zoning sucks, is the moral of the story.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Go out on Black Friday and take photos of parking lots, especially half empty ones.

 

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